Lesbian elected Episcopal bishop in L.A.

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Canon Mary D. Glasspool of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland was elected bishop on Saturday in a close race against a Los Angeles-area Hispanic cleric, making her the Episcopal Church’s first openly lesbian bishop.

It was not until the seventh ballot that Ms. Glasspool, 55, an Annapolis resident, captured the election for the second of two suffragan-bishop positions in the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, beating the Rev. Irineo Martir Vasquez of St. George’s Church in Hawthorne, Calif., and four other candidates.

The 2.1-million-member denomination paved the way for her election last summer when it lifted a moratorium on electing gay bishops after the election of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson six years ago caused a split in the 70-million-member Anglican Communion.

The majority of world Anglicanism opposes openly homosexual clergy, and a majority of Anglican bishops voted against allowing them at the 1998 Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops in Canterbury, England.

But the U.S. Episcopal Church ignored that sanction, selecting Bishop Robinson in 2003, causing an estimated 100,000 Episcopalians to flee the denomination to more conservative churches. Four dioceses also have pulled out of the denomination in protest. They and an estimated 60 churches are entangled in lawsuits with the Episcopal Church in a fight to keep millions of dollars’ worth of property and real estate.

Ms. Glasspool had 153 clergy votes, with 123 needed to win, and 203 lay votes, with 193 needed to win. Mr. Vasquez had 87 clergy votes and 177 lay votes.

Soon after her victory was announced at about 2:45 p.m. Pacific time, she appeared on stage in front of delegates at the Riverside Convention Center with her partner of 21 years, Becki Sander.

“Gracias con todo mi corazon,” she said to a standing ovation. “Thank you with all my heart. It is such an honor and a privilege to be among you wonderful people of the Diocese of Los Angeles. I’m deeply and forever grateful for the trust you’ve shown in me … .”

Before she can be consecrated on May 15, 2010, she will need consents from a majority of the country’s 100 domestic Episcopal dioceses.

It was a weekend of firsts for the 70,000-member Los Angeles Diocese, which before this weekend never had a female bishop in its 114-year history despite the Episcopal Church having had women in the episcopate since 1988.

Then on Friday, the Rev. Diane M. Jardine Bruce, a San Clemente, Calif., priest, was elected for the first suffragan position by about 800 delegates.

But it was tougher sledding for Ms. Glasspool on Saturday morning. Although she came in second to Ms. Bruce on Friday, she had enormous problems on Saturday getting enough votes from lay delegates during the new round of votes.

By the end of the third ballot, she had snagged 149 clergy votes, more than enough to win in that category. But the laity, often more conservative than the clergy and including many Spanish-speaking congregants, had thrown their support to Mr. Vasquez, 45, a Guatemalan-born cleric.

“There was this feeling that once an Anglo woman had been elected Friday, maybe we should support a Latino candidate,” said the Rev. Brad Karelius, one of the senior priests of the diocese who was at the convention center. “But the two Latino candidates did not have the leadership depth I saw in Mary and Diane.

“All the clergy I talked to wanted Mary elected. She’s a very competent woman. I think the two strongest candidates won.”

The totals swung back and forth, and by the end of the fourth ballot, Mr. Vasquez had won 209 laity votes, enough to put him over the top. But he could not rise above 107 clergy votes. By the sixth ballot early in the afternoon, Ms. Glasspool started gaining among laity, and the seventh ballot put her over the top.

Ms. Glasspool, who was nominated as one of six candidates back in August, cited her experience as a canon priest assisting Maryland Bishop Eugene T. Sutton as a major qualification for the job.

She also was forthright about her homosexuality, saying she had been with Ms. Sander since 1988.

“I have been touched and changed the most by issues of gender equity and the status of gay and lesbian people in the church and society,” she wrote in her biography, posted on the Los Angeles diocesan Web site. “Yet I am not a ‘single issue’ person, and I preach passionately about peace-making, reconciliation, the need to battle the evils of racism and overcome extreme poverty.”

Conservative Anglicans rued Saturday’s election, pointing out that Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, head of the Anglican Communion, begged Episcopalians this past summer not to elect more gay bishops.

“It’s very divisive in its implications,” said the Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian to the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. “It’s the persistent pursuit of an unbiblical practice. It will add further to the Episcopal Church’s incoherent witness and chaotic common life, and it will continue to do damage to the Anglican Common and her relationship with our ecumenical partners.”

Robert Lundy of the American Anglican Council said the election provided “clarity” into the direction of the Episcopal Church.

“They are walking away from 2,000 years of Christian tradition,” he said.

The daughter of an Episcopal priest, Ms. Glasspool was born in Staten Island, N.Y., and began looking into becoming a priest during the mid-1970s when Episcopal women were just starting to be ordained. That was also the time, she wrote in her biography, when she decided she was a lesbian.

Although her father opposed women in the priesthood, Ms. Glasspool entered the Episcopal Divinity School, the most liberal of the church’s seminaries, in 1976. She was ordained in 1981, working in churches in Philadelphia and Boston and at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis from 1992 to 2001. For the past eight years, she has been on staff at the Baltimore-based Diocese of Maryland, visiting a different church every week.

About the Author
Julia Duin

Julia Duin

Julia Duin is the Times’ religion editor. She has a master’s degree in religion from Trinity School for Ministry (an Episcopal seminary) and has covered the beat for three decades. Before coming to The Washington Times, she worked for five newspapers, including a stint as a religion writer for the Houston Chronicle and a year as city editor at the ...

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