To prevent a split in the Episcopal diocese of Colorado, a task force has recommended that liberal Episcopalians shouldn't push for blessings of same-sex unions right now while traditionalists should end their financial boycott of the diocese. In its report, the task force advises Bishop Rob O'Neill that the same-sex blessings debate should be placed on hold until Episcopalians from across the country discuss it at their next general convention in 2006, the Reverend John Huffman, a member of the panel, said Monday. Until that larger debate, the group also advises that no new gay clergy from outside Colorado be appointed but that gay clergy already serving be allowed to remain. Traditionalists are also asked to promise not to pursue "episcopal oversight," a process in which parishes can be placed under the authority of another bishop. "It calls on clergy and laity to reclaim a common discipline," said Huffman, pastor of Ascension Episcopal Church in Salida.
The panel, which included liberals, traditionalists, and a gay representative, sometimes clashed during their six-month deliberation, but Huffman said he felt "the Holy Spirit broke through" as they wrestled with the issues. It will be up to O'Neill to decide whether to adopt the recommendations and to convince both sides to agree to any compromise. He supports gay rights but pledged no major changes to church policy involving same-sex couples after becoming the leader of Colorado's 35,000 Episcopalians in January.
The Reverend Don Armstrong, who leads one of the diocese's largest churches, was outraged by the task force's recommendations and called them a "ploy" to restore donations from traditionalists. Pledges to the diocese dropped by about $500,000 this year, after Colorado's delegation to last year's national convention backed the election of openly gay bishop Gene Robinson in New Hampshire. "He's [O'Neill] trying to get us to sit still while everybody gets used to having practicing gay clergy in the diocese. This will push us to redouble our efforts to get others to restrict giving and seek episcopal oversight," Armstrong said.
Following last year's divisive convention, some dioceses across the country have developed same-sex blessing rites that stop short of marriage. In April the controversy intensified in Colorado when a lesbian pastor, the Reverend Bonnie Spencer, disregarded the diocese's policy and held a ceremony with her partner at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Centennial.