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The Rt. Rev. Chilton R. Knudsen 

Chilton Knudsen

The oldest child of a Navy family, Bishop Chilton Knudsen grew up in several parts of the world. Military life taught her to subordinate the interests of self to the mission at hand and to adopt an inner stance of respect toward all people. In her early life she dreamed of being a medical missionary. In college she became interested in the social issues of Vietnam, the environment, civil rights and women's rights.

In an Episcopal Church deeply divided about the proposed ministry of women, a historic vote in 1976 did open the priesthood to women, and on the next day, Chilton Knudsen announced her call to the ministry. She completed years of study in the ordination process and received her M.Div. from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in 1980. As a church leader, she assumed many responsibilities, including pastoral care for clergy and their families, crisis intervention, teaching, and ministry development.

She was elected Bishop of Maine in November 1997, the only woman among a slate of five nominees, and is still one of only five women diocesan Episcopal bishops, out of 110 dioceses. Since her election, 38 Maine women have been ordained to the orders of Deacon and Priest, serving congregations in every region of the state from Presque Isle to Eastport, from Norway to Dover-Foxcroft. Thirty-nine congregations in the state benefit from some level of ordained ministry by women. With Bishop Knudsen's leadership and vision, Maine leads the nation in the percentage or women leading congregations.

As a religious leader in Maine, Bishop Knudsen has created a legacy for women and girls that will flourish long after her retirement, which is set for 2008. Her dedication to ensure that women are given full opportunity to serve in the leadership of the church and her surety of the ability of women to offer unique and important gifts in the area of pastoral care have made an indelible impression on the lives of many women and men in Maine.

Under Bishop Knudsen's leadership the Episcopal Diocese of Maine is committed to keep the doors of its smallest churches open. It is there, she posits - in the small rural communities that are economically stressed - that the Church is needed most. In many communities the Episcopal Church is where social services are housed: the literacy program, the jobs program, the local food and clothing bank. Many of these smaller congregations are served by women priests and deacons who have been raised up by their local congregations to serve. Women and families across Maine benefit from the social programs that thrive at the local level because the Bishop's support to struggling communities refuses to wane.

Bishop Knudsen, and the women clergy she nurtures, provide Maine girls and young women, Sunday by Sunday, exemplars of leadership, courage, and confidence in a highly respected role of each community's life. Bishop Knudsen's contribution to young women, and not-so-young women, continues to benefit the people of Maine by providing a place for self-esteem and confidence to blossom and nourish far into future generations.

2000 Photograph

Inducted March 2006