Commentary and report on election of Lesbian Bishop in Episcopal Church USA by Peter Menkin
by Peter Menkin 12/27/2009 / Leadership
Los Angeles, California Episcopalians have elected a Lesbian as Bishop Suffragen who may be installed after approval by the larger Episcopal Church, USA. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the 77 million member Anglican Communion has expressed dismay over the election, and in understated words says he and Anglicans in general are waiting to see if The Rev. Mary Glasspool, who was elected a suffragan (assistant) bishop by the Diocese of Los Angeles on Saturday (Dec. 5)--and who, Glasspool, 55, has been with her partner since 1988, according to a biography she provided to the diocese, will be officially installed.
That probable eventuality will further the rift in the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which Episcopalians are a part, and mark the further separation and departure of the American wing of that Communion in its serious move away from what is called both Biblical authority, and mutual covenant by agreement between the Churches of the Communion. Many surmise, an internal result of the "liberalization" of American Anglicanism by the Episcopal Church, USA, will continue the mainstream Church's loss of members.
Various religious and secular news services have noted the decline and controversy over the last few years, and recently Religion News Service ran a copyrighted article outlining the decline in denomination numbers as it presently stands and continues by trend. They do not link a cause and effect between the acceptance and election of Gay and Lesbian clergy to the office of Bishop in this particular article cited. But this decline is considered in common usage a strong consideration for the declining numbers of Episcopalians.
Religion News Service says:
Domestic membership in the Episcopal Church dropped by 3 percent in 2008, continuing a decline in which the denomination has lost almost 200,000 American members since 2004, according to Episcopal researchers.
The Episcopal Church now counts slightly more than 2 million members in about 7,000 U.S. parishes. Church leaders say they are pleased, however, that the denomination is growing in its non-domestic dioceses, particularly in Haiti and Latin America, where the church counted about 168,000 members in 470 parishes last year.
Still, the church is "swimming against some difficult cultural tides," Matilda Kistler, who heads a state-of-the-church committee in the denomination's House of Deputies, said in a statement.
"We find ourselves facing a society that is gravitating toward secularism," Kistler said. "We also believe that the church-going segment of the public is aging significantly, though the committee will be seeking more definitive data to ascertain if that is so."
Kistler acknowledged that "internal conflicts within the Episcopal Church have also distracted from the message of hope our clergy and lay leaders seek to share."
The Diocese of California (San Francisco Bay Area) led by The Rt. Reverend Marc Andrus supports the inclusion of Gay and Lesbian clergy in the Church and in the same line vocally support with strong opinion and deeds election of Gay and Lesbian Bishop candidates. Bishop Marc Andrus is not a homosexual.
In addition to the restrained but oppositional statement of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the election of the Lesbian Mary Glasspool in Los Angeles, an Anglican organization has recently criticized and been seriously concerned, even alarmed, by this recent development that may cause impaired Communion or other negative relations within the Anglican Communion with the Episcopal Church USA. The Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop The Rt. Reverend Katherine Jefferts Schori has indicated she favors and will help to bring the Lesbian clergy woman to final instillation, in the name of God and Church. This is an unusual and historic act of change and some think diminished faith as Christian Church by the Americans, though the American wing of the Anglican Communion believes they are in the forefront of "ordained" good in their support of an election of homosexuals who are sexually active, and even in what they find as favored and "blessed" active homosexual permanent relationships. Both New and Old Testament Biblical readings have been discounted by the American Church. One argument in favor of The Reverend Mary Glasspool is she has served well in every capacity, and except for her Lesbianism, and active sexual relations as a homosexual, is fully qualified to be a Suffragen Bishop. The question becomes, does her Lesbian sexual practice bar her from being a Bishop.
Many Episcopalians in San Francisco's Bay Area, and good people, think her sexual proclivities are not a bar, and it is an act of social justice to elect her a Bishop in the Episcopal Church.
As Religion News Service reports in its instance of early Anglican Church reaction to the election:
An international Anglican commission on Tuesday (Dec. 8) urged Episcopalians to exercise "gracious restraint" by not confirming the election of a lesbian as a bishop in Los Angeles.
In the coming months, more than 100 bishops and standing committees from Episcopal dioceses across the country will vote on whether to give "consents," or confirmation, to Glasspool's election. If she receives confirmation, Glasspool will become the second openly gay bishop elected by the Episcopal Church.
On Tuesday, a 21-member international Anglican committee recently established to promote unity in the communion said they discussed Glasspool's election during their meeting in England Dec. 1-8 and "expressed the fervent hope that `gracious restraint' would be exercised by the Episcopal Church in this instance." The Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order includes one American, the Rev. Katherine Grieb of Virginia Theological Seminary.
Neither Williams nor the commission has the power to stop Glasspool's confirmation, however.
The election of the first openly gay bishop, New Hampshire's V. Gene Robinson, in 2003 has caused widespread dissent in the Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church as its U.S. branch. To quell the uproar, Anglican bishops, including the spiritual leader of the communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, have asked for a "period of gracious restraint" on consecrating any more gay bishops.
Daniel Burke of Religion News Service has been active in following this story and George Conger of Religious Intelligence, a London based website owned by The Church of England Newspaper has been following this story and the larger stories connected with the controversial issue.
It is interesting to note that The Reverend Mary Glasspool is strongly committed to fulfilling the role of Bishop and being consecrated and installed as same. Daniel Burke writes in another of his copyrighted reports for Religion News Service of her stand in the matter, and reports on her words regarding her desires to fulfill the pride and historic role for a homosexual to be made a Bishop in the Episcopal Church, USA:
Since becoming the first lesbian to be elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church on Saturday (Dec. 5), the Rev. Mary Glasspool has been hailed as a gay rights pioneer and maligned as the straw that will finally break the back of the Anglican Communion.
Glasspool "wavered two or three times" before agreeing to be nominated as an assistant bishop in Los Angeles, she said in an interview Wednesday. But friends and spiritual counselors reminded her to follow her own preaching.
"Look, you believe in the Holy spirit," she said they told her.
"You've always said the Holy Spirit is in charge. Your job is to follow where it leads."
The spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, has all but told Episcopalians not to vote to confirm Glasspool's election. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the communion, but could lose its place over Glasspool, Williams warned.
"He clearly was saying something like that," Glasspool said. "And again, I've done what I could do to allow myself to be available to God's call, and the people of Los Angeles have spoken and voiced their trust in me and my potential leadership."
Before Glasspool can be consecrated a bishop, a majority of the more than 100 Episcopal bishops and dioceses must confirm her election within the next several months. Robinson predicted Thursday that process will be "a little more difficult" than when he was confirmed by delegates to the church's triennial General Convention in Minneapolis.
Part of the statement by The Reverend Mary Glasspool prior to her election indicates her strong argument that sexuality is tied to and part of her faith journey, that homosexuality as part of her coming of age worked well and is justified as part of God's gift to her, and a strength in her candidacy for Bishop and life in ministry as ordained Clergy in the Episcopal Church, USA. The beginning of her statement that asks, "Provide a description of your walk with God in Christ that brought you to this moment of discerning a call to the episcopate in our diocese" reads:
And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? (Esther 4:14b, RSV)
I was born in February 1954, on a rainy Tuesday (Tuesday's child is full of grace) in Staten Island Hospital, New York, where my father was Rector of St. Simon's Episcopal Church and Vicar of All Saints'. Both my parents grew up in the Episcopal Church, and each modeled a profound faith in God that was given to me as gift while I grew up. We moved to Goshen, N.Y., in April of 1954 where my father was Rector of St. James' Church for the next 35 years until his death in 1989. As with most children, I suspect, God was more transcendent than immanent, more other than palpable in community to me.
It was during my college years (1972-1976) that I began to discern a vocation to ordained ministry and concomitantly to discover my sexuality. Both these areas were sources of intense struggle for me, as I wrestled with such questions as; Did God hate me (since I was a homosexual)? or Did God love me? Did I hate (or love) myself? Was it really possible, not to mention appropriate, for women to be priests? My father's answer to this last question was a resounding NO, and true to his own colors he never publicly supported women's ordination, although I became something of an exception to the rule.
God was still transcendent and other to me as I entered Episcopal Divinity School in the Fall of 1976, just as the General Convention in Minneapolis was wrestling to recognize the reality of women called to be priests, the new Prayer Book, and what to do with the Philadelphia 11 and the Washington 5 as we termed them at EDS. My role models at that time represented two different ways of doing things in response to God's call: Carter Heyward and Carol Anderson. Carter, for me, represented the courage to break through barriers not without cost in order to become fully the person God is calling you to become. Carol represented the sacrificial love of the Church that manifested itself in restraint, and also came at great cost. Both of these courageous women have continued to model for me the integrity of responding to God's call with your whole person, being exactly who you are.
It is clear from this part of her statement that she believes her homosexuality and appearance, nay now election as a Bishop in Los Angeles, is part of God's plan. The question is, other than what at this stage the stance appears to be with the 2 million members of the Episcopal Church USA, will the rest of the Anglican Communion, which in total numbers about 77 million, agree.
Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA where he writes poetry. He is an Oblate of Immaculate Heart Hermitage, Big Sur, CA and that means he is a Camaldoli Benedictine. He is 64 years of age as of 2010.