While the Episcopal Church in the United States endures a moratorium on the ordination of all bishops because of the worldwide Anglican backlash over out New Hampshire bishop V. Gene Robinson, a smaller U.S. Christian religious order is continuing to fill its ranks with openly gay clergy. The Benedictine Order of St. John the Beloved, which follows the teachings of the Old Catholic Church, ordained three new clergy on March 12.
"I certainly would never turn down a straight man as long as he bore no problems with the gay community," said the religious order's archbishop, Bruce J. Simpson, "but at the present we are a gay order doing social justice work, hospice work, and nursing home work, and we are working on plans to buy our monastery."
Founded in Germany, the Old Catholic Church broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in 1870, when the pope in Rome declared himself infallible. It therefore traces its roots back directly to St. Peter. The Benedictine order is based in Pennsylvania.
It was in New Hope, Pa., on a sunny but chilly Saturday morning that three men were ordained to different offices within the order. The Reverend John Kraft of Los Angeles was elevated to the office of priest, while Brother Bernard Sheffield of Florida and Brother Keith David of New Hope, Pa., were ordained to the office of deacon. The ordinations were carried out by Archbishop Simpson.
"One of the pleasures of being bishop is ordaining men and women to various clerical offices in order for them to fulfill their religious vocations to service to the community at large as well as the gay community in particular," Simpson said at the ceremony. "I am very pleased with this ordination class of high-caliber individuals who are dedicated to God, his people, and this order."
The ordinations were carried out at Trinity Episcopal Church outside New Hope, which Simpson said was a sign of the growing cooperation between the Episcopal Church and the Old Catholic Church. Out pop singers Jason and deMarco provided the liturgical music.
The order's current project is not related to gay and lesbian outreach, said Simpson, who is also a contributor to The Advocate. "We have launched a fund-raising drive to buy bulletproof vests for police in the northeast area of Pennsylvania, and I have been on television news for the last 24 hours because of it. It has created quite a stir. I wanted [the order to get involved in] a project that I felt strongly about, that was not a gay issue, to benefit the entire community."