Episcopalians elected the bishop of Las Vegas, Katharine Jefferts Schori, as the church's top leader on Sunday, making her the first woman to lead a national church in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The Nevada bishop's election takes place nearly 30 years to the day after the Episcopal Church voted to ordain women. Only 3 of the 38 provinces within the Anglican Communion have ordained female bishops, though it is possible in 11 others.

Conservatives are already worried that Schori's election will elevate tensions between the American church and more conservative sister churches in the 77 million-member Anglican Communion.

Elected on the fifth ballot, Schori edged out Henry Parsley Jr., bishop of Alabama, 95-82, according to Jim Naughton, who is monitoring the convention for the diocese of Washington. Lay and clergy delegates later overwhelmingly confirmed her election, with nearly 90 percent approval. Speaking to those delegates, who thunderously applauded as she walked into the room, Schori thanked her fellow bishops and her family.

"I am awed and honored and deeply privileged to have been elected," she said.

Schori, who holds a Ph.D. in oceanography and has been a priest for just 12 years, beat out six other candidates and was widely considered the dark horse in the race to lead the deeply divided church for the next nine years.

Schori succeeds presiding bishop Frank Griswold, who has served since 1997. She will be formally installed at Washington National Cathedral in November. The married mother of one is a relative unknown in the church, but a brief look at her public statements reveals she is a progressive, favoring blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples, and voting in support of the church's first openly gay bishop ...

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