Showing tolerance

August 31, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

Although the approval earlier this month of an openly gay bishop created a stir in the religious world, Tri-State area Episcopalians have mostly taken the decision in stride.

Episcopal priests in the area said they have received little feedback from parishioners about the confirmation of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

When St. Mark's in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., held an open forum to discuss the issue, only three people came, said the Rev. Sarah Bailey.


A week after the decision, Bailey gave a sermon about having compassion for one another.

"I have not had any major shift within the congregation. I would suspect we'll get on with the ministry," said Bailey, who attended the General Convention in Minneapolis.

Even though there is disagreement within the church about acceptance of an openly gay bishop, priests said members have "agreed to disagree" about the issue.

The church has tolerated different viewpoints within its ranks for thousands of years. Since it was founded as a spinoff of the Church of England, it has bridged Catholic and Protestant beliefs, said the Rev. Allan Weatherholt of St. Thomas' Episcopal Church in Hancock.

"If you want to have a church where everybody believes in the same thing, you're not an Episcopalian," he said. "You have in our denomination a real richness and diversity of opinion."

Among the faithful are conservatives and liberals, those interested in spreading the mission and those who would rather serve the community, he said.

Weatherholt said he doesn't expect people to leave area Episcopal churches because of Robinson's elevation to bishop.

"On many things, we just agree to disagree," he said.

Bishop to visit

On Sept. 9, Bishop Robert W. Ihloff of the Maryland Diocese will talk to area Episcopalians about his decision to confirm Robinson. The meeting is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at St. John's Episcopal Church, 101 S. Prospect St., Hagerstown.

While members of the church often look to their bishops for advice, the church does not have a strict hierarchy, said the Rev. Elaine Prince of St. Ann's Episcopal Church in Smithsburg. Roman Catholics follow the pope's teachings but his Anglican counterpart, the Archbishop of Canterbury, doesn't have as much power, she said.

"Christ is the head of the church. We agree to come together," she said.

The decision to confirm Robinson had little impact on St. Ann's, which formalized a policy more than a year ago to welcome people of all sexual orientations, she said.

"There are some people who feel that Bishop Robinson is a real challenge ... and others who are affirming that," she said.

More gay people may be seeking out the Episcopal Church since the decision.

Prince said she recently got an e-mail from a gay couple inquiring about the church's stance.

"People who are searching for a faith and a faith community ought to find one," she said.

The Episcopal Church went through a similar debate 25 years ago when it decided to allow the ordination of women priests. Weatherholt is married to one of the first women to be ordained, the Rev. Anne Weatherholt of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Boonsboro.

Even today, there are three dioceses that don't totally accept women priests.

Differing opinions

When it comes to gay rights or women's rights, people on both sides of the argument can cite scriptures to support their views, Allan Weatherholt said.

In the Tri-State area, the bishop who represents congregations in West Virginia, the Rev. Mike Klusmeyer, voted against Robinson's elevation. Ihloff and the Rev. Michael W. Creighton of the Diocese of Southern Pennsylvania voted for approval.

The Rev. Phil Paradine, interim rector at Trinity Episcopal Church in Martinsburg, W.Va., said his "no" vote may have tempered any negative reaction from congregation members. One person came to him upset that the convention voted to recognized gay unions, he said.

Stopping short of blessing same-sex unions and choosing not to develop marriage rites for gay couples, the church nonetheless allowed individual congregations freedom to explore the idea.

When the congregation interviews its permanent priest, that probably will be a subject that comes up to make sure the priest and church members are of the same mind, Paradine said.

There are gay people among the church's 150 worshippers.

"This has been an open church community and we welcome all of God's children here," he said.

The Herald-Mail Articles