Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Through a Glasspool Darkly

By Eric Von Salzen

Houston recently elected a woman as mayor, and the Lord Mayor of London demanded that her election be rescinded, because she is a lesbian.

Well, of course that’s a joke, and a pretty silly one. No English official would ever think of interfering in an American election that way.

But the Anglican Communion is different. The Anglican Communion is (among other things, of course) a vestige of the British Empire, on which the sun once never set, it was “all the pink bits” on the world map, as the school teacher said in that wonderful movie Hope and Glory. Rowan Williams is the nominal head of the Anglican Communion not because he was picked by the senior clergy of the Communion as the best person to lead it (as the Cardinals pick the Pope), or because he leads the largest and most vibrant branch of the Communion, but because he was appointed by the Queen as Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Archbishop of Canterbury is head of the Church of England, and England was, once, the head of the British Empire.

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles has selected the Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool as its new Suffragan Bishop. Canon Glasspool has been Canon to the Bishops of the Diocese of Maryland since 2001, before which she was Rector of St. Margaret’s, Annapolis, MD, Rector of St. Luke’s and St. Margaret’s, Boston, and Assistant to the Rector and interim priest-in-charge of St. Paul’s, Philadelphia. She was ordained in 1982. Her father was an Episcopal priest. Take a look at Canon Glasspool’s Candidate Statement on the LA Diocese website for more information about her.

But what attracts attention to Canon Glasspool is not her credentials, but her sexual orientation. She’s a lesbian and has been in a committed relationship since 1988.

Unlike my mythical Lord Mayor of London, the Archbishop of Canterbury has not called on the dioceses of the Episcopal Church to reject Canon Glasspool’s election – although he’s clearly not happy about it. Here’s what he said:

The election of Mary Glasspool by the Diocese of Los Angeles as suffragan bishop elect raises very serious questions not just for the Episcopal Church and its place in the Anglican Communion, but for the Communion as a whole.

The process of selection however is only part complete. The election has to be confirmed, or could be rejected, by diocesan bishops and diocesan standing committees. That decision will have very important implications.

The bishops of the Communion have collectively acknowledged that a period of gracious restraint in respect of actions which are contrary to the mind of the Communion is necessary if our bonds of mutual affection are to hold.

I believe that the most recent formal collective acknowledgement by the bishops of the need for gracious restraint was in the Primates Meeting Communiqué issued February 5th of last year. The Primates said:

There are continuing deep differences especially over the issues of the election of bishops in same-gender unions, Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions, and on cross-border interventions. The moratoria, requested by the Windsor Report and reaffirmed by the majority of bishops at the Lambeth Conference, were much discussed. If a way forward is to be found and mutual trust to be re-established, it is imperative that further aggravation and acts which cause offence, misunderstanding or hostility cease. While we are aware of the depth of conscientious conviction involved, the position of the Communion defined by the Lambeth 1998 Resolution 1.10 in its entirety remains, and gracious restraint on all three fronts is urgently needed to open the way for transforming conversation.

On the “front” of “cross-border interventions”, the interventioneers have exercised no restraint, gracious or otherwise, and unless I’ve missed it the Anglican Communion and Archbishop of Canterbury have done nothing about it. On the other two fronts, the Episcopal Church observed a de facto or de jure moratorium for six years, and there certainly has been plenty of conversation, but the opinions on both sides of these issues have not been transformed.

My own view is that gracious restraint is a two-way street, and that non-Episcopalians who object to the LA Diocese’s choice of a Suffragan Bishop should exercise restraint – which I believe that the Archbishop of Canterbury has thus far done.


  1. It seems there has been a lack of restraint all the way around. Neither TEC or the AC in Canada nor the southern cone groups seem much interested in abiding by the Primates' decision. The "communion" is not doing very well.

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