Bay Area Episcopalians will vote Saturday for a new bishop of the California Diocese in an election that could create controversy if one of three gay candidates wins.
The vote comes three years after the first openly gay Anglicanbishop, Gene Robinson, was elected in New Hampshire. Conservative elements within the church threatened to split off after that election, and have made the same threat again.
Of the seven candidates nominated for the California position, three, including the Rev. Canon Michael Barlowe of San Francisco, the Very Rev. Robert V. Taylor of Seattle and the Rev. Bonnie Perry of Chicago are all openly gay or lesbian.
Their nomination has raised the ire of national conservative groups such as the Anglican American Council, but no local group has vocally opposed them.
"Most people who will be electing Saturday are looking for the best nominee and are not going to be controlled by fears surrounding threats to unity in the church, and are not going to be controlled by voices outside the Bay Area one way or another," said Rev. Jack Eastwood, president of the California diocese's standing committee, an elected body that shares authority with the bishop.
Rev. Canon David Anderson, president and CEO of the Anglican American Council, headquartered in Atlanta, said Friday that the election of a second gay bishop would be "another rip in the fabric [of the church]." He cited Robinson's 2003 election as the beginning of a "schism."
Rev. John Kirkley, rector of St. John the Evangelist church in San Francisco and president of Oasis/California, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender ministry of the diocese of California, said, "I think it [resistance] is a fear-based response." He added that "fear and anxiety are not fruits of the spirit."
The electing convention, which consists of about 400 clergy and about 300 lay delegates from 81 Bay Area congregations, will meet in Grace Cathedral at 9 a.m. Saturday for a prayer service before the election. The successful candidate must win a simple majority among both the laity and the clergy.