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COLUMBUS, OH: Parsley in running for national office

COLUMBUS,OH: Parsley in running for national office; Andrus likely headed to California

Birmingham News News staff writer
June 16, 2006

Alabama Episcopalians are already losing one bishop this month, and the leader of the diocese is up for the job of presiding bishop in an election to be held Sunday.

Bishop Henry N. Parsley, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama, is one of seven candidates nominated for presiding bishop - spiritual leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church. Whoever wins the post will be installed Nov. 4 at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., and take over a church torn by controversy.

Parsley shrugs about his possible election.

"The one sure thing about this is that six of the nominees won't be elected," Parsley said. "The odds are more that I won't be elected than that I will."

Others say there's a consensus that Parsley ranks among the top three, and could emerge as a top vote-getter.

"There really is no clear favorite," said Kendall Harmon, a conservative leader and canon theologian for the diocese of South Carolina. "He's getting a bunch of support from the middle."

Alabama Suffragan Bishop Mark Andrus, who serves alongside Parsley, has been elected bishop of California and will likely be confirmed to that post by the Episcopal Church General Convention, the denomination's national governing body. The General Convention began Tuesday and continues through Wednesday, June 21, in Columbus, Ohio.

But of course, all eyes are on the presiding bishop race, which could affect the overall direction of the 2.4-million-member denomination.

"There's a lot of uncertainty," Harmon said. "There's no clear preference among constituencies. One of the bishops told me, 'It could be a very long day.'"

Moderate position:

Parsley served as chair of the bishops' theology commission and voted against approving openly gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson at the last General Convention in 2003. A majority of Episcopal bishops voted in favor of Robinson. Yet Parsley avoided aligning himself with harsh rhetoric. When 19 bishops who voted against Robinson took the podium for a dramatic protest statement, Parsley kept his seat. The next day, when many bishops skipped sessions in protest, Parsley was again in his seat, ready to do business. As some called for developing rites for same-sex unions, Parsley urged them to wait for a theological consensus.

Two days after the vote on Robinson, Parsley promoted his idea for an international study commission on the homosexuality issue. He won a majority of support from fellow bishops. Throughout a week full of tumultuous debates on homosexuality, Parsley staked out a moderate position, trying to mediate between extremes.

Since then, conservatives believe he has clamped down heavily on priests and parishes in Alabama that have been outspoken against Robinson.

"Neither side believes he voted out of conviction," Harmon said.

Andrus' election also drew national attention because three others nominated for the bishop's seat in San Francisco were openly practicing homosexuals. If one of them had been elected, many speculated, it would have further hastened schism in the Episcopal Church.

"I don't think there was anything about a rejection of the gay and lesbian candidates," Andrus said. "All of our stands were close to each other."

Andrus said he hopes to focus on social outreach.

"Many of the church's energies today are consumed by internal dissent," Andrus said. "We've been living with that attention for a number of years."

The church's struggle with the homosexuality issue has been about justice, he said. "We are trying to do things that are just and loving and compassionate," he said. "I want to work for inclusion.

Widespread anger:

But the rest of the Anglican Communion - the worldwide churches affiliated with the Church of England - has expressed widespread anger at the U.S. Episcopal Church for its acceptance of homosexuality.

"It's certainly a top issue at the convention," Andrus said. "We're going to give ourselves to making a thoughtful response."

Conservatives hope the church will repent for approving a gay bishop.

"Nothing short of a repudiation of that decision would be enough to hold back the pending realignment," said the Rev. Paul Zahl, president of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pa. "That was such a catastropic wrong decision, it's hard to imagine a coming together of the church."

Parsley, 57, said that if he's elected presiding bishop, he'll work for unity.

"I do have passionate concerns about striving for greater unity and reconciliation within the Anglican Communion," he said. "I see the Anglican Communion as the arms of Christ stretched out to the whole creation through the church. We need the Anglican Communion and the Anglican Communion needs us. We have got to work for reconciliation and unity of mission, recognizing we will always have diversity of culture and some theological variety."


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