Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 12 / 22 March 2018

Gays among Episcopal bishop choices


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An openly gay man and lesbian woman are among the five candidates vying to become California's eighth Episcopal bishop. The church announced the list of potential candidates on Monday, February 20.

Both Chicago's Bonnie Perry and Seattle's Robert V. Taylor are talented financial administrators with strong experience in congregational renewal and mission outreach. They preside over vibrant, growing churches and both earned their Masters of Divinity Degrees from New York's progressive Union Theological Seminary. Each is in a long-term partnership.

"Whether or not Robert or Bonnie is elected by the Diocese of California, it is inevitable that another gay/lesbian person will eventually be elected, confirmed, and consecrated," read a press release by Integrity, the nonprofit, grassroots voice for LGBT inclusion in the Episcopal church.

Other California bishop candidates include Alabama Bishop "Suffragan" Mark Handley Andrus, Reverend Jane Gould of Massachusetts's St. Stephen's Church, and Washington National Cathedral's Reverend Canon Eugene Taylor Sutton.

On May 6 laity and clergy will gather to elect their bishop. In June, laypeople, clergy deputies and the House of Bishops will confirm the bishop-elect at the Columbus, Ohio National General Convention.

"The church must discern faithfully even if not consonant with the understanding of other Anglican communion members," said Integrity, concerned that ratifying convention delegates will adhere to 2004's Windsor Report, a consensus among Anglican communion bishops signaling their preference after 2003's election of Eugene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire that the U.S. church step back from ordaining gay clergy and place a moratorium on same-sex blessings until further review.

"A recommendation, with no judicatory authority," said Integrity President Reverend Susan Russell, who called the naming of Taylor and Perry "a tribute to the discernment process. I am deeply grateful the process worked."

The Mission District's St. John the Evangelist Rector John Kirkley praised the search committee's "prayerful, professional and thorough" work, calling all the candidates well qualified, and "wonderfully representative of the diocese. The diocesan selection committee is to be commended. All the candidates are marvelous."

When California Episcopal Bishop William Swing announced his retirement in 2004, the search panel reviewed nominees' written essays, and conducted phone interviews, whittling the list down, which is not necessarily complete, since a petition process allows other names to be submitted until March.

Swing, bishop since 1980, chaired the First National Episcopal Conference on AIDS and the House of Bishops' AIDS Task Force, and advised the Episcopal Sanctuary for the Homeless.

Reverend Perry has, since 1992 and as rector since 2000, led the revitalization of Chicago's Ravenswood District All Saints' Church. In the early nineties the diocese considered closing the 1884 building, a historic landmark that was $25,000 in debt, with a leaky roof, peeling paint, and broken furnace and steeple bell. Only 35 people attended the church's Sunday services.

But, in 1992, Perry came aboard as interim Vicar and led the chapel's Phoenix-like rebirth with the motto "Not your parents' church." Today, the church's debts are paid off, and a capital campaign completed the structure's renovation. Its staff is triple what it once was, and 220 people now attend Sunday services.

Perry's prolific keynote addresses, workshops and presentations on congregational development - the focus of her doctorate from Seabury Western Seminary - and young adult evangelism, include titles like, "How Body Piercing Can Enhance Your Congregation: Creative Liturgies to Reach Generation X."

No stranger to California, Perry served in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in West Oakland and South Central LA.

The Very Reverend Robert V. Taylor, the first openly gay dean to lead a U.S.

Taylor initiated the first King County multi-constituency dialogue on homelessness, leading to the creation of two county-wide initiatives, and chaired King County's Committee to End Homelessness from 2003 to 2005, by mayoral appointment. He served as the first president of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation.

In upstate New York rector positions, Taylor developed youth ministries, congregation-based child and elder care, after school programs, summer youth programs, a children's choir, HIV/AIDS services, a multi-faith AIDS ministry and a homeless shelter.

Taylor, born in 1958, told the Seattle Weekly in 2000 that he viewed the church as both a sanctuary from and apologist for apartheid. His views stemmed from seeing activists take shelter from flying bullets in his Capetown, South Africa Anglican grade school chapel, while the Dutch Reform Church offered bible passages to support segregation. He fled the country to avoid mandatory military service.

"If our voices aren't at the table the rest of the community is impoverished," Taylor told the newsweekly. On the topic of homophobia, he added, "dealing with those issues opens us up to relationship and connection to God, because sometimes we're forced to."

Before the Revolutionary War, Episcopalians were the Anglican Church, with allegiance to England. In 1785 they established the U.S. Episcopal Church and removed from the Book of Common Prayer reference to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The five bishop nominees will take part in a three-hour evening "walkabout" answering parishioners' questions at 6 p.m. on April 24 at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. On June 22 Grace Cathedral will host the new bishop's consecration.

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