By Kirk Petersen
She became an Episcopalian as a young adult because she “wanted to get married in the pretty church downtown.”
Her husband encouraged her to take a job as an Episcopal lay professional, but later said “his worst nightmare was me wanting to go to seminary and be a priest” — which she had absolutely no intention of doing. She had three small children at the time, she liked her job, her community, and her life, and she laughed at her rector the first time he suggested seminary. And the second time. And the other times.
Both spouses evolved in their thinking. She got ordained, their children grew up, it turned out that she had administrative skills, and on November 19, the Rev. Anne B. Jolly was elected bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Ohio. Assuming she gets the necessary consents from bishops and standing committees, she’ll be consecrated April 29, 2023. When the Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr., retires later in 2023, Jolly will become the 12th Bishop of Ohio.
She’s already been about as close to a bishop diocesan role as a person can get without a pointy hat.
Jolly has served since 2016 as rector of St. Gregory’s in Deerfield, Illinois, a North Shore suburb of Chicago. Since 2019 she also has been president of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Chicago. Along with the rest of the Standing Committee, she became the ecclesiastical authority for the diocese when Bishop Jeffrey Lee retired at the end of 2020 without a successor in place. It was a gig that was supposed to last about four months, until Paula Clark’s consecration as Bishop of Chicago.
But Clark suffered a stroke in April 2021, 10 days before her scheduled consecration, and Jolly settled in for a longer haul. Throughout Clark’s recovery, Jolly never wavered in her determination to see Clark eventually consecrated. When that happy day arrived in September 2022, Jolly presented the crozier to the new bishop.
“Paula is extraordinary,” Jolly told TLC. “She’s not the same person she was. But she’s a wonderful person, she’s 110 percent of who she is now. And, ‘who she is now’ has tremendous gifts to offer the church and the world. And her episcopacy won’t be the same episcopacy it would have been. But it’s going to be an extraordinary episcopacy.”
Jolly was not looking to become a bishop, but while spending nearly two years at the helm in Chicago, she discovered “I like complex systems. I like that level of thinking and organizational structure.” Despite COVID, the extended transition, and the health issues of the incoming bishop, the experience “was life-giving to me at the time, and so that was part of my discernment.”
When the Diocese of Ohio issued its bishop search profile, several people told her “you really need to look at this. I looked at it, and then it hit my gut.”
It echoed an epiphany she had more than a decade earlier, while serving as the lay director of parish life ministries at Christ Church in Greenville, South Carolina (“the pretty church downtown,” to which the Jollys had returned after a hiatus in Atlanta). She started her six-year stint there as director of stewardship, tasked with raising back the half a million dollars in the church’s budget that evaporated quickly after Gene Robinson was elected as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church in 2003. “I quickly learned that you don’t just raise money in a church. It’s all about engagement, and relationships,” she said. Her duties expanded until she was in charge of “pretty much everything the clergy didn’t do.”
The Rev. Bob Dannals was the rector who kept urging her to go to seminary. Before he moved on to a new role, he made her promise to at least have a conversation with the Rev. Patty Rhyne, a fellow priest at Christ Church.
“Her story was one of complication, right? It’s complicated to be a wife. It’s complicated to be a mother. It’s complicated to be a woman and go to seminary and do these things, with all of those things happening in your life. And it was one of those weird things that’s happened a few times in my life. I just knew it … that some of those complications were soon to be mine. And I just started crying.”
It took a while, but she eventually found the courage to tell her husband David that she felt called to be a priest. “And he was not enjoying that line of thought. We both had to wrestle with that for a while,” she said with a laugh.
David Jolly travels for his work, and called her from the road one day to tell her he was at Virginia Theological Seminary. “Why are you at Virginia Seminary?” she asked incredulously. “I know this is what you’re called to do,” he replied. “So I just wanted to see what it was gonna take.” As it turned out, her discernment process led the family to the School of Theology at Sewanee in Tennessee. She served churches in Tennessee and Texas before being called to St. Gregory’s in Deerfield.
(Lest anyone wonder whether David Jolly has qualms about his wife taking on an even larger role in the church, he posted on Facebook after her election: “Anne’s steadfast love of God and ministry amazes me every day and I am so proud of her. I look forward to continuing on this journey of faith and ministry alongside my best friend.”)
Jolly’s family of origin wasn’t big on going to church, but her mother was seeking something, so they sampled a few denominations when she was young. “And in middle school for maybe a year, we went to an Episcopal Church in Greenville.”
She joined the other kids her age in some classes they were taking at St. James Episcopal, and she loved the youth leaders. “They were college students, and I just thought they were the best thing since sliced bread.” Years later, she was told she could only get married at the pretty church downtown if she were a member, and to be a member she would have to be confirmed as an Episcopalian. “Wait!” she said. “I was confirmed as an Episcopalian. In middle school.”
So there was a lot of randomness along the way to the 206th annual convention of the Diocese of Ohio in Cleveland, where Jolly was elected on the second ballot from a slate of three female candidates. The two other candidates were both from the Diocese of Newark: the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas, rector of All Saints Episcopal Parish, Hoboken, New Jersey, and the Rev. Diana L. Wilcox, rector of Christ Church in Bloomfield and Glen Ridge, New Jersey.