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Albany Election Signals New Course on Same-Sex Marriage

By Kirk Petersen

After a dramatic day of voting, a strong supporter of same-sex marriage was elected to become the 10th Bishop of Albany — succeeding a bishop whose uncompromising opposition led to the end of his career in the Episcopal Church.

The Rev. Jeremiah Williamson, currently the rector of Grace and Saint Stephen’s in Colorado Springs, Colorado, prevailed on the fourth ballot after a series of votes that revealed a sharp split of opinion between the clergy and the laity. Assuming his election is confirmed by the broader church, he will take leadership of a diocese that has been roiled in conflict for the past five years.

“I believe God has called us together to be one body, to spread the gospel of Jesus, to witness to the power of love to transcend our differences, to hold our hearts together,” Williams told the convention by video link. “I believe that God has called us together to dream with our God into the future. I am so excited to hear your stories, to build trust, to allow our relationship to blossom.”

Through the first three ballots, Williamson led among the laity, first in a plurality and then in increasing majorities, and ultimately he received just under three-quarters of the lay vote. The Rev. Scott Garno — the most conservative of the four candidates — led in the clergy vote on each of the first three ballots, topping out at 50 percent on the third. But on the fourth ballot, with the slate narrowed to two candidates, one of Garno’s clergy supporters apparently switched sides. Williamson received 56 votes to Garno’s 54, or 51 percent to 49 percent, and was declared the bishop-elect.

Garno, the rector of Saint Stephen’s in Delmar, New York, is well-known among the Albany clergy. He served as president of the Standing Committee, which became the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese after the resignation of Bishop William H. Love in early 2021. A church court found that Love violated his vow of obedience by refusing to accept a change in church policy on same-sex marriage. He now serves as a bishop in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

Williamson and Garno were the two candidates at the opposite ends of the spectrum on the issue of same-sex marriage. All four candidates pledged to adhere to the church’s policy, adopted in 2018 via Resolution B012, that same-sex marriage rites must be made available in every diocese where the practice is legal under secular law.

Garno, the only candidate who explicitly stated the traditional view that marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman, nevertheless said he would not stand in the way of same-sex marriages in the diocese. Williamson was the only candidate who explicitly supported same-sex marriage, and said he had personally blessed two such unions.

The other two candidates expressed support for church policy without voicing an opinion on the underlying issue. They are the Very Rev. Neal Longe, rector of Saint Ann’s, in Amsterdam, in the Diocese of Albany; and the Rev. Geoffrey Ward, rector of Saint Christopher’s in River Hills, Wisconsin.

Voting was paused after the third ballot to decide whether all four candidates should remain on the slate. The rules of order for the convention provided that after the third ballot, any candidate receiving less than 5 percent of the combined lay and clergy vote should be dropped. Longe and Ward had lost support on each successive ballot, and both faced elimination under the rules, but neither withdrew voluntarily.

A motion to suspend the rule and retain all four candidates failed overwhelmingly. It would have required a two-thirds affirmative vote for passage, but nearly two thirds voted no, leaving only Garno and Williamson in contention.

The clergy in the Diocese of Albany, as a group, appear to be considerably more conservative than the laity — even after the departure of some clergy in the wake of Love’s resignation. This is the opposite of the apparent pattern in the American dioceses of the church as a whole, where more than 90 percent of bishops diocesan support same-sex marriage.

In the ill-fated elections last year in the Diocese of Florida, the laity supported the conservative candidate more strongly than the clergy. The Rev. Charlie Holt won by a comfortable margin in the lay order but barely cleared the majority threshold in the clergy order. A church court criticized the integrity of the election process, and Holt’s election was nullified in July after he fell short of receiving consent from a majority of bishops with jurisdiction and standing committees.

If Williamson does receive the necessary consents, he will be consecrated early in 2024. No date has been announced.

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.

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