Bishop-elect Mary Douglas Glasspool
Episcopalians across the church celebrated the March 17 news that Diocese of Los Angeles Bishop-elect Mary Douglas Glasspool had received the required number of consents from standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction to her ordination and consecration as bishop.
Still others lamented the decision and predicted that the news, announced by the presiding bishop’s office, would further strain relationships within the Anglican Communion.
Glasspool was one of two openly gay candidates on the Los Angeles slate but maintained that her sexual orientation was “not an issue” in the election. She is the second openly gay partnered priest to be elected a bishop in the Episcopal Church. The first was Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who was elected in 2003.
Bishop Jon Bruno of Los Angeles immediately issued a statement congratulating the church for its courage and giving thanks for the standing committees and bishops who consented to the Dec. 5, 2009 election of Glasspool and the Dec. 4 election of the Rev. Canon Diane Jardine Bruce as bishops suffragan.
Those standing committees and bishops “have joined the Diocese of Los Angeles in recognizing and affirming the many gifts and skills of these highly qualified and experienced clerics,” Bruno said.
But a March 18 statement e-mailed to ENS from Lambeth Palace, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’ London residence, said: “It is regrettable that the appeals from Anglican Communion bodies for continuing gracious restraint have not been heeded,” referring to calls in late 2009 from the communion’s Standing Committee and its Unity, Faith and Order commission.
“Following the Los Angeles election in December the archbishop made clear that the outcome of the consent process would have important implications for the communion,” the Lambeth Palace statement said. “Further consultation will now take place about the implications and consequences of this decision.”
On March 10, the Los Angeles diocese announced, in an unofficial tally, that Glasspool had received 63 consents, seven more than the 56 required, from the church’s diocesan standing committees.
An announcement of completion of a successful consent process for Bruce was made March 8.
Both consecrations are planned for May 15. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will be the chief consecrator.
“These historic elections bring the first women to the episcopate in the Diocese of Los Angeles,” Bruno said in his March 17 statement. “I give thanks for this, and that the standing committees and bishops have demonstrated through their consents that the Episcopal Church, by canon, creates no barrier for ministry on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, among other factors.”
Under the canons of the Episcopal Church (III.11.4), a majority of bishops exercising jurisdiction and diocesan standing committees must consent to a bishop-elect’s ordination as bishop within 120 days of receiving notice of the election.
Glasspool issued a statement March 17, saying she was overjoyed and grateful for the news and attempting to reach out to those opposed to her ordination.
“I am also aware that not everyone rejoices in this election and consent, and will work, pray, and continue to extend my own hands and heart to bridge those gaps, and strengthen the bonds of affection among all people, in the Name of Jesus Christ,” she said.
Glasspool, 56, most recently served as canon to the bishops in the Baltimore-based Diocese of Maryland for the past eight years. During her 28-year ordained ministry, she has served congregations in Maryland, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.
Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton heralded the news as “a great day for the cause of justice and the ministry of reconciliation in the Episcopal Church. I rejoice that a majority of bishops and standing committees have seen in Canon Glasspool what we have experienced in the Diocese of Maryland: that she is an exceptionally gifted pastor, administrator and spiritually centered leader who will prove to be an outstanding member of the House of Bishops.”
Sutton said he prays that “the whole church will be open to the Spirit’s guidance as we all move forward together in light of this historic event. The time is now for us to remove old barriers of bigotry and exclusion, and recommit ourselves to welcoming all of our brothers and sisters in Christ.”
But the Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon, canon theologian in the conservative Diocese of South Carolina, said the news saddened him.
“I’m very sad but I’m not surprised. It represents not simply a decision or a single act but a habit and therefore a pattern and therefore a chosen direction, without question,” Harmon said.
“If you care at all about a sense of the church as a whole, the church has to read Scripture with and through the church. What’s so sad about this is throughout history … the church is reading Scripture to say you can’t do this. But the Episcopal Church has already done it and done it repeatedly with no sense of the damage they’re causing.”
Archbishop Peter Jensen of the Diocese of Sydney, Australia, also criticized the decision, saying: “It is now absolutely clear to all that the national [Episcopal] Church itself has formally committed itself to a pattern of life which is contrary to Scripture.”
Jensen, one of the communion’s leading critics of the Episcopal Church and its recent developments concerning human sexuality issues, said: “The election of Bishop Robinson in 2003 was not an aberration to be corrected in due course. It was a true indication of the heart of the church and the direction of its affairs.”
The Episcopal Church’s General Convention, meeting in July, passed Resolution D025 saying that God’s call to ordained ministry is “a mystery which the church attempts to discern for all people through our discernment processes acting in accordance with [its] Constitution and Canons …” Glasspool is the first openly gay priest to be elected bishop since the passage of Resolution D025.
“Integrity continues in its commitment to turn the resolutions of General Convention into realities on the ground for Episcopalians in every diocese,” said the Rev. David Norgard, Integrity president, in a statement. “Today’s affirmation of the election of a superbly qualified candidate as a bishop in the Episcopal Church is good news not just for those who work for the fuller inclusion of the LGBT baptized, but for the whole church.”
“Today the Episcopal Church said ‘Amen’ to what the Holy Spirit did in Los Angeles in December when we elected Mary Glasspool,” said the Rev. Susan Russell, chair of the Los Angeles Diocesan Program Group on LGBT Ministry and Integrity’s immediate past president. “I’ve never been prouder to be an Episcopalian or a daughter of the Diocese of Los Angeles — where we are ready to turn this election into an opportunity for evangelism.”
The Very Rev. Brian Baker, dean of Trinity Cathedral in Sacramento and co-convener of the Chicago Consultation, said in a statement: “Mary’s qualifications were never at issue. This has always been a question of whether our Church had the courage of its convictions. We are delighted to find out that it has.”
While Glasspool was rector of St. Luke’s and St. Margaret’s Church in Boston (1992 to 2001), the small urban church’s budget more than doubled from $44,000, and parish membership tripled from 50 to about 150. She also has served as program developer for the Massachusetts Bible Society.
A 2006 Harvard Divinity School Merrill Fellow, Glasspool said that in her current role she provides pastoral care to clergy and their families and makes officials visits on behalf of Maryland’s bishops.
She is a 1976 magna cum laude graduate of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and earned a master of divinity degree in 1981 from the Episcopal Divinity School, where she has returned to lecture in pastoral theology. She is also a certified field education supervisor, a Cursillo spiritual director and has designed and facilitated spiritual retreats for more than 20 years.
Ordained to the diaconate in 1981 and the priesthood in 1982, Glasspool has been active at local, provincial and national church levels. She was a three-time General Convention deputy, a Province III representative and as president of the diocesan standing committee.
She was born on Staten Island and grew up in Goshen, New York, where her father served as rector of St. James’ Church for 35 years. Her life partner of 19 years is Becki Sander, who holds degrees in theology and social work.
— The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a national correspondent for Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles. Matthew Davies is editor and international correspondent of the Episcopal News Service.