Ordination of married homosexual at Alabama cathedral renews conflict with diocese – Episcopal News Service


Reverend Sarah Watts, Reverend Susan Oakes, Reverend Sally Herring and Reverend Jose Fernandez show up for priestly ordination at Advent Cathedral Church in Birmingham, Alabama on December 7, 2021. Video screenshot : Diocese of Alabama

[Episcopal News Service] The ordination of a married and openly gay priest in the cathedral of the Diocese of Alabama has reopened a rift between the diocesan bishop, who approved the priest’s ordination, and the dean of the cathedral, who opposes ordination of non-celibate homosexuals and said he inadvertently hosted a ceremony he disapproved of.

On December 7, four transitional deacons from the diocese were ordained priests at Advent Cathedral Church in Birmingham. In the days following the service, several blogs covering Episcopal and Anglican topics published articles saying that one of the ordinands was a married homosexual, and that acting dean Craig Smalley reversed the cathedral’s position on sexuality. by participating in the service. Smalley responded by saying that Bishop Glenda Curry had not told him about the ordinand and that Advent – as it is commonly known – only hosted the ceremony on behalf of the diocese. Smalley was enrolled in the program as master of ceremonies, and other Adventist clergy attended the service, which Curry officiated.

Smalley and the Cathedral Sacristy said they espouse an “evangelical expression of Anglicanism” that emphasizes the authority of traditional Anglican scriptures and teachings. Among them are opposition to same-sex activity and the ordination of people with same-sex relationships, positions that the Episcopal Church has rejected but that other churches in the Anglican Communion still profess.

The bloggers’ accusations prompted Curry and Smalley to issue statements in response, each explaining their side of the situation and referring to a pledge the Diocese and Cathedral signed earlier this year to protect the “theological expression” of the clergy and worshipers of the cathedral. No statement named the priest or mentioned the topic of sexuality, and Smalley and Curry criticized bloggers for stoking tensions and reporting inaccuracies.

“Unfortunately, there are people who see reconciliation and unity and want to break it”, Curry wrote in response December 11. “I love Advent. The Diocese of Alabama loves Advent. This week again, in our diocesan cycle of prayer, we prayed for Advent. I am attached to the alliance between the diocese and Advent.

Two days earlier, Smalley wrote to his congregation, saying, “Those who claim that the theological position of Advent has changed do so at best out of ignorance, or at worst in an attempt to harm and divide Advent and for their own personal gain.

“Yesterday we learned through blog posts that one of these ordained has very different theological views than Advent,” Smalley added. “First, Advent did not change his theological position. In fact, the whole purpose of the Alliance with the Diocese earlier this year was to protect and preserve Advent’s ability to maintain its theological beliefs within the Diocese of Alabama. … Second, no member of the clergy, staff, wardens, or the sacristy knew anything about those who were ordained. Ordination was a diocesan event that was controlled and planned by the diocese, but took place in Advent due to its role as the cathedral of the diocese. … Third, this incident revealed systemic failings in Advent and the Diocese in the way we interact together as a cathedral.

In her response, Curry said she did not force Advent to change her position and that the ordination of an approved candidate for the priesthood in the diocese did not violate the covenant.

“Ordination is a well-established process in the Episcopal Church which has been followed in the same manner here as in previous Advent ordinations for many years,” Curry wrote. “It was not the first time that a person with a different theological expression of Advent was ordained in our diocese and on Advent.

“I do not see Advent hosting an ordination service at the diocesan cathedral as endorsing an ordinand’s particular theological expression, but rather as an expression of their hospitality and commitment to our diocesan community. I did not fail to communicate an issue as there did not appear to be a problem to communicate. Advent was not asked to do anything to endorse or sponsor a theological point of view. “

Curry declined to answer questions from the Episcopal News Service about communications surrounding ordination and previous ordinations at the cathedral, and Smalley did not respond.

Reverend José Fernandez, one of the priests ordained at the cathedral, is a priest associated with the Episcopal Church of the Holy Apostles in Hoover, a suburb just south of Birmingham. When he was ordained a transitional deacon on April 30, the Bishop of Atlanta Rob Wright, who has known him for more than 20 years, gave the sermon. He spoke of meeting Fernandez and her husband at the Cathedral Church of St. John the God in New York City, and telling Fernandez he would be welcome as an openly gay man in the church. Fernandez did not respond to a message from the ENS.

It is not the first time that the conservative positions of Advent have put it at odds with the diocese and the Episcopal Church. In 2003, when the General Convention approved the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, then Dean, the Right Reverend Paul Zahl, sported a black flag in front of the cathedral in protest.

In 2006, the then Dean, the Right Reverend Frank Limehouse III, along with the Sacristy and other members of the clergy, released a document titled “Speak the truth in love” which set out their “theological position” on sexuality and marriage. In it, cathedral leaders supported a 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution declaring that sex is reserved for marriage between a man and a woman, that “the homosexual practice [is] incompatible with the scriptures ”and that persons in same-sex partnerships should not be married or ordained. They also criticized episcopal leaders who strayed from it and expressed a desire for a closer relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury and other bishops of the Anglican Communion.

In 2012, another former dean has left the Episcopal Church become a Catholic priest. Most recently, in May 2021, Dean Andrew Pearson resigned, giving various reasons in an interview with AL.com which detailed the conflict between the cathedral and the diocese.

For more than a decade, Advent has allowed members to designate their commitments as “Advent only” if they wanted to avoid supporting the diocese and the Episcopal Church. Pearson also used a liturgy that he himself reworked which incorporated material from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. He told former Bishop Kee Sloan of Alabama.com, who retired in January, and Curry had asked him to stop donations earmarked for the Advent and only use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. Instead, Pearson resigned and joined the Anglican Church in North America and has since started a new church in Birmingham.

In June, after Pearson’s resignation, Curry signed a pact with Smalley – who served as the Cathedral Canon Pastor before becoming Acting Dean – and the Cathedral Sacristy defining the terms of their relationship.

“The relationship between Advent and the diocese has sometimes been difficult” the diocese wrote when the covenant was announced. “In recent decades the Episcopal Church has evolved towards a more progressive theological understanding, while Advent has deliberately retained Protestant and evangelical expression. “

Among other things, the alliance specifies that Advent will use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer and will no longer offer an Advent-only donation option. It also contains sections on “theological expression” but never mentions the sexuality, ordination or marriage of LGBTQ + people.

“The diocese understands that the evangelical identity of Advent is rooted in Scripture being its main authority… The bishop affirms and accepts that Advent will have the freedom to express its theology and to carry out its ministries from a manner consistent with the theological expression described above, “says the covenant.

In his letter, Smalley claimed that the diocese violated their covenant by not telling her about Fernandez, although her description of the covenant does not specifically match her text.

“The diocese did not inform Advent of this matter, even though the bishop had agreed that Advent would not be invited to participate, sponsor, or be seen in any way as endorsing an incompatible event. with a traditional view of the Scriptures. anything that could affirm, suggest or imply that Advent approved, tolerated or permitted such theological expressions, ”he wrote.

A Resolution of the 1994 General Convention prohibits discrimination in access to the ordination discernment process based on marital or family status, sex and sexual orientation, among other categories. However, the constitutions and canons of some dioceses still officially prohibit the ordination of anyone who is neither in a heterosexual nor celibate marriage, including Albania, Dallas and Central florida – which also officially prohibit same-sex marriages, although the clergy can celebrate them under the direction of another bishop under a provision of General Convention Resolution B012.

Alabama canons do not contain any of these prohibitions, but as clarified under B012, individual parish clergy are not required to hold sacramental ceremonies or celebrations that they object to, such as same-sex marriage or ordination of an LGBTQ + person. The alliance specifies that Advent is treated as its own parish in addition to being the seat of the diocese.

In his letter, Smalley wrote that Advent will examine how he interacts with the diocese, but did not give details of what that might entail.

“While we are disappointed and deeply saddened by the failure of the Diocese to communicate this matter on Advent, as leaders of this parish we must also recognize that we should have done more to investigate this matter on our side. . Accordingly, we will conduct a full review of this matter to ensure that we have systems and agreements in place to ensure that this does not happen again in the future, ”he wrote.

– Egan Millard is associate editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at [email protected]

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