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Tensions arise between cathedral and bishop over an ordinand’s “theological views”

Tensions arise between cathedral and bishop over an ordinand’s “theological views”

As reported by the Alabama news outlet AL.com, The Episcopal Cathedral Cathedral of the Advent and the Bishop of the Diocese of Alabama, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Glenda C. Curry, are at odds over a recent ordination service at the cathedral. Cathedral officials say they were not informed that one of the four ordinands was a married/partnered (accounts differ) gay man. His partner was one of his presenters. The Cathedral holds a position opposing ordination of homosexuals. The Cathedral has issued a statement and the Bishop has issued a statement in reply.

Both statements refer to a blogger/s. Neither statement refers to sexual identity: The Cathedral says “one of those ordained has theological views that are very different than those of the Advent” while the Bishop says “someone with a theological expression different from the Advent”.

There three sections below: I. the Cathedral’s statement; II. the Bishop’s statement; and III. the previous dean Andrew Pearson quoted by the conservative bloggers.

I. Cathedral of the Advent dean and vestry respond to concerns from Tuesday’s ordination service (link)

December 9, 2021

Dear friends,

In our role as the Cathedral of the Diocese, an ordination service was held at the Advent on Tuesday evening. Our Bishop, Glenda Curry, presided over the service. As our interim Dean and Rector, Craig was there as a master of ceremonies. Our choir participated, and some of you served as acolytes and by graciously providing a reception. Yesterday, we learned through blog posts that one of those ordained has theological views that are very different than those of the Advent. Those blog posts, however, contain numerous false statements and we wanted to provide the actual facts to you.

First, the Advent has not changed its theological position. In fact, the entire point of the Covenant with the Diocese earlier this year was to protect and preserve the Advent’s ability to maintain its theological beliefs within the Diocese of Alabama. Those beliefs include the affirmation of the inspiration, sufficiency, and infallibility of Scripture as professed by the Thirty-nine Articles and grounded in the historic Anglican Formularies. On this particular issue, the Advent expressed its position back in 2006 in a Report titled “Speaking the Truth in Love.” This is the position of the Advent. Those who are misrepresenting that the theological position of the Advent has changed are doing so at best out of ignorance, or at worst in an attempt to harm and divide the Advent and for their own personal gain.

Second, none of the clergy, staff, wardens, or vestry knew anything about those who were being ordained. The ordination was a Diocesan event that was vetted and planned by the Diocese, but was held at the Advent because of its role as the Cathedral of the Diocese.

Third, this incident has revealed systemic failures at the Advent and the Diocese in how we interact together as the Cathedral. The Diocese failed to inform the Advent of this issue even though the Bishop had agreed that the Advent would not be asked to participate in, sponsor, or otherwise be seen to endorse an event that was incompatible with a traditional view of Scripture, or do anything that would assert, suggest, or imply that the Advent approved, condoned, or authorized such theological expressions. Although we are disappointed in and deeply grieved by the Diocese’s failure to communicate this issue to the Advent, as leaders of this parish we must also recognize that we should have done more to investigate this issue on our end. Accordingly, we will be conducting a full review of this issue to ensure that we have systems and agreements in place to ensure that this does not happen in the future.

Lastly, we hasten to restate something of critical importance. The grace of God given to us through the death and resurrection of Christ is sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world. None of us are without sin; none of us are better than another; one person’s sins are not worse than another’s; none of us are righteous, not one. The Lord’s grace is freely given to all, but his Church cannot affirm anything which is univocally forbidden in Scripture. By God’s grace, we will stand firm, witnessing to the Lord’s gracious work on and in each of us. Some words towards the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians come readily to many of us: The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (4:5-7)

Please pray that we will continue to engage these events prayerfully, faithfully, and diligently, trusting in the certainty of the promises of God. We remain committed to seeking the way forward that honors Christ in all things.

Yours faithfully,

Craig Smalley, Interim Dean and Rector

The Vestry of the Cathedral Church of the Advent

II. A note from Bishop Glenda Curry regarding the Ordination Service at the Advent (link)

December 11, 2021

Dear Friends,

This week I ordained four people as priests at the Cathedral Church of the Advent. This beautiful service renewed our practice of ordaining priests in a diocesan service at the Cathedral. Unfortunately, after the service, a blog writer posted an article that was critical of the Advent’s role in hosting the ordination service. This criticism has led the leadership of the Advent to question my actions in planning the service.

The information about the four people ordained was widely published in the diocese prior to the service. They were selected, trained, and approved for ordination pursuant to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. They were vetted by the Standing Committee of the diocese and the Commission on Ministry.  As part of the agreement between the Advent and the diocese, the Advent has a seat on the Commission on Ministry but has not yet offered anyone to fill that place.

Ordination is a well-established process in the Episcopal Church that was followed in the same manner in this instance as in previous ordinations at the Advent over many years.  This was not the first time that someone with a theological expression different from the Advent has been ordained in our diocese and at the Advent.

I do not view the Advent hosting an ordination service as the Cathedral of the diocese as endorsing any ordinand’s particular theological expression, but instead is an expression of their hospitality and commitment to our diocesan community. I did not fail to communicate an issue because there did not appear to be an issue to communicate. The Advent was not asked to do anything to endorse or sponsor a theological viewpoint.

The diocese did not invite the press or outside media. The diocese did not highlight or draw attention to the theological expression of any of the ordinands. The live-streaming of the service was within the usual custom and practice of the diocese.

Reflecting on this week, I wish I had anticipated that someone would use a beautiful celebration to sow seeds of division. I wish I had anticipated that some people may want to undermine the ministry of the Advent and its relationship to the diocese. Sadly, there are people that see reconciliation and unity and want to break it apart.

God’s Peace,

The Rt. Rev. Glenda S. Curry, Ph.D
Episcopal Diocese of Alabama

III. The bloggers and the former dean

Following the ordinations two conservative blogs posted on the ordination service, drawing attention to the sexual identity of one of the ordinands.

Anglican.ink has taken down its post — their link,Winds of change blowing through the Cathedral of the Advent, has been taken down (“404 Not Found”). The beginning of the post, however, lives on Facebook (link):

Anglican.ink’s report/op-ed appears to derive from that of another blogger.

In his post the other blogger quotes the Rev. Andrew Pearson who resigned as dean of the Cathedral in May. (Pearson says he resigned for reasons other than the Episcopal Church’s approval of gays in the priesthood and of gay marriage equality. He joined the Anglican Church of North America (not of the Anglican Communion) and in September he started an ACNA church in Birmingham.

Of the recent ordination, Pearson says:

After 30 years of straddling through all of these issues, the Advent has made a fairly definitive decision to be an Episcopal Church full-stop….Today, December 7th, the Cathedral Church of the Advent hosted and participated in the ordination of a partnered homosexual as a priest. The cathedral choir provided the music, along with two staff organists. Cathedral Deacon Katherine Jacob was the gospeller. Interim Dean, Canon Craig Smalley, participated in laying hands on the ordinand. In a generation, that which was once protested is now sanctioned.

Pearson says that while he was dean he refused to schedule the ordination and that when he left the senior leadership of the Cathedral was aware of the reason.

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James Perra

Most of the positions put forward in these comments cover what I might offer so let me add two brief points:

While I do not believe that an LGBTQ+ identity is a source of sinfulness I remained baffled when my conservative siblings try to mollify discrimination by proclaiming “no one person’s sin is greater than another” (absolutely true) only after specifying that this one form of “sinfulness” should be disqualifying from holy orders or other roles in the church. I don’t see a lot of cases being made to exclude any other class of sin from ordination.

It appears that the Cathedral Congregation has invested a lot of emotional energy in not being compelled to participate in the mainstream life of the Episcopal church, and when pushed I suspect that those who would not openly endorse schism and separation would desire that their theological viewpoints be taken seriously, that they be experienced as “real Episcopalians,” and not presumed to be using “tradition” as a fig leaf for a political ideology. Their espoused view seems to be “this is who we are, and Cathedral of the diocese or not, we should not be coerced to behave otherwise.”

And yet I imagine that if a Cathedral in a more progressive diocese were asked to host the ordination of a person who was declarative prior to ordination that they held “traditional” views and would not participate in liturgies endorsing the full participation of LGBTQ+ persons in the life of the church, and that progressive cathedral community responded by withdrawing their hospitality and invitation, the membership of the Cathedral in Alabama would experience that as further evidence that their own points of view were being maligned and marginalized, feel personally injured, and perhaps even cry out that this is evidence of “cancel culture” run amok.

I don’t have any solution except to remind us all, in this season when so many of us are running our stewardship and pledge campaigns, that one of the most beautiful and profound disciplines of the church is placing ourselves and our treasure at the mercy of the Body of Christ as revealed through collective interpretation and decision making.

When any of us elevate either our own viewpoints or our understanding of what is “traditional” to justify opting out of the discerned life and polity of the Episcopal church, we are in fact turning our backs on one of the most profound bedrocks of our identity: ancient catholic ecclesiology as interpreted by our collective and evolving understanding.

Cynthia Katsarelis

It sounds like Advent shouldn’t be a cathedral, they aren’t equipped to serve the role. They don’t trump the bishop or have authority over the diocese.

Um, being LGBTQIA isn’t a “theological view.” It’s an immutable characteristic of some of God’s children.

The “sin” bit is offensive, hurtful, and rejected by the larger church.

Thomas Rightmyer

The General Convention decided to ordain women as priests in the 1970’s and some lay and clergy Episcopalians – including a retired bishop – decided that this decision was a sufficient departure from the received doctrine of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church that in good conscience they had to leave the Episcopal Church and form other churches. Many approved the ordinations and others who did not approve concluded that the ordinations were a matter of discipline not doctrine and the General Convention and the corresponding leaders of other Anglican churches had the right to make this change in discipline.

A majority of the bishops and Standing Committees (or was it General Convention?) approved the consecration of a non-celibate gay man to be a bishop in 2003 and more lay and clergy Episcopalians including the bishops and conventions of four dioceses decided that this decision was a sufficient departure from the received doctrine of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church that in good conscience they had to leave the Episcopal Church and form another church. Many approved the ordination and consecration and others who did not approve concluded that this was a matter of discipline not doctrine an/d the General Convention and the corresponding leaders of other Anglican churches had the right to make this change in discipline. Some of those who did not approve of that consecration or of the ordination of gay people as clergy still seem to think this is a doctrinal question; others don’t see the distinction.

Donna J Gerold

I’m calling CLICK BAIT on your headline. The issues raised by an unidentified source are erroneous. These four priests were ordained to the diaconate in May/June 2021. The news was widely published in our quarterly diocesan newsletter, the same for their priestly ordinations. If the cathedral claims to be unaware it is because of their own decision to separate itself from all things diocesan, including reading the Alabama Episcopalian.. The fact that the cathedral sees their “theological view” as different from the wider Episcopal church in the USA does not negate the fact that as a cathedral they have certain responsibilities and roles in the functioning of the diocese. One of which is to hold diocesan events. (In reality, the the Bishop’s chair sits in the cathedral as a working and alive symbol of her place at the cathedral.) The comment from the previous dean: ” After 30 years of straddling through all of these issues, the Advent has made a fairly definitive decision to be an Episcopal Church full-stop…” Inclusion of all God’s children is being ‘The Episcopal Church, full stop”. Reporting on this is continuing to stir the pot, disrupt the healing and mending of a long broken relationship.

Becky Zimmerman

This is sad and disheartening. I am looking forward to a day when the church moves beyond punishing people for being who they are.

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