The Archbishop of Canterbury, the British-based spiritual leader of the Anglican Church, says the election earlier this month of a lesbian Episcopal priest from Annapolis, Md., as assistant bishop in Los Angeles could be reversed to avert a further split in the church over homosexuality.
Archbishop Rowan Williams told Reuters News Service in London that the election of Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles as the church’s first lesbian bishop “raises very serious questions” for the Episcopal Church, which serves as the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.
“The process of selection is only part complete,” Williams said. “The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications.”
The confirmation process of bishops elected by Episcopal dioceses has long been considered a formality. Bishops from all U.S. Episcopal dioceses, who vote by mail to confirm such elections, almost always uphold the elections. A refusal to confirm Glasspool’s election would be viewed as a clear rebuke due to fears that her sexual orientation would worsen the church rift over the ordination of gays, according to church observers.
Glasspool, 55, spoke to the Baltimore Sun and other media outlets the day after her Dec. 5 election to the post of assistant bishop in the Los Angeles Episcopal diocese. But this week, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Maryland, to which Glasspool is currently assigned, told DC Agenda she was no longer granting interviews until at least Jan. 4 due to “family commitments.”
Her election comes at a time when Episcopal congregations continue to struggle over the issue of whether to ordain gay clergy following the election in 2003 of gay Episcopal priest V. Gene Robinson as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.
Robinson’s election prompted dozens of conservative Episcopal congregations to sever ties with the U.S. Episcopal Church, with some creating new ties with ultra-conservative Anglican dioceses in Africa and South America.
At the urging of the Archbishop of Canterbury, most U.S. Episcopal dioceses agreed to a moratorium on electing gay bishops shortly after Robinson’s election. But earlier this year, U.S. Episcopal Church leaders voted at their national convention in Anaheim, Calif., to remove all barriers to the selection of gay men and lesbians to top church positions, including the post of bishop.
A statement on the Dioceses of Los Angeles web site says Glasspool was approached by diocesan officials in L.A. to apply for one of two vacant posts for assistant bishop, which are referred to in the church as “Bishop Suffragan” positions.
The statement says she was elected on the seventh ballot cast by about 800 clergy and lay delegates to the annual meeting of the L.A. Diocesan Convention in Riverside, Calif. It also notes that she is the second woman to be elected a bishop since the diocese was founded 114 years ago.
Biographical information released by the diocese says Glasspool is a resident of Annapolis, Md., and lives with her domestic partner of 19 years, Becki Sanders. Glasspool, a native of New York City, was ordained a priest in 1982 in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. She holds a master of divinity degree from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.
If confirmed by U.S. Episcopal bishops in the consent process, Glasspool is scheduled to be ordained as a bishop in May 2010 in Los Angeles.
“I am very excited about the future of the whole Episcopal Church, and I see the Diocese of Los Angeles leading the way into that future,” Glasspool said in a statement released the day following her election to the L.A. Diocese.
“But just for this moment, let me say again, thank you, and thanks be to our loving, surprising God,” she said. “I look forward, in the coming months, to getting to know you all better, as together we build up the Body of Christ for the world.”