All of Bishop Phoebe A. Roaf’s life had prepared her for the moment in May 2019 when she was consecrated and ordained as the Bishop of the Diocese of West Tennessee.
Growing up 144 miles southwest of Memphis in the Arkansas Delta city of Pine Bluff, she knows the struggles and the potential of this part of the U.S. Trips for shopping and entertainment brought her to Memphis on occasion. She received a law degree from the University of Arkansas – Little Rock, clerked for two years for a federal Court of Appeals judge, and worked in a New Orleans firm from 2000 to 2005.
By her early 40s, she had come to understand that her life’s calling was not the law. Rather, it was to serve as a member of the clergy in the Episcopal Church. Armed with her bachelor’s degree from Harvard University and an MPA from Princeton University, she attended Virginia Theological Seminary, the flagship seminary for the Episcopal Church, graduating in 2008 and now serving as vice-chair of its board of trustees.
By 2011, her theological career had taken her from Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans, where she was associate rector, to become rector at Richmond’s St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, the oldest African American Episcopalian Church in the South.
In November 2018, Roaf was chosen in a balloting process in the diocese’s annual convention at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Germantown. All clergy and elected lay delegates are allowed to vote. Under the canons of the Church, bishops are chosen by clergy and lay leader votes. They must receive a majority from each group on the same ballot in order to be elected.
The diocese, which covers all of Tennessee west of the Tennessee River, has 8,260 active members and an average Sunday attendance of more than 3,000.
-Tom Jones, Smart City