By Kirk Petersen
The Diocese of Albany has postponed action that would bring its rules on sexuality into compliance with the broader church. The postponement, at the annual convention on October 23, delays a conversation that will indicate how conservative the diocese will continue to be.
Albany was the last remaining domestic diocese where the then-bishop prohibited same-sex marriage rites. The Rt. Rev. William H. Love, who held the traditional view that marriage is a union of a man and a woman, resigned as Bishop of Albany earlier this year, and subsequently left the Episcopal Church altogether. He had been convicted after a lengthy disciplinary process of violating his vow of obedience to the church, by declining to conform to the General Convention’s 2018 decision authorizing same-sex marriage rites wherever such marriages are legal.
The diocese is in the early stages of searching for a new bishop, and the person selected will face the challenge of bringing together the liberal and conservative factions of the diocese. Partisans on both sides are looking for indications of how conservative the next bishop may be.
The convention had been scheduled to consider two changes to the canons of the diocese. The first would have eliminated the canonical requirement that priests and deacons in the diocese must either be celibate or in a marriage between a man and a woman. The second would have eliminated a canon that explicitly prohibited the solemnization or blessing of any same-sex marriage or union.
But the measures were halted at the beginning of the convention, during consideration of a resolution authorizing the convention to be held online, rather than in person.
The Rev. Richard Roessler, rector of Church of the Cross in Ticonderoga, New York, moved an amendment to prevent consideration of changes to the canons at an online convention. He and other same-sex marriage opponents argued that the online format inhibits the depth of deliberation necessary for something as important as a canonical change.
Same-sex marriage supporters responded that other important matters would be considered at the convention, and if the online format is inadequate, the convention should be adjourned. The Rev. Glen Michaels, priest-in-charge of five small congregations in the Adirondack mountains, also argued that any healing process requires extensive conversation about the sources of conflict, and that debate over same-sex marriage would provide a forum to begin that conversation.
After more than 90 minutes of debate and procedural motions, the amendment barring votes on canonical changes was approved, 126 to 116. A subsequent motion to adjourn was defeated 161 to 78. There’s no way to know which tally, if either, serves as a better proxy for overall sentiment on same-sex marriage, but it’s clear there is substantial support for each side.
The votes were largely symbolic. The Rev. Scott Garno, president of the Standing Committee and rector of St. Stephen’s in Delmar, told the convention that the diocesan canons on marriage and sexuality “conflict with the legislation of the Episcopal Church, and as such, are unenforceable.” But he added that some in the diocese believe the canons “make an important statement about what the Diocese of Albany believes.”
Michaels, who proposed the resolutions to change the canons, told TLC he was disappointed that they had failed. He also said he was concerned that “if we recruit a bishop who is comfortable coming here with these resolutions on the books, we may end up selecting a bishop who can’t gather enough votes from the standing committees of the other dioceses to become our new bishop.”