The Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr., Episcopal bishop-elect of Ohio, is planning an "inclusionary" consecration service tomorrow in Cleveland in which priests and bishops have been invited to take part in a procession with their wives, husbands, children, and "partners."
Processionals at bishops' consecrations normally are reserved for ordained clerics only, and inviting family members marks a break from tradition, church officials said. But Bishop-elect Hollingsworth's invitation to priests' and bishops' partners is a clear show of support for gay clergy at a time when the 2.3 million-member denomination is in turmoil over homosexuality.
One local Episcopal priest, who asked not to be identified, said he declined to serve as a Eucharistic minister at the consecration service because of Bishop-elect Hollingsworth's invitation to clerics' partners.
The Rev. Brian Wilbert, co-chair of the transition committee, said Bishop-elect Hollingsworth wants to be "as inclusionary as possible" by inviting families to be part of the service.
"And families can be defined as your spouse, your partner, your children - about the only thing we're not allowing is four-footed friends," said Father Wilbert, rector of Christ Church in Oberlin, Ohio.
Bishop-elect Hollingsworth, 50, served as Archdeacon of the diocese of Massachusetts before being elected in November as the 11th bishop of the Ohio diocese, which covers the northern half of the state and has 27,700 members in 105 churches.
The incoming bishop spoke in Toledo Nov. 5 during a public forum as one of three finalists to succeed Bishop J. Clark Grew II, who is retiring after 10 years in office.
The bishop-elect told the Toledo audience that human sexuality is a complex issue that is difficult to understand and asked members of the denomination to "make space in the church" for opposing views.
"I don't believe homosexuality is a sin or an obstacle to any ministry, lay or ordained. That's my belief, founded on lots of prayer and study," he said then.
"I'm a heterosexual, married, white male, and I don't understand heterosexuality, let alone all sexuality," the bishop-elect said. He said he and his wife, Sue, have a "blended family" of four children, ages 4 to 13.
Father Wilbert said 32 bishops have accepted invitations to the 10:30 a.m. consecration service at Cleveland State University Convocation Center, which will be able to accommodate 5,000 people with no tickets required.
Among those who accepted invitations to the consecration service is Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, a personal friend of Bishop-elect Hollingsworth and the denomination's first openly gay bishop.
Bishop Robinson's election at the Episcopal Church USA's general conference in August marked the start of a growing denominational rift over the ordination of homosexual clerics and the blessing of same-sex couples.
Even before taking office, Bishop-elect Hollingsworth faced a challenge from within his diocese as several congregations held an unauthorized confirmation service near Akron last month.
Five retired Episcopal bishops and one diocesan bishop from Brazil confirmed 110 individuals at the March 4 service. Under Episcopal law, confirmations can be performed only by local bishops or visiting bishops approved by the host diocese.
Bishop Grew and Bishop-elect Hollingsworth both chastised the clerics for holding a service without their permission.
"I am disappointed that the parish priests from the Diocese of Ohio and the six bishops of the church who were involved in this service chose to begin their relationship with me, not with direct and honest dialogue, but by acting in this manner," Bishop-elect Hollingsworth said.
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