BANGOR, Maine — The man Maine Episcopalians chose a year ago as their bishop presided Friday over the 189th convention of the Episcopal Diocese.
Bishop Stephen Lane, 59, told the more 300 lay and clergy delegates attending the annual convention at the Bangor Civic Center that he was looking forward to “many long years in ministry with you.”
He also stressed the importance of the church’s annual gathering.
“It is here that we consider together the mission of God and our ministries as followers of Jesus Christ,” he said in his first convention address Friday afternoon. “It is here we adopt a budget for our life together. It is here that we worship God together. This is an occasion to be celebrated and savored.”
One of the things the convention did was to call for the national church to change its stance on the election of gay and lesbian clergy as bishops. By a show of hands, the delegates overwhelmingly adopted a resolution calling for the Episcopal Church at its General Convention next summer to repeal a resolution, known as B033, that was passed two years ago. The original document called upon the national body to restrain from approving the election of gay and lesbian bishops.
Bishops are elected by delegates to diocesan conventions but the national body must “consent” to those elections. Supporters of the repeal who attended the 2006 General Convention told the Maine convention Friday that B033 was passed at the eleventh hour under pressure from the retiring Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and the newly elected bishop, the Rev. Katharine Jefforts Schori.
Jefforts Schori expressed concern that she and other American bishops would not be allowed to participate in the 2008 Lambeth Conference, a meeting of bishops from around the world held every 10 years. It was held in Canterbury, England, in July and August amid anxiety over a possible schism.
Concern over whether the denomination would split began five years ago when the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, was elected bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. American bishops consented to his election.
The Anglican Communion, headed by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, demanded an apology from the Episcopal Church and a moratorium on the election of gay and lesbian bishops. Several dozen congregations and a few dioceses have left the Episcopal Church over the issue.
Peter Bickford of Christ Episcopal Church in Norway told the convention Friday that he had voted for B033 but had done so reluctantly. He urged delegates to pass the proposed resolution to repeal it because it was in conflict with Canon Law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
“After prayerful consideration, I believe we need to pass this,” said Geoffrey Schuller of Mount Desert, who worships at Saint Saviour in Bar Harbor. “This is our position [concerning the election of gay and lesbian bishops] and we need to come to terms with it. We need to consider the feelings of the Anglican Church, but we need to take a stand.”
The Rev. Barbara Clarke, who recently retired after serving St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Brewer, urged the convention to pass the resolution. A lesbian who has been in a committed relationship for many years, Clarke called B033 a “de facto denial of access” for gay and lesbian clergy to the possibility of being elected bishops.
Lane did not vote on the issue but Robinson participated in his consecration service earlier this year.
“My greatest joy, as your new bishop, has been meeting the people of the Diocese of Maine,” Lane said. “Everywhere I go, I’m impressed by the energy and the commitment of our congregations. Most have a solid worshiping community and are engaged in serious ministry to the larger congregations.
“And yet everywhere I go, I encounter concerns about aging congregations and shrinking budgets,” he continued. “Parish leaders are concerned about burnout and succession planning. I’ve been asked if I intend to close congregations or merge them. People are very concerned about the future of their churches. And so am I. It seems to me that we need an alternative to simply letting the economy have its way with us.”
Lane said that he did not intend to close churches, but pointed out that the diocese has many small congregations. The diocese has 66 parishes that are served by 29 full-time clergy. Nearly, 40 percent — a total of 26 congregations — need diocesan grants to stay afloat.
The bishop said that he wanted the diocese and congregations to engage in priority setting and strategic planning over the next year two years. He also announced a committee to study how the convention is planned, where it is held, and whether the work can be completed in one day instead of two.
The convention is scheduled to conclude today.