Repercussions continued to reverberate throughout the Episcopal Church, including Southern California, on Saturday in the aftermath of the denomination's historic decision to permit the ordination of an openly gay priest as a bishop and to tacitly approve the blessing of same-sex unions.
At three "reconciliation" meetings held by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles in San Bernardino, Tustin and Camarillo, rank-and-file Episcopalians struggled to maintain unity in the face of deep divisions over homosexuality and questioned whether reconciliation was possible.
"I think the hope the bishop has is maybe this brouhaha will blow itself out quickly and we'll go on to life as usual. I personally think that's a vain hope," the Rev. Ron Jackson, rector of St. Luke's of the Mountains Episcopal Church in La Crescenta, said before Saturday's meetings.
"One of the difficulties with those meetings is, you cannot reconcile the irreconcilable. There is no middle ground, and that's what makes this issue so painful," he said.
Meanwhile, two other of the nation's 108 Episcopal dioceses -- in Fort Worth and Pittsburgh -- on Saturday called on the world's ranking Anglican archbishops to, in effect, drum the Episcopal Church out of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is one of 38 self-governing national churches in the Anglican Communion that recognize the archbishop of Canterbury as their spiritual leader.
The two dioceses also asked the archbishops, who have been summoned to London next month for an emergency meeting with the archbishop of Canterbury, to recognize them and other conservative dioceses and parishes in the U.S. as "the legitimate expression of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America." They called the Episcopal Church's action "schismatic" and a rejection of historic teachings of the church.
How much of the conservative agenda will be realized is uncertain. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, there is no centralized authority in the Anglican Communion. The meetings in Southern California and across the country were precipitated by the national church's General Convention -- its highest legislative body -- which met in Minneapolis in August and confirmed the election by the Diocese of New Hampshire as its next bishop an openly gay priest, the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson.
Previously married, Robinson is the father of two grown children. He has been in a 13-year committed relationship with another man, which began a year after Robinson divorced his wife. He is scheduled to be consecrated as a bishop in November.
Robinson is the first openly gay priest to be elected a bishop in the worldwide, 77-million-member Anglican Communion. The convention also acknowledged that local bishops have the option of allowing same-sex blessings in their dioceses.
"There was a sense that this was big," the Rev. Canon Mary Maggard Hays of the Pittsburgh diocese said after the vote there. Though she said many in the Pittsburgh diocese wondered whether they were being "precipitous," the overwhelming majority endorsed the tough stances.
"There was a clear sense from a pretty large majority that we needed to move forward in this direction," she said in a telephone interview.
In Fort Worth, where the diocese said similar resolutions had been approved on overwhelming voice votes, Bishop Jack Leo Iker said the hard-line stance on upholding Scripture should not be viewed as based on hatred for homosexuals.
"He went out of his way to say this is not about hating anybody," his spokeswoman, Suzanne Gill, recounted in a telephone interview. "It's not about wanting anybody to leave the church. It's about staying true to the commands of holy Scripture, as hard as they may be sometimes to live up to." She added that Iker had said the General Convention's "innovations" were in opposition to 2,000 years of church history.
On Saturday, the controversy moved from the national level to local parishes and dioceses, where aftershocks from the two Minneapolis decisions were still clearly being felt by church members.
For all their civility, Southern California Episcopalians meeting at St. Francis of Assisi Church in San Bernardino said it might be difficult to bridge the deep theological and ecclesiological divide over homosexuality.
"I don't know how to say this without some people seeing this as judgmental," Tim Webber, a parishioner at St. John's Episcopal Church in La Verne, told a group of 50 Episcopalians. "Sin is at the core of this issue. Is homosexuality a sin? Many of the people on the conservative side of this would say yes it is, and that's the problem."