- The Washington Times - Friday, September 18, 2009

The Rev. Scott Benhase received a standing ovation from his congregation at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Northwest Washington on Sunday, when his election as the 10th bishop in the Diocese of Georgia was announced.

On Sept. 12, Mr. Benhase was chosen over six other nominees on the second ballot as he received 76 votes of 146 cast by the lay order and 58 of 103 cast in the clergy order. He will preside over a vast district that covers the southern two-thirds of Georgia.

Mr. Benhase, 52, has been both ordained and married for 25 years. His wife, Kelly, is a schoolteacher in the D.C. area.

“She’s my rock,” Mr. Benhase wrote in his nomination essay. The Benhases have three children: John, 21; Charley, 18; and Mary Grace, 16. He was at his daughter’s soccer game when he learned the exciting news.

“I had to sit down to take it all in,” he said.

In 25 years of service to the Episcopal Church, he has held the role of rector, curate and vicar in diverse parishes in North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia, Washington and Indiana, including some primarily black congregations. He has been at St. Alban’s since 2006.

“It will be sad to leave and a hard transition,” Mr. Benhase told The Washington Times. “When I was first asked to be a nominee in June, I prayed about it a lot and talked extensively to my spiritual advisers before I allowed my name to be nominated. I was humbled and overwhelmed by the congregation’s support.”

The Book of Common Prayer states that the role of the bishop is to “represent Christ and his Church, particularly as apostle, chief priest, and pastor of a diocese; to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the whole Church.”

Mr. Benhase will succeed Bishop Henry I. Louttit, who announced his retirement in February 2008.

One of Mr. Benhase’s greatest challenges as bishop may be fulfilling the “unity of the whole Church” clause as he inherits the diocese ‘s two-year, continuing legal battle with Christ Church in Savannah.

Christ Church has been concerned with the Episcopal Church’s acceptance of homosexuals joining the episcopacy as well as other issues surrounding the role of the Bible as an unchanging moral authority. According to its Web site, Christ Church has severed its communion with the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Georgia for “abandoning historic Faith and Order.”

In 2007, the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese sued Christ Church to procure its building and funding as Christ Church seeks to come under the authority of the more conservative Anglican Church of Uganda.

“I respect Bishop Louttit’s solid pastoral management of the issue so far, and I hope to continue in his example. It was a last resort after many attempts to reconcile,” Mr. Benhase said. “This is America, and we have freedom of religion. If Christ Church is one parish that no longer agrees with the Anglican Church, then I understand their choice to leave.”

Christ Church is an important historical symbol in the diocese. It has been called the “Mother Church of Georgia” because of its roots as the pulpit for John Wesley and George Whitefield.

“When I was younger, my father left his church because of theological disputes, but he didn’t take a pew with him,” Mr. Benhase said. “Anybody is welcome to leave, but they do not have a right to take along the property of the Episcopal Church.”

In his nomination essay, Mr. Benhase wrote that he would respond to current issues in the diocese by “helping one another develop a capacity to attend to one another’s differences with a spirit of love.” He believes the principal work of the church and a bishop is to witness and build up the body of Christ, and he called the legal dispute “unfortunate.”

The ordination and consecration of Mr. Benhase are scheduled for Jan. 23 in Savannah.

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