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Episcopal priests opposed to Robinson's election to meet with Bishop Smith

Episcopal priests opposed to Robinson's election to meet with Bishop Smith

Six embattled Episcopal priests who opposed the elevation of an openly gay bishop prepared to meet Monday evening with the bishop threatening to defrock them. The meeting was an attempt to resolve a conflict that started last May, when the six asked to be supervised by a different bishop. They disagreed with Connecticut bishop Andrew Smith's support for the elevation of V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who in 2003 became the church's first openly gay bishop. Similar scenes have played out across the country as a rift over Robinson's elevation and other issues related to gay clergy have divided the U.S. Episcopal Church. In Overland Park, Kan., for instance, members of the Christ Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly Sunday to separate from the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas and the Episcopal denomination. The six Connecticut priests, who are from conservative parishes, faced removal from their pulpits Friday. But Smith sent them a letter saying he had decided to hold off and meet with them Monday evening. Gordon Paul Scruton, bishop of the diocese of western Massachusetts, was expected to attend as a mediator. A spokeswoman for the diocese says the priests face removal not because of their views on Robinson but because they have not been willing to meet with Smith to work out a solution. The Reverend Christopher Leighton of St. Paul's Church in Darien, one of the affected priests, said Monday the six will consider what Smith has to say. "To listen to him, it sounds like we've been refusing to meet, which is just not the case," Leighton said. "We've been waiting for this meeting. We've wanted this meeting. We're glad to meet with him." Leighton said, however, that he's heard indications that Smith will still consider removing the priests. "We don't know what he wants to talk about it," Leighton said. "I want to be open going into this meeting, but that doesn't make me feel so great. I'm open to whatever might happen. We'll see." Diocesan officials contend that the six parishes have failed to meet their financial obligation to the diocese and are asking for control over who is ordained, which Smith is not willing to cede. The diocese took the issue to the Standing Committee, a group of elected clergy members and laypeople that acts as an advisory panel for the bishop. The committee concluded March 29 that the six priests were acting out of communion with church canons. The Reverend Allyn Benedict of Christ Episcopal Church in Watertown told the Watertown Republican-American on Sunday that he is encouraged by the support he has received. Clergy from conservative parishes all over the country have sent letters of support. Six priests from other states came to Connecticut Sunday morning to preach in the affected churches. "I'm encouraged by the fact that God is at work and that he's lifting us up every day," Benedict said following his Sunday service, which was celebrated by the Reverend John Guernsey of Woodbridge, Va. Guernsey is dean of the Mid-Atlantic Anglican Council and a member of the board of the conservative American Anglican Council, which has supported the priests. The four other priests 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)

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