A Woman of Faith
May 12 2010 5:00 AM ET
There have been times when Mary D. Glasspool has doubted her place in the church she’s known all her life. As she sits in her Baltimore office, which overlooks an expanse of rolling lawns and white-flowering dogwood trees, recounting one such moment brings her to tears. In 1997, Glasspool, then the rector of St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Annapolis, Md., was spending the month of August at a rented house in Provincetown, Mass. While there, a married couple from the church who years ago had asked Glasspool to be godmother to their younger daughter paid her a surprise visit. This was not a social call. The couple had heard rumors about Glasspool’s sexual orientation, and Bible in hand, they demanded to hear it from her in person. And she shared with them that, yes, she was a lesbian.
“What they didn’t know was that I’d been in a partnered relationship at that time, for a long time, and that I was monogamous and faithful,” Glasspool says. “I don’t want to be unfair in telling this story, but I have had the experience where I’ve tried to reach out, and people just can’t deal with me. So they don’t… And I have to let that go. And it’s painful.”
Following the confrontation, Glasspool cut short her summer trip and spent the rest of the month writing a letter of resignation from her position at the small church. “I had written the letter to say to the church, ‘I am no different a person than the one you’ve known from day one. I’ve known this about myself from early on. I am willing to stay, and I believe that we could do good ministry together. But I don’t want to be the cause of division. And rather than do that, if you feel that I need to leave, I will leave.’”
Glasspool shared the painstakingly written letter with clergy members and lay leaders at St. Margaret’s. Uniformly they told her not to send it out.
“They’re now proud of me being elected bishop,” she says, laughing off those few tears as she speaks warmly of her May 15 consecration as bishop suffragan, or an assistant to a diocesan bishop with voting power in the church’s House of Bishops, for the Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles (at the time of her interview with The Advocate, she was serving her last weeks as canon to the bishops of Maryland). “I think they’ve grown as a church. And I’m not saying that everyone out there is going to march in the next gay pride parade—including myself. But I think what we’re fighting for is to have our own integrity, to not have one particular aspect of our personality preclude the totality of who we are as individuals.”
Within minutes of meeting the Episcopal Church’s first openly lesbian bishop, one gets the sense that the politics of division indeed do not interest Glasspool, 56. The alto-voiced New York native has ABBA on her Prius stereo, a banner made by church youths on her office walls, a mock bishop’s hat made of construction paper on her windowsill (this a gag gift from friends after Glasspool’s election became official), and photos of her partner, Becki Sander, displayed in magnet frames on her air conditioning unit. A self-described traditionalist, whose late father was an Episcopal rector, she builds her sermons directly from Scripture. She reaches out to conservative members of the church who may believe she is hell-bound the same way she does to those militant about gay rights who may wish she were a more politically active firebrand.
Through Glasspool’s 28 years as a priest in a church that still refuses to sanctify or even formally bless her relationship or those of other gays and lesbians, she nevertheless has maintained a core sense of faith, one embodied by her favorite Bible verse (Romans 8:38-39): For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.