Saturday, January 31, 2004

Virginia Episcopal Church leaders yesterday reaffirmed a 10-year-old resolution saying sex should be restricted to heterosexual marriage and appointed a panel to smooth over differences among local parishioners about last summer’s election of the denomination’s first openly homosexual bishop.

Meeting at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Reston, 500 delegates also approved a task force to discuss an economic boycott by some of the diocese’s largest and most conservative parishes, which resulted in a $900,000 shortfall in this year’s budget.

Irish Archbishop Robin Eames, chairman of an 18-member international commission of scholars meeting this year to deal with fallout over the Nov. 2 consecration of homosexual Bishop V. Gene Robinson, said “no stone will be left unturned” to find reconciliation. Ten provinces of the 70 million-member Anglican Communion have broken relations with the U.S. Episcopal Church since then.

“To those who feel hurt,” Archbishop Eames said, “I hear you, I recognize you.”

On Friday afternoon, the archbishop met with 15 to 20 conservative Virginia clergy members in a meeting led by the Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax.

Both sides of the debate over homosexuality said the convention only postponed an inevitable split.

“We need to find the center in the diocese,” said the Rev. Robin Adams of Church of the Word in Gainesville, Va. “We are covering the cracks by working these resolutions down to the bare minimum.”

The Rev. Jim Papile, rector of St. Anne’s Church in Reston, who includes four same-sex couples among his church leaders, was likewise frustrated.

“We’ve been talking about this issue in the diocese more than 20 years,” he said. “[Homosexual parishioners] ask how long we have to wait. They ask how long before I can be a priest, how long before my relationship can be blessed?”

In a news conference, Bishop Peter J. Lee, head of the 89,000-member diocese, the Episcopal Church’s largest, said he could not produce a timeline.

“More and more churches are experiencing the presence of same-sex couples,” he said, “but I can’t say in five to 10 years the church will have a liturgy for same-sex blessings.”

The first resolution simply adopted identical wording passed a decade ago by the council, that “the normative context for sexual intimacy is lifelong, heterosexual, monogamous marriage.” It added: “We have resisted with compassionate strength attempts to divide us, or to define us, by such fearful or narrow expression of that teaching that it becomes oppressive and self-righteous.”

“My home [diocese] is still fighting whether I am an acceptable member of my church,” said the Rev. Linda Kaufman, a lesbian priest living in Arlington.

Virginia Episcopalians also unanimously adopted a $3.8 million budget, after its budget committee slashed funds, including no raises for staff members working in the diocesan offices in Richmond and a $257,428 cut in donations to the national church.

However, the budget also included $11,250 from people who simply wrote checks to the diocese.

“Dozens of people are sending me pledges because they are sick of people using money as a weapon,” treasurer Mike Kerr said.

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