More than 180 Episcopal clergy from across Connecticut gathered Thursday at Christ Church Cathedral to discuss the growing rift in their church over the threatened removal of six priests.
The six, who attended the meeting, are accused of refusing to recognize the authority of Connecticut bishop Andrew Smith. They want to be supervised by someone else because Smith favored the 2003 consecration of the Reverend V. Gene Robinson, the church's first openly gay bishop.
"One of the concerns has been, Is the church going to split over the issue?" the Reverend Brendan McCormick of St. Paul's Church in Wallingford said as he left the meeting. "The mood today is, Let's stay and talk about it. It was a family conversation, really."
The nearly two-hour session was closed to the press and the public.
Smith has not yet decided whether to suspend the six, who are also accused of shirking their financial obligation to the diocese. A tense four-hour meeting between him and the six priests Monday night ended in an impasse.
Diocesan officials and priests tapped to speak to the press painted Thursday's meeting as a much more pleasant dialogue that gave them hope the situation will be resolved. "What I think happened today is an opening-up of greater possibility of coming to a conclusion that wouldn't rupture the church," said the Reverend James Curry, assistant bishop for the diocese.
But the six priests said they're not so sure. "This is going to take a long time to work out. It took a long time getting here," said the Reverend Christopher Leighton of St. Paul's Church in Darien. "I am
not optimistic that it will be working out."
Another of the priests, the Reverend Allyn Benedict of Christ Church in Watertown, said that the Episcopal Church, as a whole, will have to resolve the rift created by Robinson's ordination and the recognition of gay clergy.
Parishes in Alabama and Kansas have recently split from the church and are seeking instead to associate with the 77 million-member Anglican Communion, which traces its roots to the Church of England. The Episcopal Church, with 2.3 million members, is the communion's U.S. branch. "It can't go on forever in the Anglican Communion this way," Benedict said. "It's no different here in this diocese. Decisions have to be made. The decision will be to walk together or walk apart."
Smith, who was not available for comment after the meeting Thursday, said earlier this week he has no timetable for deciding whether to suspend the priests. The others facing removal are the Reverend Mark Hansen of St. John's Church in Bristol, the Reverend Ronald Gauss of Bishop Seabury Church in Groton, the Reverend Gilbert Wilkes of Christ and the Epiphany Church in East Haven, and the Reverend Don Helmandollar of Trinity Church in Bristol. (AP)