By Kirk Petersen
The next Bishop of Albany will inherit a diocese that has been strongly divided for half a decade on the topic of same-sex marriage — the issue that cost the former bishop his job.
The window for nominations by petition has closed, so the diocese will choose among four priests at an electing convention on September 9. All of the candidates are straight white men. Two of them lead churches in the Diocese of Albany, and two are from elsewhere. In the order listed by the diocese, the candidates are:
- The Rev. Geoffrey Ward, rector of Saint Christopher’s, River Hills, Wisconsin
- The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson, rector of Grace and Saint Stephen’s, Colorado Springs, Colorado
- The Very Rev. Neal Longe, rector of Saint Ann’s, Amsterdam, New York
- The Rev. Scott Garno, rector of Saint Stephen’s, Delmar, New York
On June 23, the diocese released candidate materials for all four priests, including biographies, brief welcome videos, and lengthy responses to a set of written questions. Question 5 reads in part: “Please describe your views on same sex marriage and explain … how EDoA Canon 16 and General Convention Resolution 2018-B012 will be handled.”
Some background: Albany’s Canon 16 and Resolution B012 are incompatible. The diocesan canon forbids any solemnization, blessing, or recognition of same-sex marriage by any priest in the diocese, or in any church of the diocese. The churchwide resolution says that same-sex marriage rites must be available in every diocese where the practice is legal under civil law. It contains a provision to enable conservative bishops to assign oversight of same-sex marriages to another bishop, thereby allowing such marriages without approving of them.
The Rt. Rev. William H. Love, the ninth and most recent Bishop of Albany, was the only bishop in the Episcopal Church who did not conform to Resolution B012. Shortly after the resolution was passed in 2018, but before it took effect, Love declared in writing that same-sex marriage would remain forbidden in the diocese. In October 2020, a church court ruled that Love had violated his vow to “engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church.”
Love resigned as Bishop of Albany before discipline was imposed, and now serves as a bishop in the Anglican Church in North America. The Standing Committee has served as the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese since February 2021. Garno was president of the Standing Committee at the time, a post he continued to hold for another year — meaning he has already performed part of the job for which he is a candidate.
On the hot-button issue of same-sex marriage, Garno was the only candidate who explicitly stated his opposition. Williamson was the only candidate who explicitly supported the practice. Longe said, “I support the provisions that the church has provided.” Ward said the issue is complicated, and “my views respect and reflect the complication.”
All four candidates pledged to abide by B012, to respect alternative points of view, and to work toward healing divisions in the diocese. The candidates’ responses run to hundreds of words on each question, with far more nuance than can be reflected this briefly. Following are some further excerpts from the candidates’ responses.
Ward: “My own theological groundings might be best described as authentically Anglican, (not present-day separatist Anglican, rather 16th century Via Media Anglican.)” …
“The presence of sin is not, in my view, pinned to either view, rather, to the invective employed in deliberation.” …
“If called to be your next bishop diocesan, it would be my solemn commitment not to steer the Diocese of Albany and its people into any canonical crises. Full stop.”
Williamson: “I have blessed two same-sex marriages — including the marriage of my aunt to her wife. The blessing, actually, brought my aunt back into the Church after decades away from Christian community.” …
“I have witnessed the love of Christ shine through same-sex marriages. Just as my faith and ministry have been strengthened by the Christian witness of my LGBTQ siblings, so has my marriage been enhanced by faithful and graceful same-sex couples. In my experience God’s grace can be, and is, apparent in same-sex marriages.” …
“The more pressing issue in the diocese seems to be Canon 16. What do we do with a canon that could cause your new bishop to be brought up on ecclesiastical charges — a circumstance which seems less than ideal?”
Longe: “The Episcopal Church has made a pastoral provision by expanding the definition of marriage to allow for same-sex couples to enter into this sacrament or covenant of self-sacrifice and love.” …
“As Bishop, I would authorize the use of the new liturgical rites as approved by the General Convention. This authorization would be made without need for waiver, special permission, or the need for outside supplemental episcopal oversight. Canon 16 of the Diocese is in conflict with those of TEC and is not enforceable.” …
“The decision to make use of the new marriage rites rests solely with the Rector or Priest-In-Charge and, as Bishop, I would support their decision.”
Garno: “I believe that God intends marriage to be the life-long covenantal relationship between one man and one woman.” …
“It is also clear, through B012, that the Episcopal Church believes that same-sex marriages should be available in all dioceses of the church. If elected bishop, I would honor the call of B012. While my conscience would not allow me to give a blanket approval for same-sex marriages in the diocese, I would not stand in the way of them occurring.” …
“We must allow ourselves the opportunity to live in this uncomfortable place while the good work that has already begun through the Task Force on Communion Across Difference (of which I was a founding member) continues to unfold.”
The questionnaire also asked about abortion, without using that word. Question 3 cites a 2007 diocesan resolution that “affirms the sanctity of human life as a gift from God from conception to natural death.” Bishops have no canonical role in either permitting or prohibiting abortions, so the candidates were asked: “As bishop, how would you interpret and teach about sanctity of life? What would be your pastoral approach to persons struggling with these issues?”
Garno had the most personal response. “Our son Josiah’s condition is one that predominantly ends in abortion; however, my wife and I were resolute from the beginning that we would cherish our son for however long the Lord deemed to give us with him.”
In a separate biographical statement, Garno wrote: “About 12 weeks into the pregnancy, we were informed that our baby had a condition called anencephaly (similar to spina bifida but affecting the skull and brain). Our son, Josiah Donald, was born in the early morning hours of February 3, 2005, and lived 16 minutes — moments we still cherish to this day.” …
“We cannot condemn those who choose differently than we would, but instead must show the grace, mercy, and compassion that the gospel demands,” he wrote.
Ward: “To dishonor sanctity of life is to dishonor God. … treating life as a gift from God from conception to natural death reveals a special discernment — whether the fact we can do something necessarily leads to the conclusion we should.”
Williamson: “In conversation with others we realize that we do not have all the answers, that the answers are typically not as simple as partisan talking points would have us believe. … And so, it is our Christian duty to deal gently with each other as we stand humbly before the sacred mystery of life.”
Longe: “In our Baptismal Covenant, we affirm our call and responsibility to respect the dignity of every human being. This call applies to all life, from conception to natural death. … It is the role of pastors to walk with people on their journey, not as the ones with all the answers, but rather as loving guides helping people to examine their lives and circumstances.”
The Diocese of Albany is one of six dioceses in the state of New York, comprising more than 100 parishes and missions spread across an area larger than the state of Massachusetts. The diocese is historically conservative — although it may be less conservative now than it was five years ago, as Bishop Love is not the only cleric in the diocese to leave the Episcopal Church because of opposition to same-sex marriage.
Whichever candidate emerges victorious on September 9 will have to gain the consent of a majority of all standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction before he can be consecrated. Normally such consent is routinely granted. But a tense consent drama continues to unfold 1,000 miles to the south — also involving same-sex marriage.
LGBTQ advocates and allies are actively urging bishops and standing committees to withhold consent from the Rev. Charlie Holt, who twice has been declared the winner in elections in the Diocese of Florida.
The Diocese of Ohio took the unusual step of announcing that it had withheld consent. A day later, Holt’s former superior, Bishop of Texas C. Andrew Doyle, backed Holt’s candidacy despite “some theological views that differ.”
The situation is complicated because a church court found serious deficiencies in the second election on November 19. The court issued a scathing report accusing the current bishop of affecting the election rolls by discriminating against LGBTQ clergy.
That drama will be resolved one way or another by July 20, after which the election will be nullified if Holt has not received the necessary consents.