Wednesday, May 03, 2006

local Episcopal community to select a new bishop as the worldwide Anglican community watches; and getting to know a bit about the candidates

As the members of the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of California elect a new bishop this Saturday to succeed Bishop William Swing, who announced his retirement last October, many Anglicans worldwide will be watching.

The local paper here printed an article pointing out that three of the seven nominees to succeed Swing are gay/lesbian and that “the possible election of one of them Saturday threatens to split not only the 220-year-old Episcopal Church in the United States but also the centuries-old Anglican Communion.”

So, in an interview with the paper, Swing noted: "The pity and the shame of this is that we have made sex the central issue of Christ....We're not talking about the divinity of Jesus or the bodily resurrection or the Holy Spirit's mission in the church....What is being said is if you don't agree with me about one aspect of sexuality, we will destroy the whole thing."

Along these same lines, Alan Jones, the Dean of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral which is the bishop's seat, said: “With all the problems and challenges facing the world -- environmental degradation, poverty, hunger, war and injustice -- the church, with the media's encouragement, will be focused on one issue and one only -- two [three since this statement] of the candidates, so far, are gay.”

Additionally he points out the irrelevance of this whole issue: “I hope Episcopalians in the Bay Area will turn a deaf ear to those who appeal to the gay issue either positively or negatively as a reason for voting one way or the other. It is irrelevant, as was the issue of gender and/race in the past.”

To the liberal folks in the Bay Area, yes this may be irrelevant, but not to the many in the Anglican Communion in developing nations, responded one person to Jones’ words:

“The issue of sexual preference may be irrelevant for people in the bay area, but, for the Anglican Communion outside the ECUSA, rightly or wrongly, it is not.

“I heard it mentioned recently that more Anglicans go to church each Sunday in Nigeria than in Great Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States combined. It is the southern Anglican provinces - Africa and South America - that have the strongest opposition to any homosexual clergy, including bishops, priests, deacons, etc.”

What do Bay Area Episcopals think about this momentous task ahead of them? Well to enlighten myself about this, and to get to know a bit more about the seven candidates, I interviewed “John,” an acquaintance, just to get the prespective of someone inside the local Episcopal community.

Of all the seven candidates, John’s “favorite” is Mark Handley Andrus, who has served as an auxiliary bishop [bishop suffragan] in the Diocese of Alabama since 2001: “He radiates a solid presence; understands the need for the Diocese of California to engage in discussion with the rest of the country (& world); to provide a solid theological basis for its innovations; he is least likely to polarize the diocese.

"Also, I think he would be well regarded by his counterparts in other religious bodies in the SF Bay Area.... However, like Swing, he is a southern white male (though far sharper, intellectually).....Other elements in the diocese may be seeking something else.”

“Other elements?” I asked.

“Gay people, feminists, people who want to see more ethnic diversity at the top, etc . . .”

And so who are the openly gay candidates and how does he feel about them?

“I would be surprised if any of the gay candidates is elected....The Rev. Bonnie Perry from Chicago comes across as extremely energetic; her tone is painfully strident; but she has a good record on developing parts of the church oriented towards social service.”

The second openly gay candidate, Robert V. Taylor, is Dean of St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle and is originally from South Africa.

“Taylor has a good chance of succeeding because he has an excellent record of managing a parish."

And looking at Taylor's curriculum vitae [from the link above], he does exhibit adeptness in the financial aspects of running a parish: managing a parish budget growth of $102,000 to $1.1 million.

And the third gay candidate? “[Michael Barlowe who is the Officer for Congregational Development for the Diocese] is out of his league and should not be running,” he said. “Nothing he said left any impression on me.”

And what of the other four candidates?

“The Rev. Jane Gould [rector of St. Stephen´s Church, Lynn, Massachusetts] is a typical well-educated New England liberal with blue blood and with leanings towards social justice.”

“The Rev. Donald Schell [who is rector of St. Gregory of Nyssa Church in San Francisco] wants to de-centralize the diocese and have ordinations take place at the parishes instead of the cathedral....He has a solid married life; his children are successful individuals - I'm not sure if his vision for the diocese is desirable - he would be a good bishop elsewhere.”

And Canon Eugene Taylor Sutton who is Canon Pastor of Washington National Cathedral in Washington “is a very good speaker with the Evangelical zeal of a dedicated Baptist; he comes across as too slick for some people. He is accustomed to preaching to influential congregations in the National Cathedral and is most likely to actively engage the media.”

But what does the local Diocese need right now in its bishop?

“Some would like to see the Diocese become more active in growing parishes; of developing a sense of mission.”

But what about making a statement on behalf of gay and lesbians in the Episcopal community?

“Eh - the people I know are not driven by that concern,” John tells me. “Many do not want to see the Diocese of California at the center of a storm within the Anglican Communion regarding that issue.”

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