Episcopal leader who resigned over gay bishop returns

BY admin

October 22 2003 11:00 PM ET

The second-highest ranking official in the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida has decided to remain in his post after resigning last month over a rift developing between the local diocese and the national church over the ordination of gay men. The Reverend Ernest Bennett rescinded his resignation as canon to Bishop John Howe in a letter sent to priests in the Diocese of Central Florida on Monday. Bennett's decision came after Howe made repeated requests and followed last week's summit in London of worldwide Anglican leaders at which those leaders declined to intervene in the crisis that has engulfed the Episcopal Church over the past four months. Bennett had resigned on September 23, saying in an E-mail to other ministers that he was experiencing the "deepest pain" over the direction the diocese was heading. Delegates at a central Florida diocesan convention earlier in September had deleted the words "Episcopal Church" from a resolution pledging the diocese's unity with the worldwide Anglican Communion and the See of Canterbury. The deletion had been in response to the confirmation of the Reverend V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the church's first openly gay bishop.

In his letter to Howe, Bennett said he is reassured that Howe would not leave the Episcopal Church or lead the diocese's parishes out of the church. "I hereby rescind my resignation and accept your call to begin anew in this ministry," the letter states. Howe said he had urged Bennett to reconsider on three occasions. Both Howe and Bennett said they would try to turn their attention to the work of the diocese but that an uncertain future lies ahead. "We've lost people already," Howe said. "A lot are waiting to see what happens. I expect to lose additional people in this and other dioceses."

Bishop-elect Robinson, meanwhile, whose consecration is set for November 2, said Tuesday that several Anglican leaders have appealed to him to step down but that the only thing that could sway him would be if he felt a personal call from God to stand aside. In an interview with the Associated Press, Robinson said that he's been praying for years about becoming a bishop and feels strongly that God wants him to go through with his consecration. "God and I have been about this for quite a while now, and I would be really surprised if God were to want me to stop now," he said. Robinson said he received a letter from the primates of the West Indies, South America, and Nigeria asking him not to proceed with his consecration. The three leaders have been among the most vocal critics of the Episcopal Church's decision in August to confirm Robinson, a divorced father of two who has lived with his male partner since 1989.

U.S. conservatives have been moving toward a total break with the Episcopal Church over Robinson's election. The American Anglican Council, which represents U.S. traditionalists, plans to send a representative to the consecration to make a formal protest. Robinson said he would be saddened if the AAC broke away from the Episcopal Church but that he also feels the group is making homosexuality too central an issue for the denomination. "The folks who are saying that this is a communion-breaker are saying that this is more important than all of those things that bind us together, and I just don't agree with that," Robinson said.

Among those participating in his consecration ceremony will be his partner, his daughters, his ex-wife, and his parents. Robinson said the protests against him on the day of his consecration will be "painful" for the gay men and lesbians who have been made to feel unwelcome in the church. However, he said, it ultimately will not detract from what will be an important moment for gay Christians. "I think my election is one of several indications that gay and lesbian folk are being brought more into the center of things," he said. "I'd like to think that my election signals my bringing of gay and lesbian folk into the
center of the church."

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