Saturday, December 17, 2011

Florida’s new Episcopal Bishop faces big challenges

From Central Florida-

It’s a confusing time to be a member of the Episcopal Church. More than two decades of bickering over a range of theological issues, notably the question of whether openly gay and lesbian people can be ordained as priests and bishops, has left one of America’s oldest denominations splintered.

Over the past eight years, the ordinations of gay and lesbian priests as bishops has prompted strong objections from traditionalists, and some bishops have gone as far as schism — leaving the Episcopal Church for an array of more conservative Anglican groups.

Into this situation comes the Rev. Gregory Brewer, who recently was elected bishop of the Diocese of Central Florida, based in Orlando. Brewer, who was pastor of Calvary-St. George’s Episcopal Church in New York City, has big shoes to fill. He will succeed the Rt. Rev. John Howe, who is retiring in March.

Howe has been a stalwart of the traditionalist wing of the Episcopal Church, and his voice — unwavering yet charitable toward those who disagreed with him — has wielded influence far beyond Orlando.

Howe lobbied for policies that would allow conservative dioceses like his to have a measure of independence, remaining within the Episcopal Church as a kind of loyal opposition. He was willing to talk with those he disagreed with, including Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop. Howe’s approach earned respect and kept most of the traditionalists in his diocese pacified.

The controversy about the role of gays and lesbians in the church has proved nearly insoluble among mainline Protestant churches that have been debating it actively since the 1980s. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (USA) have within the past year loosened their policies to allow the ordination of gays and lesbians in some situations. The fallout has been predictable: Significant minorities of congregations — especially large and wealthy congregations — are planning to leave.

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