After more than a decade under the direction of Bishop Scott Hayashi, Utah Episcopalians have chosen a new top leader — the Rev. Phyllis Spiegel — as the 12th bishop and second woman to head the state’s oldest Protestant denomination.
Spiegel, born in southwestern Virginia but most recently serving in Ohio, was elected Saturday on the first ballot by a vote of clergy and lay representatives at downtown Salt Lake City’s St. Mark’s Cathedral.
She is a vegetarian, single mom and nature lover, drawn to the Beehive State’s stunning landscape and religious diversity, according to her official biography.
“My childhood was comprised of church, Girl Scouting, camping and hiking the Appalachian Trail,” Spiegel wrote in her introduction to the Utah diocese.
Drawing on her undergraduate work in business management, French and international studies at Emory & Henry College in Virginia, the future priest taught business and commerce at a secondary school in Kenya for nine months and later worked for the Girl Scouts briefly before opening a second location of her mom’s nature store, For the Birds.
After that, she wrote, “I answered the call to the priesthood.”
She enrolled at Virginia Theological Seminary in fall 2001 and, since completing her education, has served in several churches in that state and in Ohio.
“The Diocese of Utah is doing the work I am called to do and have been shaped for throughout my 17 years of ordained ministry, as well as the 11 years prior as a professional naturalist,” Spiegel wrote in her statement to the church. “A bishop needs to articulate and lead the vision, but the diocese must have a heart for it. God is shaping the same call in our hearts. … Embracing the incredible diversity of people in Utah is a primary part of the missional work your diocese is seeking, and it engages my baptismal imagination.”
With 4,000-plus members, the Utah diocese “has long been a part of the Ute Reservation in Whiterocks with St. Elizabeth’s, which Spiegel visited this month,” said Episcopal spokesperson Craig Wirth, and with “the Church of the Holy Spirit, which has been in the Randlett area for nearly 140 years.”
The diocese also includes a large congregation of immigrants and refugees at All Saints in Salt Lake City, Wirth said, and several Spanish-speaking congregations in Ogden and West Jordan.
The historic church has achieved “inclusive diversity,” the spokesperson said, “from its long-standing support for an inclusive policy of personal gender identity, orientation, age, and other cultural and social considerations among its members and clergy.”
Spiegel is definitely aware of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints “and its dominance” in Utah, he said, “and appreciates the bridge-building ministry of the current bishop.”
She is eager, Wirth said, “to meet and converse” with Latter-day Saint leaders and people.
As to those in the diocese who elected her, they are delighted.
“We’re thrilled to welcome the Rev. Phyllis Spiegel as our bishop-elect,” said the Rev. Holly Huff, associate priest at St. Mark’s Cathedral. “While I have great respect and gratitude for each of the candidates, ultimately I was drawn to Rev. Spiegel’s enthusiastic, dynamic presence and her clear focus on forming disciples of Jesus. She’s a person of prayer, an engaging preacher (even on Zoom; no small feat!), and someone I’m excited to work with and learn from.”
The “trick is to call a bishop with strong communication and administrative skills who is able to speak and manage from a place of deep attention to the Holy Spirit,” Huff added, “and that combination is what I was drawn to in Rev. Spiegel.”
Spiegel will remain bishop-elect until she is approved by other dioceses and a number of bishops in the House of Bishops, Wirth said. After that, she is scheduled to be consecrated Sept. 17 at a special service in the Capitol Theatre in downtown Salt Lake City.
She will succeed Hayashi, who is retiring after serving in the position since November 2010 but will remain the leader of the statewide church until Spiegel’s fall consecration.
Spiegel is the second woman to lead the diocese. The first, Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish, died in June at age 81.