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New Episcopal bishop: "No same-sex unions on my watch"

New Episcopal bishop: "No same-sex unions on my watch"

North Florida's new Episcopal bishop told church members Friday he will never ordain unmarried sexually active straight people or sexually active gays and that he will never bless same-sex unions. Bishop John Howard spoke to delegates at the 161st annual convention of the Diocese of Florida, which covers the state from Gainesville north to the Georgia and Alabama lines. The convention voted Friday not to consider a measure that could have seen the diocese join a group that's opposed to the national Episcopal church sanctioning the ordination of a gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson, last fall. "As bishop of this diocese, I will support and lift up the institution of marriage," Howard told the 500 delegates and clergy representing the 35,000-member diocese, the nation's fastest-growing. "And as long as I am bishop of this diocese, no one in an active homosexual relationship--or any other sexual relationship outside marriage--will be ordained or admitted into the process of ordination. Nor will I approve of any rite for the blessing of same-sex unions. "For those of us in the Episcopal Church, the ongoing challenge of living a spiritual life in a secular world is currently being intensified by another challenge: the challenge of dealing with differences that are stressing our church in a very public and painful way. This is a difficult time for all of us," he said. Ali Edwards, 16, a youth delegate, argued in the convention against sending money to the national church in light of the controversy over gay clergy. "We should do what the Bible says," she said, "not what the national church says." The convention approved a resolution allowing local churches to decide individually whether to send money to the national organization. Edwards, a student at Episcopal High School in Jacksonville, said she agreed with the bishop's stance on gay clergy but disagreed somewhat with his assertion that Episcopalians should consider each other as family and try to get along. "I think we should stand up for what is right," she said. Edward Joyce, a delegate from Jacksonville, also agreed with the bishop's stance on gays and thought his statements might help those struggling with the issue. "He's a healing bishop," Joyce said. Thomas Mantz, executive director of the Episcopal Foundation, said no one had publicly expressed an opinion at the convention in favor of the ordination of gay clergy, but he also said some saw no problem with the matter and had already spoken about it at a special convention in November. Howard also told delegates he's concerned about "the development of a culture of spectatorship within our church. That culture values sensationalism over substance. It reduces us to the level of those people who hungrily watch the news every night to catch the latest tidbit in a celebrity scandal." The convention voted Friday not to consider a measure that would have called upon the bishop and church to investigate by March 1 a provisional affiliation with the Network of the Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, which opposes gay ordination and same-sex unions. The network is characterizing its new group as a "church within a church." The diocese has a rule stating that resolutions must be submitted 60 days before the convention. The resolution concerning the network was not submitted until Thursday.

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