By Kirk Petersen
Former Bishop of Albany William H. Love announced March 30 that he has been released at his request from ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church, and is seeking to be received in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
|Update: On April 3, ACNA announced that Love will serve as an assisting bishop.|
The move is another jolt to the Diocese of Albany, which has been without a bishop since February 1, the effective date of Love’s resignation as leader of the diocese. (His resignation letter is at the bottom of this article.) Now the diocese is in the very early stages of a bishop search that will last about 18 months. The outcome will help determine whether the diocese falls into step with the broader Episcopal Church or continues to chart its own course.
Love’s departure from the church occurred suddenly, but his resignation as diocesan bishop became nearly inevitable more than two years earlier, when he declared in a November 2018 pastoral letter that a policy change made by the General Convention would have no effect in the Diocese of Albany.
Love’s declining to permit the use of same-sex marriage rites led to charges that he was violating his vow to “engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.” He resigned in October 2020 after being found guilty in an ecclesiastical trial.
His defense centered on the assertion that same-sex marriage is contrary to God’s law, and that Resolution B012, which mandated access to same-sex marriage rites in every diocese where such marriages are legal, did not have canonical status.
Love’s predecessor, the VIII Bishop of Albany, Daniel W. Herzog, held back until the diocese commemorated Love’s episcopacy at a special service (which had to be postponed until February 27 while Love recovered from a mild case of COVID-19). Foreshadowing Love’s departure, Herzog announced on March 15 that after Easter he would relinquish both his crozier and his collar, and depart from ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church.
Meanwhile, a rival Anglican jurisdiction announced plans to establish a foothold in Albany. The Anglican Diocese of the Living Word (ADLW) said it was “praying and exploring ways to launch a new regional ministry network … in the Capitol Region and surrounding areas of New York.” Four priests and four deacons have left the Diocese of Albany in recent months, and at least two of the priests are headed to ADLW, which is part of the ACNA.
ADLW held an informational meeting in November for clergy who might be interested, said one priest in the diocese, adding that they hadn’t wanted to compete with Bishop Love while he was in charge. A spokesman for the ADLW did not respond to multiple inquiries by telephone and email.
ADLW is based in Virginia, but has churches in 15 states. Unlike the Episcopal Church, where dioceses are defined geographically, some of the 28 ACNA dioceses overlap for historical reasons.
If Love is accepted as a bishop or priest in the ACNA, which seems likely, it is not clear where he would serve. “At the moment, Karen and I have no plans to physically move from our home in the Adirondacks, but we also know it would not be appropriate for me to serve in any ACNA parishes within the geographic boundaries of the Diocese of Albany,” Love wrote in his announcement to the diocese.
“As a cradle Episcopalian (with nearly 30 years of ordained ministry as a deacon, priest and bishop), [leaving its ordained ministry] was not an easy decision, but given all that has transpired these past couple of years and the constraints placed upon me as a theologically conservative and orthodox bishop within TEC, I believe it is the right decision,” he wrote.
In interviews conducted before the March 30 announcement, the clergy and lay people of the Diocese of Albany reacted to Love’s departure with emotions ranging from grief to relief. Love’s support within the diocese was widespread and fervent, but not universal.
The Rev. Brad Jones, a senior priest who is rector of Christ Church in Schenectady, told TLC he is “totally supportive” of bishops Love and Herzog, and found it “infuriating” when Love was found guilty by the ecclesiastical Hearing Panel.
But he’s not leaving the Episcopal Church. He’s been at Christ Church for 23 years, and he is committed to the church’s very active ministry with the inner-city community, including a crisis pregnancy center in the church building.
Other supporters of Bishop Love’s were less willing to talk when contacted by TLC. The Rev. Dan Jones, rector of St. Michael’s in Colonie, confirmed that he is leaving to join ADLW, but declined further comment.
The Rev. Dave Haig of St. Luke’s on the Hill in Mechanicville has announced he is making a similar switch, but declined to comment because he was “focused on Lent and Holy Week.”
Bishop Herzog, 79, when asked about his plans by text message, replied “Busy now. After Easter.” This will be Herzog’s second departure from the Episcopal Church. After he retired as Bishop of Albany in 2007, he renounced his ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He was restored to Episcopal ministry at his request in 2010 by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Opponents of Bishop Love have been less reluctant to speak. The Rev. Glen Michaels, a bivocational priest who is an assistant attorney general for the State of New York, went on record in 2018 saying he would be willing to marry a same-sex couple as a test case, despite Love’s prohibition.
Michaels serves as priest in charge of All Souls Memorial Chapel in St. Hubert’s in the Adirondacks, about 100 miles north of Albany, and as a supply priest for churches operating under Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO).
DEPO was established in 2004, in the wake of the consecration the prior year of Bishop Gene Robinson, a partnered gay man. It is a program for parishes whose theological differences with the diocesan bishop are so profound that the relationship is essentially broken. Under DEPO, a parish remains nominally in the diocese but is overseen by a bishop from a nearby diocese.
Michaels said he has served at three DEPO congregations in the Diocese of Albany: St. John’s, Essex; St. Luke the Beloved Physician, Saranac Lake; and St. Andrew’s, Albany. The largest of these, St. Andrew’s (pre-pandemic average Sunday attendance of 87), burned a copy of Love’s November 2018 pastoral letter after it was read to the parish at a Sunday service.
Barbara Winsom, senior warden at St. Andrew’s, acknowledged that the burning had occurred but said it was not a planned event. She said it happened after a gay man in the congregation approached rector Mary Robinson White after the service and said he would like to burn the letter.
Winsom said she doesn’t know whether the DEPO arrangement will continue under a new bishop, adding, “I would hope there wouldn’t be a need for it.”
Asked if St. Andrew’s had any connection to the rest of the diocese in a meaningful way, she said “No, not really,” and that people from the parish have not been permitted to serve on diocesan committees. When her adult son was at a previous diocesan convention, she said his table mates at lunch picked up their food and walked away after learning he was from St. Andrew’s.
She has asked that St. Andrew’s be represented on the bishop search committee, but has received no response.
In the absence of a bishop, the ecclesiastical authority for the diocese is the Standing Committee, whose president is the Rev. Scott Garno. Via email to TLC, he said most search committee members will be elected by the eight geographic deaneries within the diocese. “We would hope that the members of the search committee would be truly representative of the entire diocese,” he said.
The challenge for the search committee will be to find a new bishop who can draw the different factions of the diocese together. Brad Jones, the Schenectady rector, expressed concern that an orthodox nominee would not receive the necessary consents from at least half of the Standing Committees and diocesan bishops. “Would we get approval for anyone we would elect?” he asked.
Jones may have in mind the controversy surrounding the election of Mark Lawrence, a prominent conservative, as the Diocese of South Carolina’s 14th bishop in 2006-07. Jefferts Schori declared Lawrence’s September 2006 election null and void in March 2007, because of inadequate necessary consents.
According to a statement at the time from the non-consenting Standing Committee in the Diocese of Bethlehem, It was the first time such a failure had happened in more than 50 years, and only the 12th time in the history of the Episcopal Church. Jefferts Schori’s comments on the ruling mentioned procedural issues, noting that some consents were deemed invalid because they lacked signatures. But Lawrence’s loyalty to the Episcopal Church had been widely questioned by progressives at the time.
The Diocese of South Carolina promptly elected Lawrence for a second time, he received the necessary consents — and three years later he began taking steps to lead a majority of the diocese’s churches out of the Episcopal Church. Lawrence was eventually deposed from ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church, and serves to this day as bishop of the Anglican Diocese of South Carolina in the ACNA.
Another conservative, Dan Martins, a former colleague of Lawrence’s in the Diocese of San Joaquin, was elected Bishop of Springfield in September 2010. He received the necessary consents despite a letter sent to the Standing Committees of all Episcopal dioceses noting “grave concerns” about Martins’s loyalty. Martins, who recently announced his retirement, remained true to his promise to keep the Diocese of Springfield within the Episcopal Church.
The Rt. Rev. Todd Ousley, the Church’s bishop for pastoral development, told TLC: “Failure to receive consents is very, very rare.” In addition to Lawrence, there have been only two instances since 2006: Haiti in 2018, after an election with credible allegations of misconduct, and Northern Michigan in 2009.
In the latter case, a bishop-elect was rejected for not being orthodox enough. The Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester fell short of success in 2009 because of his “decade-long practice of Zen meditation, changes he made to baptism rites, and ideas he espoused about salvation, including the existence of multiple paths to God,” according to a Religion News Service article at the time.
Regarding concerns about an Albany election, “we believe that there is a way forward for Albany as an orthodox diocese within the Episcopal Church,” Garno wrote. “As long as that is true, then we are confident we should be able to receive adequate consents.”
The Diocese of Albany will be spared years of property lawsuits that continue to afflict some of the dioceses that have been split. Michaels, the assistant attorney general, said state trust law makes it clear that the church buildings belong to the diocese, and Garno said the departing priests have no intention to challenge that.
Mark Michael contributed reporting to this article.