Stassi Cramm acknowledges a little extra sense of responsibility as the first woman to be ordained presiding bishop in the Community of Christ Church.
On top of that, her appointment – made official during Sunday evening's service in the Auditorium during the church's ongoing World Conference – also represents the second time a member of church's presiding bishopric has also been a member of the First Presidency. Bishop L.F.P. Curry served as a counselor to President F.M. Smith in 1938-40.
“It's only happened one other time in our history, and it was for two years, so if I last for more than two years I'll hold the record,” Cramm said with a little laugh after one of this week's legislative sessions.
Cramm said her dual appointment from President Steve Veazey presents some challenges to being effective in both roles.
The First Presidency provides primary leadership for the worldwide church, while presiding bishopric – Cramm and counselors Michele McGrath and Steve Graffeo – are responsible for the finances and properties of the church, advocate for economic justice and teach the principles of stewardship and generosity.
“You can't take two people's jobs and put them into one person,” Cramm said. “You have to re-create what the job looks like. So, I don't want to mess it up for the church, but I also don't want to mess it up as a woman, because I don't want it to become 'She just couldn't do it.' We've proven that a man can do it, and I want to do my part.”
Cramm, an engineer by training, said that initially she might not have felt more responsibility as the first female bishop, but her travels around the world for the church altered her mindset a bit.
“Even though our church ordains women, a lot of times in local culture, the traditions of the culture are still so rigid and strong and patriarchal that sometimes they have trouble living in what the church actually allows by policy,” she said. “So in that regard, I take on that responsibility with a new appreciation of how it continues to open doors and create opportunities for others.
“It's less about me and me being the first, but it's all about what the church is trying to uphold in the worth of all persons. I want to honor that and I want to do well by that, and I want to create opportunities for other women to serve, as well.”
The issue of cultural variations within the church also bubbles up with how to accept and include the LGBTQ community, as the church decided earlier that worldwide uniform policies would not be productive.
“In the last three or four years, we have been on journey with questions of inclusion,” she said. “Because that is, culturally, very delicate to be discussed, it was decided that it would have to be determined somewhat nation-by-nation. Although the principle of the church is that God calls who God calls according to giftedness, the specifics would have to get worked out nationally.”
In the United States since 2013, for example, LGBTQ members can be ordained and the church acknowledges such marriages and performed those services where allowed by state law.
Where it was not allowed by law, Cramm said, the church provided a covenant service.
“That, for us, is the sacramental side of marriage, even in the absence of the legal aspect of marriage,” she said.
An event like the World Conference presents an interesting dichotomy with such issues, she said, and the church has tried to hold to the concept of “faithful disagreement,” which Cramm describes as a set of principles.
“We understand that the nature of God is bigger than human mind can fully comprehend,” she said, “and that at any given point in time, the body is going to do the best it can to discover what God's intentions are, but at any moment we may not all have agreement on what that is, and that we're not going to consider people unfaithful who stand in disagreement to a current policy.
“We're going to acknowledge that everyone is attempting to be faithful and we'll trust in the spirit as we continue to live in mission together. That idea of faithfully disagreeing but still committing to Christ's mission together has become really important to us.”
Cramm said the conference delegation has also had or will have plenty of discussion about finances – the worldwide church's planned budget of $16.5 million for fiscal year 2017 is more than $6 million below the 2016 budget – and morality of the priesthood. Current church policies don't allow those who will be ordained to live with their partner outside of marriage.
“Again, all these cultures, all these perspectives – what should be the morality of a person who agrees to be ordained and to serve people,” she said. “We're working on our definition of tithing. What does it mean to live generously, and what does it mean to discover your true capacity to support God's vision in the world.
“For some that may be significantly less than 10 percent, for some that may be significantly more.”