A Woman of Faith
May 12 2010 5:00 AM ET
John Shelby Spong, a liberal theologian and retired Episcopal bishop of Newark who in 1989 ordained the church’s first openly gay priest, Robert Williams, says the archbishop is “a good human being, but he’s not a leader. He wants to be loved. But he’s made it so he’s not loved by anyone. Mary is deeply qualified, and her election is nothing but a wonderful thing.” (The archbishop did not respond to requests for an interview.)
In 2004 an international group of church leaders asked for a moratorium on the consecration of any further gay or lesbian bishops, and in 2006 Episcopal leaders approved a resolution calling for exercising “restraint” on such appointments. Last year, however, Episcopal bishops voted to affirm that “any ordained ministry” is open to all who were baptized in the church. “The church decided that an openly gay bishop wasn’t an aberration,” Gene Robinson says. “I’d like to think that Mary’s election is a way of the church saying, ‘No, we didn’t make a mistake with Bishop Robinson.’ ”
Glasspool’s more subtle style suggests she may not be as visible an activist as Robinson, who is outspoken on gay rights in the church and was prominently featured in Daniel G. Karslake’s groundbreaking 2007 documentary For the Bible Tells Me So. “I know that he receives criticism, but I know Gene as a deeply spiritual, prayerful, pastoral man,” Glasspool says. “He’s taken on this sort of burden of being the first, which has opened the door and the possibility for me that maybe I won’t have to do that. I’m very clear that I said to the people of the diocese of L.A. that if I were to be elected, my first priority is them. Maybe a part of that is going off to [an LGBT] conference once in awhile, but I need and want to be clear about my priority. It will be a balance and a tension that I’ll have to work out. I only hope that I can at least be supportive of [Robinson].”
Robinson says Glasspool already has been. At a recent convention Episcopal leaders examined a theology committee report on the blessing of same-sex relationships. Robinson spoke out against conservative bishops’ objections (like Glasspool, he also has a long-term partner). As Robinson passed Glasspool on the way back to his seat, she stood up and embraced him. “She didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything,” Robinson recalls. “But having her support is something I’ve longed for. It’s been a bit lonely these past seven years.”
“There were stirrings in my heart,” Glasspool explains of her call to ministry while she was an undergraduate student at Pennsylvania’s Dickinson College in the mid 1970s. Women were not allowed to be priests when she was a child, but she came of age at a propitious time. In 1974, when Glasspool turned 20, the first 11 female Episcopal priests were ordained. And yet Glasspool’s father believed in an all-male priesthood. When she told a New York bishop about her desire to become a priest, his first words were, “What are we going to do about your father?”
Glasspool not only decided to tell her father but also came out to him in the same conversation. “I wanted him to have every opportunity to say to me, ‘I think you’d better find another church,’ ” she says. “And instead he said to me in a protective sense that my sexuality is a personal matter, and he drew a distinction between the private and the public. It wasn’t about secrecy versus transparency.”
Following her graduation from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., in 1981, Glasspool served as a priest in parishes in Philadelphia and Boston, where she met her partner, who was a graduate student in social work and theological studies at Boston University. Upon Glasspool’s appointment as rector of St. Margaret’s in Annapolis in 1992, she and Sander were not a visible couple at church. Though Glasspool says she has always been honest about who she is when asked, she also doesn’t believe she would have been named rector had the church known she was lesbian. Sander had been a member of Glasspool’s church in Boston and attended some services at St. Margaret’s but found a spiritual home of her own at the local Unitarian Universalist congregation.
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