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WEST TEXAS: Orthodox priest becomes new bishop

WEST TEXAS: Orthodox priest becomes new bishop

By J. Michael Parker
Express-News Religion Writer


The Episcopal Diocese of West Texas ended its annual council Saturday by consecrating a popular 47-year-old San Antonio priest as its newest bishop.

The Rev. Gary Richard Lillibridge, former rector of St. David's Parish, became coadjutor bishop, which means he has the automatic right to succeed Bishop James E. Folts as head of the diocese when Folts retires or dies.

Folts, 63, has announced no retirement plans and may continue in office until he turns 72.

Lillibridge then will become the ninth bishop to head the West Texas diocese, which celebrates its centennial this year.

An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 Episcopalians from 92 congregations in 60 counties attended Saturday's two-hour liturgy in Municipal Auditorium.

"My ministry is going to be one of encouraging people who are hurting," the new prelate said after the ceremony. "We can't get so discouraged that we're diverted from our mission.

"Each generation has faced its own challenges, and I'm proud of the way this diocese has dealt with the issues facing it. And any time is a great time to serve the Lord," Lillibridge said.

It was a joyful ending for a council that on the previous two days had passed resolutions expressing displeasure at Episcopal Church actions.

One resolution criticized the approval of a noncelibate gay bishop in New Hampshire.

The other affirmed the sanctity of Christian marriage as a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman.

The council also decided to let each congregation decide this year how to spend mission and ministry funds it usually sends to the Episcopal Church.

The 2004 budget provides for $569,000 to be sent to the national church if all parishes and missions send their share.

Some will still send it there, while others will divert it directly to a variety of mission causes.

Debate was spirited but not rancorous.

Delegates acknowledged the tension but said they were committed to staying in the Episcopal Church and continuing dialogue.

Retired Bishop John MacNaughton, in his consecration sermon Saturday, said Episcopalians are "at war with each other" over church authority and the Bible.

But he said Lillibridge must minister to all people in need "whether they agree with you or not" and serve "a world that's dying for lack of moral leadership."

Lillibridge received a Bible, a cross, a ring, a stole and a crozier (shepherd's staff) as symbols of his office, and the assembled Episcopal bishops prayed in a circle around him as he knelt before the altar.

Congregants applauded him enthusiastically when the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, presented Lillibridge to the congregation in his new red and white bishop vestments.

"Members of Gary's congregation all feel very sad to lose him as our rector," said Owens Crowley, a St. David's parishioner who attended the event. "But he has many gifts to offer, and we're happy that he can share them with the whole diocese.

Others said he's a strong leader who will bring vitality to diocesan leadership and will enable the church to grow.

"We hope he'll be able to lead us for a long time," Rawley McCoy of St. Francis Parish in Victoria said.


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