By Kirk Petersen
In an effort to heal after years of conflict over same-sex marriage, the Diocese of Albany is reuniting two long-time friends with miters who have agreed to disagree on the subject.
The diocese announced December 20 it has asked the Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher to provide supplemental episcopal pastoral support for any priest who may wish to conduct a same-sex marriage ceremony. In that role, she will work closely with the Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith, a conservative who was hired in August to support the diocese while it searches for its next bishop.
The bishops have known each other for three decades. As Christian leaders from separate Native American tribes, they have spent their entire careers navigating cultural divides. She used to work with him as an assistant bishop when he was Bishop of North Dakota. And they participated in a Living Church podcast together, where friendship can be heard in their voices as they banter with each other.
“While +Carol and I differ on our theological views about whether Christian marriage is between two persons or between a man and a woman, we have been friends and colleagues for many years and have been able to focus on that which unites us rather than divides,” Smith said in the written announcement.
Smith, 66, is an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and has served part-time roles in the Diocese of Dallas and the Navajo Area Mission since retiring in 2019 after 15 years as Bishop of North Dakota.
Gallagher, 65, is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation. She will continue in her role as one of three regional canons in the Diocese of Massachusetts, where she oversees transition ministries and supports functions such as lay leadership development and clergy wellness. Albany will be the sixth diocese where she plays a formal role. She served as bishop suffragan of Southern Virginia from 2002 to 2005, and subsequently served in assisting roles in Newark and Montana, in addition to working with Smith in North Dakota from 2008 to 2014.
“Both of us have been raised with a sense of the importance of building bridges,” Gallagher told TLC by telephone. “Our friendship is deep enough that we don’t battle out theology.”
Albany was the last domestic diocese in the Episcopal Church to forbid the use of the same-sex marriage rites that were approved by General Convention in 2015. The legislation that year provided that the rites could be used only with the permission of the diocesan bishop. Eight bishops withheld that permission, including Smith and the Rt. Rev. William Love, who served as Bishop of Albany from 2007 to 2021.
Resolution B012 in 2018 eliminated the bishop’s veto, and provided that bishops opposed to same-sex marriage could enlist another bishop to oversee priests who wished to perform such marriages. (This will be Gallagher’s role now in Albany.)
Love alone refused to comply with B012, a stance that ultimately ended his career in the Episcopal Church. Facing disciplinary action for violating his vow of doctrinal obedience, he resigned as Bishop of Albany effective February 1, 2021. He subsequently resigned from ordained Episcopal ministry entirely, and now serves as assistant bishop of the Diocese of the Living Word in the Anglican Church in North America.
Love’s predecessor as Bishop of Albany, Daniel W. Herzog, left the church about the same time he did, as did four priests and four deacons in the diocese. Three priests, whom the diocese declined to identify, have inquired about performing same-sex marriages.
“There are people who are really hurting” in the diocese, Gallagher said, and she hopes she and Smith will be able to provide healing.