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Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese Elects First Black Woman Bishop

Courtesy Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh
Rev. Ketlen Solak will become the next bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

After a long search, the Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese announced the Rev. Dr. Ketlen Solak was elected as their new bishop. She will be the first Black woman to serve in the role, which has previously only been held by white men.

“The future of your diocese, which is soon to become our diocese, is bright,” said Solak, who currently serves as the rector at Brandywine Collective Ministries in Delaware. “I am ready to become a Pittsburgher for Jesus.”

The Episcopal Church has ordained women to the priesthood for 40 years, and the first Black woman bishop in the United States was Barbara C. Harris in 1989. Solak was chosen from a group of nominees that included two other women: the Very Reverend Kim Coleman, a rector in Virginia, who is Black, and the Reverent Diana Wilcox, a rector in New Jersey who is part of the LGBTQ community.

Rev. Noah Evans, the rector of St. Paul’s in Mount Lebanon who helped lead the election process, said a more diverse group of nominees reflects a trend toward more diversity in the House of Bishops. “The Episcopal Church [is becoming] more and more aware of the importance of having voices of all God’s people present.”

Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Solak holds degrees in both divinity and music. She uses hymn lyrics in her sermons and sometimes sings her prayers.

“People were attracted to her pastoral nature, her collaborative leadership style, and the joy and vision that she brings to her ministry,” Evans said.

Like many things these days, even holy business can be conducted over Zoom. Due to COVID-19, the bishop search took place remotely over 15 months. Evans said the pandemic will continue to be a central priority when Solak assumes her new role.

“One of the challenges is being a pastor to our clergy and congregations as we move out of the last number of months of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Evans said, “a time that has been a time of some trauma for some of our leaders.”

Some of Solak’s work will likely involve learning to balance remote and in-person gatherings. Local congregations are as far-flung as St. Thomas’ in Canonsburg and St. Thomas in Northern Cambria. Clergy from both of these churches, which are 100 miles apart, need to meet weekly.

Solak will take over from Bishop Dorsey McConnell, who has served since 2012. McConnell was the diocese’s first permanent bishop following the 2008 schism, when conservative congregations separated from the Episcopal Church and formed the Anglican Church of North America. He helped settle property disputes with the nine congregations that left the Pittsburgh diocese.

Despite losing many members after the 2008 split, the Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese holds a steady membership of around 9,000. Evans said St. Paul’s even grew by 40 percent over the last four years.

Solak will be consecrated at Calvary Episcopal in East Liberty in November.

Scott Peterson is a writer and audio producer with a decade of experience working in the energy and environment field. Before moving to Pittsburgh, she directed sustainability for an affordable housing nonprofit in Austin, Texas, where she led the installation of a megawatt of rooftop solar power. She’s published with New Hampshire Public Radio, The Texas Observer, and The Rumpus.