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Episcopal Church USA To Elect Second Gay Bishop

Seattle cleric a finalist for California post

By Janet I. Tu
Seattle Times staff reporter

One of the Seattle area's most prominent clerics, the Very Rev. Robert Taylor, dean of St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, is among five finalists for the position of bishop of the Diocese of California.

If elected, Taylor would become the second openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion to which it belongs.

The denomination has been sharply divided on the issue of homosexuality, especially since the 2003 election of the church's first openly gay bishop, in New Hampshire. "I feel just honored and humbled by the trust and faith of the diocese in including me on their list of nominees," said Taylor. He also said he hoped the church would focus on issues other than gay clergy, such as poverty, health care and ministering to the larger society.

"I would say that the major global issue for the Anglican Communion is not the discussion of human sexuality," he said. "That's a side show. It's about the ministry we should be engaged in in ending global poverty."

(Emphasis mine)

The announcement of the finalists was made Monday morning at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, home of the Diocese of California, which has about 27,000 members in the Bay Area.

Taylor, 47, has led St. Mark's Cathedral on Capitol Hill since 1999. During his tenure, membership has risen from 1,900 to 2,400, and in 2002 the cathedral bought a nearby building and land for $11.5 million to accommodate the growth.

At his previous position, as rector at St. Peter Church in Peekskill, N.Y., the congregation grew from about 50 to 550 during his 11 years there.

Taylor is known for his graciousness and his work on social justice, community outreach and interfaith efforts. He helped fight against apartheid in his native South Africa, which he left in 1980 with help from Nobel laureate and Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

At St. Mark's, Taylor has made the cathedral a focal point for social-justice activities. He and Rabbi Daniel Weiner of Temple De Hirsch Sinai are co-founders of Faith Forward, a social-action group for people of faith.

He served as chairman of King County's Committee to End Homelessness and is founding president of the Desmond Tutu Peace Foundation, which raises money for Tutu's peace center in Cape Town, South Africa.

"I will miss him terribly" if he is elected bishop, said St. Mark's parishioner Peggy Cleary, 50, of Seattle. "He's brought a lot of clarity to our purpose. Before Robert came, a lot of what we did was all over the map. He's really gotten people more focused."

In addition to Taylor, the finalists include the Rt. Rev. Mark Handley Andrus, an assistant bishop of the Diocese of Alabama; the Rev. Jane Gould, rector of St. Stephen's Church in Lynn, Mass.; the Rev. Bonnie Perry, rector of All Saints' Church in Chicago; and the Rev. Canon Eugene Taylor Sutton, canon pastor at Washington National Cathedral in the nation's capital.

The candidates will meet collectively with members of the California diocese April 24 to 29, with the election May 6. The bishop-elect is to be confirmed at the denomination's national gathering June 13 to 22.

In 2003, the national gathering was a battleground over the confirmation of the openly gay Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson. While some within the church saw the move as a significant victory for gay rights and biblical teachings on inclusion, others, including some bishops in Africa, Asia and Latin America, saw it as another in a series of steps away from biblical authority.

Some of those bishops talked of a schism. In the United States, a number of conservative churches formed the Anglican Communion Network, and some local parishes left their dioceses. Two local parishes St. Charles in Poulsbo and St. Stephen in Oak Harbor aligned with a traditionalist bishop in Brazil.

Among the five finalists to succeed the California Diocese's Bishop William Swing, who is retiring, Taylor and Perry are openly gay.

That's not meant to be a political statement, said the Rev. Jack Eastwood, an adviser to Bishop Swing. "We're trying to find the best person to lead this diocese," which is diverse in its ethnicity, sexuality and income levels.

"I think the elected leadership really has to respect the fact that we do have differences throughout the church worldwide."

For Taylor, the attractions of the position include the diocese's desire to grow, to better serve the multiethnic population there, and its commitment to social justice.

Becoming embroiled in his denomination's battle over gay clergy "is not a role that I've certainly sought in any way," he said. "It is my hope that if I were to be elected, we would be putting energy and I want to put energy into much more vital, pressing, interesting conversations."

"Global poverty" the main issue? Can you say "Out of touch with the main purpose of the church"?

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