- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

A Maryland clergyman is the first Episcopal priest in the nation to resign in response to the denomination’s approval last month of its first openly homosexual bishop.

The Rev. Steven R. Randall’s resignation, effective Monday, came in a four-sentence letter addressed to his bishop, the Rt. Rev. Robert Ihloff. His farewell sermon at St. Timothy’s Church, a historic parish in downtown Catonsville, Md., will be Sunday.

“I can no longer submit to the heretical authority in the Episcopal Church,” he said yesterday..

Mr. Randall delivered a dramatic Aug. 10 sermon disassociating himself from the denomination. His actions landed him on several radio and TV shows, highlighting the rift in the church over homosexual clergy.

Diocese of Maryland officials, who remember the sermon, which compared their church with a hijacked airliner, would not comment on the resignation.

“We don’t use the media to discuss church matters,” one official said. The diocese is expected to replace the departing priest.

Mr. Randall’s resignation may be the first of many clergy departures from the 2.3-million-member Episcopal Church, whose leaders on Aug. 5 confirmed the election of Canon V. Gene Robinson as the new bishop of New Hampshire.

Most Episcopal conservatives, however, are awaiting the outcome of an emergency session of the world’s 38 Anglican archbishops in London before deciding whether to leave the denomination. The Episcopal Church is part of the 70-million-member Anglican Communion.

But Mr. Randall said he could wait no longer. On Sept. 21, he will inaugurate services at his new congregation, the Anglican Church of Greater Baltimore at 2001 Frederick Road.

It will be in the gym of neighboring Bishop Cummins Memorial Church, a part of the Reformed Episcopal Church that split from the Episcopal Church in 1873. Its pastor, the Rev. Paul Schenck, offered the space after seeing an article about Mr. Randall in The Washington Times.

Mr. Randall estimates that half his 200-member congregation at St. Timothy’s may follow him. Eighty-five persons attended two informational meetings about the new congregation.

Since his sermon, several parishioners have left the denomination.

“It’s pretty volatile here,” he said. “A significant number of people want to stay and fight for the buildings. One woman told me, ‘I’m not up for this.’ Others said they were leaving, then decided they wanted to be buried in the church. When people have been here six, seven, eight, nine decades literally, they are not ready for a change.

“Emotions are very, very high here and it’s very stressful.”

Mr. Randall said he has received support from outside the church and has had overtures from the Anglican Mission in America, a breakaway Episcopal group headed by Anglican bishops in Rwanda and Singapore. The group conducts “missions” to U.S. Episcopalians. Since forming 3 years ago, it has siphoned off 12,000 disaffected Episcopalians into 55 AMIA congregations.

Bishop Ihloff had a less enthusiastic reaction to Mr. Randall’s actions. During an Aug. 19 meeting at diocesan headquarters in Baltimore, Bishop Ihloff informed the priest he would not be defrocked “because,” Mr. Randall said, “that would make me a martyr to many who support me.”

“He said that he is still my bishop and pastor whether I recognize him or not. He told me to get psychiatric treatment because he believes I have ‘delusions of grandeur.’” The bishop also made it clear, Mr. Randall added, that he was expected to resign.

The Rt. Rev. Keith Ackerman, bishop of the Diocese of Quincy, Ill., has offered him “spiritual oversight.”

“He said, ‘I will be glad to do anything for you in terms of your need for a bishop,’” Mr. Randall said. He also plans to attend a national gathering of 1,724 Episcopal conservatives Oct. 7 to 9 in Dallas.

“It will be years of court battles,” he said of a possible split in the Episcopal Church. “The big dioceses thinking of leaving won’t have as much problem nor the churches with big pockets, but for small churches like ours in hostile dioceses it’s hopeless.”

Congregants at Bishop Cummins are providing office space, furniture, phone lines and child care help for the fledgling Anglican congregation. Mr. Randall, who is searching for extra Episcopal vestments and an altar for services, is only taking his laptop computer with him when he leaves St. Timothy’s.

Members of the new church will be expected to give a tenth of their income to provide Mr. Randall’s salary. Tithing is the official standard of giving in the Episcopal Church.

Paul Willis, a senior warden at St. Timothy’s who is joining Mr. Randall’s new church, said St. Timothy’s has received 45 pages of e-mails on the issue.

“I’m very excited at the opportunity to be in an Anglican church that is under the authority of an apostate denomination,” he said. “I cannot in good conscience bring a new Christian to the Episcopal Church.”

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