In what the Episcopal Church is calling a troubling move, six congregations have voiced their opposition to the appointment of an openly gay bishop by conducting a confirmation service with conservative bishops who had not received permission from the diocese of Ohio. About 800 churchgoers cheered wildly for six bishops who traveled from as far away as Brazil to lead the 2-1/2 hour service on Sunday. "I hope it will begin the purification of the church in America," said Charles Rankin, 52, one of 110 people who participated.
The service was performed without the permission of Bishop J. Clark Grew II of Cleveland, who heads the diocese and who voted to elevate the church's first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Under Episcopal law and liturgy, confirmations are performed only by local bishops or visiting bishops approved by the head of the host diocese. Confirmations represent a mature public affirmation of a member's faith. "This business against the diocesan bishop is simply defiant, and that's why it's troubling," said Daniel England, a church spokesman. "It violates our constitution and canons."
As the rift over gay clergy has deepened in the Episcopal Church, a key issue has been what to do about conservative parishes within dioceses whose bishops supported Robinson. Conservatives are bypassing their regular resident bishops and demanding substitute leadership from outside their dioceses. The issue of oversight will top the agenda when the nation's Episcopal bishops meet behind closed doors in Navasota, Tex., starting Friday. Sunday's confirmations, performed in an Eastern Orthodox church in suburban Akron, were conducted by five retired Episcopal bishops and one bishop from the international diocese. "This is an emergency measure we took responding to the controversial actions of last summer," said retired Texas bishop the Reverend Maurice Benitez, referring to Robinson's appointment.