Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

SF gay Episcopal priest in running for bishop


The Reverend John Kirkley of San Francisco's St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church has been nominated as a bishop for the Los Angeles Diocese. Photo: Courtesy John Kirkley
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And then there were three. 

Just weeks after the Episcopalians, meeting in General Convention in Anaheim, voted to lift a de facto ban on openly gay and lesbian clergy, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and that of Minnesota have nominated two lesbians and one gay man for bishops.

The Minnesota Episcopal diocese was the first to announce its slate of candidates on August 1, including out lesbian Reverend Bonnie Perry of Chicago. Perry had been among the candidates in 2006 for bishop of the Diocese of California, which includes San Francisco. The Reverend Marc Andrus Handley, a straight man who is very supportive of LGBT issues, was elected bishop.

A day later, the Los Angeles Diocese followed suit, announcing its slate, which includes the Reverend John L. Kirkley, rector of St. John the Evangelist, located in San Francisco's Mission District, and the Reverend Canon Mary Douglas Glasspool of Baltimore.

"Coming so soon after the slate announced by the Diocese of Minnesota," said Integrity President Reverend Susan Russell in a written statement, "today's announcement by the Diocese of Los Angeles is another sign that the 'season of fasting' at the expense of the vocations of gays and lesbians in the Episcopal Church is at an end."

Reached by phone, Russell added, "for Minnesota and California to move so quickly after our convention, what they are doing is signaling that the resolution that we passed in Anaheim is not just a resolution but reality. The Episcopal Church is in a place where it is able to be broadly inclusive. That is good news not only for the diocese, but also the whole church."

Integrity is an Episcopalian LGBT advocacy group.

Meanwhile, what can be said of the three candidates?

"He's a great pastor and we'll be sorry to lose him," said Sarah Lawton, senior warden, a St. John's lay leadership position, referring to Kirkley.

Lawton declined from further comment on the selection process and nomination, as did Kirkley when reached by phone.

But Russell, who knows all three nominated candidates for bishop, offered her assessment.

"They are not the usual suspects, not the names you see in news advocating on LGBT issues in the church," she said. "What that should tell us is they are like the tip of the iceberg, I'd say of hundreds of faithful, qualified clergy members working in parishes all over this country, who might and should be considered for bishops."

All three candidates, Russell went on to say, "have strong gifts for ministry and have been recognized in their dioceses and congregations – and the national level – as strong leaders."

Nomination for bishop is the first step along the way to election in a democratic process that Episcopalians call "discernment," a reflective and prayerful conversation to figure out who is best suited to serve the diocese. The Los Angeles Diocese will vote in December, selecting a bishop from a slate of six candidates.

"We elect our bishops, with bishops, clergy and lay people all voting in convention," Russell explained, adding, "Then once the diocese selects a bishop, the whole church has to consent. And so the issue for us is not whether or not we elect a gay or lesbian bishop. That's less important than our being in a place where all of the baptized have equal access to the diocese's discernment of whether a candidate is the right person to be bishop." 

Like the first openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, both Kirkley and Douglas Glasspool are partnered in same-sex relationships. 

In 2003 Robinson's consecration caused a stir within the 2.1 million member U. S. Episcopal Church, as well as within the global 77 million-member Anglican Communion.

Will the latest progressive LGBT move stateside further strain relations among the Anglican and Episcopal faithful?

"Chicken Little can only cry, 'The sky is falling' so long before people start taking off their helmets," said Russell. "That threat has been made so many times before. And yet the Episcopal Church in Anaheim said, 'Enough. We will no longer be blackmailed into doing other than the right thing.'"

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