NEW YORK (AP) — The Episcopal Church has moved toward affirming its acceptance of gays and lesbians for all roles in ministry, despite pressure from fellow Anglicans worldwide for a decisive moratorium on consecrating another openly gay bishop.
Bishops at the Episcopal General Convention in Anaheim, Calif., voted 99-45 Monday with two abstentions for a statement declaring “God has called and may call” to ministry gays in committed lifelong relationships.
The Rt. Rev. Stephen Lane, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, voted in favor of the statement, according to Heidi Shott, spokeswoman for the diocese.
Lay and priest delegates to the meeting had comfortably approved a nearly identical statement, and were expected to adopt the latest version before the meeting ends Friday.
Clergy and lay delegates from Maine also voted in support of the statement, called Resolution D025, Shott said.
Leaders of the Anglican Communion have been pushing Episcopalians to roll back their support for gays and lesbians since 2003, when the U.S. denomination consecrated the first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. Anglican body.
Robinson’s election brought the 77 million-member Anglican fellowship to the brink of schism. Last month, breakaway Episcopal conservatives and other like-minded traditionalists formed a rival national province called the Anglican Church in North America.
To calm tensions, the Episcopal General Convention three years ago passed a resolution that urged restraint by dioceses considering gay candidates for bishop. No other Episcopal bishops living openly with same-sex partners have been consecrated since then.
In a videotaped message to his flock posted on the diocese’s Web site, Lane called the resolution “comprehensive.”
“The resolution talks about affirming the rights of everyone to seek all offices in the church,” said Lane, 59, of Portland. “It affirms our desire to stay in the Anglican Communion.”
Maine’s bishop called the debate, which in the past has been contentious, “respectful, prayerful and thoughtful.”
Robinson was one of three bishops who participated in Lane’s consecration in May 2008 at St. Luke’s Cathedral in Portland. Lane’s predecessor, Bishop Chilton Knudsen, and his former boss, Bishop Jack M. McKelvey, head of the Episcopal diocese of Rochester, N.Y., also took part.
Drafters of the latest statement insisted that the resolution only acknowledges that the Episcopal Church ordains partnered gays and lesbians and is not a repeal of what was widely considered a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops.
“The constitution and canons of our church as currently written do not preclude gay and lesbian persons from participating” in any part of the church, said the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, on the committee that drafted the statement. “These people have responded to God’s call.”
However, the Episcopal gay advocacy group Integrity, said in a statement Monday night that the declaration “effectively ends” the temporary prohibition on gays in ministry. Integrity called the vote “another step in the Episcopal Church’s ‘coming out’ process.”
Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who leads the Episcopal Church, was among bishops who voted to approve the declaration. The statement also affirms the Episcopal Church’s commitment to participate in and help fund the Anglican Communion, the third-largest grouping of churches worldwide, behind the Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Christian churches.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican spiritual leader, had attended the Episcopal national meeting in Anaheim, Calif., in its opening days last week. He said, “I hope and pray that there won’t be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart.”
Judy Harrison of the BDN staff contributed to this report.