The Rev. Mary Adelia McLeod, the Episcopal Church's first female diocesan bishop and the second among Anglicans worldwide, sees herself as God's shepherd and not as a feminist trailblazer.
Still, she laughed when one congratulatory letter exclaimed, "Thanks be to God you've broken through the stained-glass ceiling."
McLeod, 54, co-rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Charleston, will become the Episcopal bishop of Vermont Nov. 1. The diocese includes 51 parishes and about 7,000 practicing Episcopalians.
"The Diocese of Vermont has looked past the gender issue and was looking for the right person for them, and it just happened to be me," she said. "But they have been very courageous in following the Spirit's guiding."
The Rt. Rev. Penelope Jamieson was elected bishop of Dunedin in the Anglican Church of New Zealand in 1989. Two other women, the Rt. Rev. Barbara Harris of Boston and the Rt. Rev. Jane Dixon of Washington were elected suffragan, or assisting, bishops of the American church in 1988 and 1992, respectively.
"I think there's been a conscious effort, at least in the election of bishops, to include women in that process. That certainly wasn't true 10 years ago," McLeod said.
McLeod spent years as a homemaker, raising four children and being a "super civic volunteer" in Birmingham, Ala.
She married her second husband, Henry (Mac) McLeod, in 1970, and had a fifth child before both felt called to the seminary at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.
McLeod was the first Alabama woman to become an Episcopal priest in 1980, four years after the American church began ordaining women.
The McLeods have worked together as co-rectors at St. John's for the past 10 years.
"The reason it worked is that they were both equals and there are no jealousies there," said Thomas Vanderford, a Charleston attorney who led the church's search committee.
"She may be a symbol for women, and I think she is, but she will be a bishop for all people," he said.
McLeod said she and her husband have worked to preserve church traditions as they try to include all, including homosexuals.
They also have worked quietly to remove patriarchal language from sermons. McLeod said she believes God is both feminine and masculine.
"God created male and female and God said we were created in God's image, so, for me, God is both," she said.
"I may have to use God in three sentences, but I just don't say the word he, " McLeod said. "As for the liturgy itself, I do not change it simply because I feel the way to bring about change is to go about the recognized structures that we have within the church."
McLeod said her recent post as archdeacon, assisting the bishop of West Virginia, has prepared her for Vermont.
"It gave me an opportunity to see firsthand what a bishop's life was like," she said.
McLeod said she has dealt openly with resistance based on her sex. There have been reports that some Vermonters will not accept her as bishop.
"We would find some ground of agreement, even if it's just our baptisms and our commitment to minister in Christ's name," she said.
McLeod said her husband is supportive and excited about the move. She said he will help her in her visits to parishes at first.
"We decided a long time ago whichever one of us got a call to whatever place, the other would follow," she said.
The McLeods met on a blind date. He was an attorney who had opened an insurance agency in Birmingham. They now have three grandchildren. One of her sons, Harrison, was ordained an Episcopal deacon June 5, the day she was elected to her post in Vermont.
Karen Sheldon of Hanover, N.H., interim head of the Vermont Diocese since Bishop Daniel L. Swenson retired on Feb. 2, said McLeod's selection still must be approved by a majority of the standing committees in all Episcopal dioceses and the church's House of Bishops.
The Episcopal Church has 117 dioceses and about 2.4 million members, according to Jeffrey Penn, assistant news director for the Episcopal Church.
Large crowds are expected in Burlington, Vt., for McLeod's consecration Nov. 1.