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MASSACHUSETTS: Episcopal bishop will ordain gays

MASSACHUSETTS: Episcopal bishop will ordain gays
Shaw plans to consult on same-sex weddings

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff
August 7, 2008

A month ago, the world's Anglican bishops flew off to London, hoping to do something to keep the world's third largest Christian family from falling apart over the ordination of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire.

But as the bishops return to their dioceses around the world, the plight of the Episcopal Church, and its parent Anglican Communion, remains as muddled as ever. With conservatives contending that the denomination is moving toward schism and liberals arguing that the denomination is stabilizing, the path forward is unclear.

Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, said in an interview upon his return from London that he will continue to ordain gay clergy, which he called "pastorally important."

He also said that local priests will continue to bless same-sex marriages, although Shaw said that those priests are doing so on their own and that "I haven't authorized anybody to do anything."

As for whether he would follow up on his earlier intention to push for ending the moratorium on gay bishops and allowing church recognition of same-sex marriage when the Episcopal Church meets at its General Convention next year, Shaw said he would now wait until he meets with all the American bishops next month to decide how he will proceed.

Meanwhile, Bishop William L. Murdoch of the Anglican Church of Kenya, formerly the rector of an Episcopal parish in West Newbury and now the rector of an Anglican parish in Amesbury, said he expected that the "boundary crossings" by foreign bishops into the United States would also continue, because there is no alternative for traditionalist Episcopalians in the United States.

"Who is going to offer pastoral care to those churches that want to remain connected to the Anglican Communion but not the Episcopal Church?" Murdoch asked. "That's why our work will continue."

The decennial gathering of Anglican bishops, called the Lambeth Conference, ended Sunday with no votes and no declarations, but with a speech by the archbishop of Canterbury, whose power is minimal, urging "continuing moratoria regarding certain new policies and practices."

The archbishop appeared to be referring to moratoria in the Episcopal Church in the United States against the ordination of more gay bishops and the authorization of blessings for same-sex unions, as well as to the ignored plea by Anglican officials for an end to the practice of foreign bishops taking over supervision of churches and congregations in the United States church.

Murdoch - along with other Anglican bishops who are Americans but were consecrated by foreign bishops - was not invited to Lambeth but instead joined an alternative gathering of conservative Anglicans in Jerusalem earlier this summer.

Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire was also not invited to Lambeth, but he went to London anyway to advocate for better treatment of gays and lesbians in the Anglican Communion.

"I don't think anything happened that is going to wow you or your readers," said Shaw, a leading liberal, who hosted several gatherings in London to introduce Robinson to bishops from conservative Anglican provinces who view Robinson's homosexuality with concern.

"We had frank and good discussions about expectations of one another, and what our context is pastorally, and how it differs from, say, Africa to the United States," Shaw said. "I think people communicated well."

Murdoch said traditionalists, who he said are viewed as conservative in the United States but as centrists elsewhere in the world, are moving toward establishing another province, or branch, of the Anglican Communion in North America for disaffected Episcopalians.

"The Lambeth Conference itself and the archbishop of Canterbury, for all their efforts, were not able to come up with any new efforts at trying to put in place any instrument that could exercise discipline to correct the brokenness of the communion."

Scholars say the impact of the conference, if any, will play out over time.

"For the first time in a long time, bishops had the opportunity to talk face to face with one another and be honest about what's happening in their church," said the Rev. Ian T. Douglas, a professor at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge and the only American on the conference committee. "It clearly impacted the bishops, but what that means when they have to make tough choices will be some measure. And as to how much that has affected the dioceses and the pews, we shall see."

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.


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