Biography of the Right Reverend Melissa M. Skelton, 9th Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster.
Community, Relationship and Heritage
Community: What now shall we do?
Bishop Melissa Skelton grew up in the Southern United States in a time of great racial strife. Her parents were from very humble backgrounds and taught her to remember that she was the grandchild of a sharecropper and a tough woman who worked to support the family out of her earnings as a factory worker in cotton mill.
Along with this, her parents were civil rights advocates living in one of the most conservative political communities in the southern United States. It is through both race and class that she came by her sensitivities of solidarity with the poor and marginalized, and social justice on their behalf.
Her original sponsoring parish for the priesthood was an African-American congregation that was formed to serve the slaves of wealthy Southern landowners in South Carolina.
She brings this personal history to a new context, the Diocese of New Westminster, which has its own issues such as the residential schools that need the same sort of attention, care and advocacy that the race issue in the US continues to need. At its core, all these issues ask that we move into the frame of reference and experience of another and from that position ask ourselves: “What now shall we do?”
Relationship: Living Together
The message of inclusion (rooted in the Anglican comprehensive sensibility, our value of tolerance and a tradition held together by common prayer rather than by tight theological or organizational glue) is still important to Bishop Melissa and to a culture which is easily polarized and in which many still find themselves on the margins of religion. This inclusive way of being is core to Jesus’ own form of fellowship with those who were outcast in his own time.
Bishop Melissa's experience working with diverse communities in the Seattle area, her corporate background and her experience in helping to create the fastest growing Episcopal congregation in the State of Washington demonstrates her commitment to more than inclusion. She believes we need to offer other things for which people hunger such as practical ways of praying and living in community with others and ways of training the eye to see and the heart to sense the presence of the Holy in everyday life including the natural world.
Bishop Melissa grew up outside of the Church. However, the more she became involved in the Church as a young mother of a child with a serious health condition, the more she came to understand that figuring out life on her own not only did not work, it felt somehow hollow and impoverished. She found that a connection to an ancient and wise Christian tradition that saw itself also as living tradition gave her a grounding and a sense of meaning that she simply could not gain elsewhere. She found that being in a Church community that saw itself as resting in a loving reality bigger than everything else was a healing and empowering experience. Her hope is that the parishes in the Diocese of New Westminster can be this for all who seek the divine, current parishioners and also those new to faith.
Her experience taught her that in the way we foster congregational life, we want better to reflect the cultural and ethnic heritage and richness that exists in the Vancouver area. And so the question becomes how do we attract, assist and retain those from different and diverse backgrounds.
Bishop Melissa's spiritual experience, as opposed to Church, surprised her with the discovery that:
• It can be expanding to be a part of a community of people whom you did not choose (different than the experience of your closest, hand-picked friends)
• It can be rich and rewarding to have a community of prayer that is both connected to an ancient tradition and open to all your questions
• It can be inspiring to focus the fullness of your spiritual life on an image of what it means to be fully alive as a human being and fully alive to other human beings. This for us is Jesus.
Elected on November 30th, 2013, Bishop Melissa Skelton was Consecrated and Installed as the 9th Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster in Vancouver on St. David’s Day, March 1st, 2014. For Bishop Melissa this is the next phase of a remarkable career in ministry.
Some highlights of Bishop Melissa's career from 1991 to the present include:
- Brand Manager - Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati, 1992-93
- Priest Associate - Trinity Wall Street, Manhattan, 1993-94
- Associate Priest - St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Trenton, NJ, 1994-96
- Vice President for Administration – The General Theological Seminary, New York
- Vice President of Brand and Systems Development - Tom’s of Maine 1997-2001
- Congregational Development Consultant – Diocese of Maine, 2002 - 2004
- Rector - Trinity Church, Castine, ME, 2002-2005
- Rector - St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Seattle, WA, 2005-February 15th, 2013
- Canon for Congregational Development and Leadership – Diocese of Olympia, Seattle, WA, 2008-February 15th, 2014.
- Director for the College for Congregational Development, 2011-2014
- Director for the Diocesan School for Leadership - Diocese of New Westminster, Vancouver, BC, 2011 – 2015
An interesting sidebar and of particular interest to the Diocese of New Westminster is Bishop Melissa’s initial connection to Bishop Michael Ingham, the 8th Bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster. She first met him in 1994, soon after his ordination as bishop as she was facilitating the training for new bishops at The General Theological Seminary (GTS), one of the principal seminaries of the Episcopal Church, based in New York City.
Our diocese has a very healthy and active Education for Ministry (EfM) presence and Bishop Melissa was a Mentor Trainer for EfM based out of the US southeast from 1981-1996. Bishop Melissa intends to remain in her position as the Director of the Diocese of New Westminster’s Diocesan School for Leadership.
Bishop Skelton leads an active and busy life in ministry. Bishop Melissa has three siblings: a brother in San Francisco and two sisters in Atlanta, GA. She also has an adult son, Evan, who lives with his wife and two sons in Washington, DC. She is married to The Revd Eric Stroo who is a deacon canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia and mental health counsellor with the Samaritan Centre in Seattle, Washington. Rev. Stroo was licensed by Bishop Skelton in 2017 to minister in the Diocese of New Westminster and as of June 2017 he is a vocational deacon at St. Michael's, Multicultural Church located in Vancouver.
Bishop's Official Photo
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Photo credit: Bayne Stanley
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