By Kirk Petersen
The Diocese of Albany is seeking a new bishop because the Rt. Rev. William H. Love left the Episcopal Church after refusing to comply with General Convention’s 2018 decision on same-sex marriage rites. In the interim, the diocese has appointed an assisting bishop who shares Love’s theological views on marriage.
“Since I identify as a theological conservative, I believe I have a special responsibility to reach out across the aisle to theological liberals,” the Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith told TLC by email. “I think I have a good track record of genuine relationships of friendship and respect with people with whom I disagree in the House of Bishops.”
The diocesan Standing Committee announced August 16 that Smith, who retired in 2019 after 15 years as Bishop of North Dakota, will serve as assisting bishop during the search. He and Love were two of the eight diocesan bishops who vetoed access to same-sex marriage liturgies in their dioceses, before Resolution B012 was passed in 2018 to change the veto power.
Smith, 65, will not be leading the diocese, as a provisional bishop would — the Standing Committee will continue to be the ecclesiastical authority. “Bishop Smith will walk alongside us to provide episcopal ministry focusing on Sacramental and Pastoral responsibilities including regular regional Confirmations. Bishop Smith will also assist the diocese with other duties that are reserved for a bishop,” the committee wrote in the announcement.
Smith has played a role in multiple dioceses since his retirement, and has joked that his business card should read “Have Mitre, Will Travel.”
In addition to spending one week per month in Albany, he said he will continue in his role as a part-time assistant bishop in the Diocese of Dallas, where he also spends about one week per month. Smith teaches “Ascetical Theology and Spiritual Practices” through the diocese’s Stanton Center for Ministry Formation. He also will continue to serve as a part-time assisting bishop for the Navajo Area Mission, supporting Indigenous leadership formation there and in Alaska.
Adding two more states to the mix, he is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation of Oklahoma, and when he is not on the road he lives in Minnesota. His wife, the Rev. Lisa White Smith, is the rector of Church of the Epiphany in Plymouth, a western suburb of Minneapolis.
Smith chairs the steering committee of the Communion Partners, a group that supports the traditional teachings of the Church regarding marriage and other subjects, and is a frequent contributor to the Daily Devotional for TLC.
“As one of the original members of the Communion Partners, I can tell you that the ministry of reconciliation has been one of our highest priorities whether at the local, national, or international level,” he said.
A bishop search typically takes 18 months or more, beginning with extensive internal discussions and discernment, and the development of a diocesan profile. The process formally started in June, indicating a possible election around the end of 2022.
The search in Albany will be closely watched, in the wake of Bishop Love’s solitary two-year defiance of the General Convention’s decision on same-sex marriage. Resolution B012 says that diocesan bishops who oppose same-sex marriage shall invite another bishop to provide pastoral support to couples, clergy, and congregations in these cases.
Love refused to comply, and an ecclesiastical trial found he had violated his vow to “conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.” He resigned as Bishop of Albany before a sentence was imposed. He subsequently relinquished his orders in the Episcopal Church, and is now a bishop in the Anglican Church in North America.
Love’s departure after taking a conservative stand prompted at least four priests and four deacons to leave the diocese in protest. These departures could collectively affect the theological balance of the diocese, and the election of the next bishop diocesan will be an indicator. The membership of the profile and search committee was elected by churches in each of the eight geographic deaneries of the diocese, and social media posts indicate it includes some diversity of opinion on same-sex marriage.