Tensions arise between cathedral and bishop over an ordinand’s “theological views”

As reported by the Alabama news outlet AL.com, The Episcopal Cathedral Cathedral of the Advent and the Bishop of the Diocese of Alabama, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Glenda C. Curry, are at odds over a recent ordination service at the cathedral. Cathedral officials say they were not informed that one of the four ordinands was a married/partnered (accounts differ) gay man. His partner was one of his presenters. The Cathedral holds a position opposing ordination of homosexuals. The Cathedral has issued a statement and the Bishop has issued a statement in reply.

Both statements refer to a blogger/s. Neither statement refers to sexual identity: The Cathedral says “one of those ordained has theological views that are very different than those of the Advent” while the Bishop says “someone with a theological expression different from the Advent”.

There three sections below: I. the Cathedral’s statement; II. the Bishop’s statement; and III. the previous dean Andrew Pearson quoted by the conservative bloggers.

I. Cathedral of the Advent dean and vestry respond to concerns from Tuesday’s ordination service (link)

December 9, 2021

Dear friends,

In our role as the Cathedral of the Diocese, an ordination service was held at the Advent on Tuesday evening. Our Bishop, Glenda Curry, presided over the service. As our interim Dean and Rector, Craig was there as a master of ceremonies. Our choir participated, and some of you served as acolytes and by graciously providing a reception. Yesterday, we learned through blog posts that one of those ordained has theological views that are very different than those of the Advent. Those blog posts, however, contain numerous false statements and we wanted to provide the actual facts to you.

First, the Advent has not changed its theological position. In fact, the entire point of the Covenant with the Diocese earlier this year was to protect and preserve the Advent’s ability to maintain its theological beliefs within the Diocese of Alabama. Those beliefs include the affirmation of the inspiration, sufficiency, and infallibility of Scripture as professed by the Thirty-nine Articles and grounded in the historic Anglican Formularies. On this particular issue, the Advent expressed its position back in 2006 in a Report titled “Speaking the Truth in Love.” This is the position of the Advent. Those who are misrepresenting that the theological position of the Advent has changed are doing so at best out of ignorance, or at worst in an attempt to harm and divide the Advent and for their own personal gain.

Second, none of the clergy, staff, wardens, or vestry knew anything about those who were being ordained. The ordination was a Diocesan event that was vetted and planned by the Diocese, but was held at the Advent because of its role as the Cathedral of the Diocese.

Third, this incident has revealed systemic failures at the Advent and the Diocese in how we interact together as the Cathedral. The Diocese failed to inform the Advent of this issue even though the Bishop had agreed that the Advent would not be asked to participate in, sponsor, or otherwise be seen to endorse an event that was incompatible with a traditional view of Scripture, or do anything that would assert, suggest, or imply that the Advent approved, condoned, or authorized such theological expressions. Although we are disappointed in and deeply grieved by the Diocese’s failure to communicate this issue to the Advent, as leaders of this parish we must also recognize that we should have done more to investigate this issue on our end. Accordingly, we will be conducting a full review of this issue to ensure that we have systems and agreements in place to ensure that this does not happen in the future.

Lastly, we hasten to restate something of critical importance. The grace of God given to us through the death and resurrection of Christ is sufficient to cover the sins of the whole world. None of us are without sin; none of us are better than another; one person’s sins are not worse than another’s; none of us are righteous, not one. The Lord’s grace is freely given to all, but his Church cannot affirm anything which is univocally forbidden in Scripture. By God’s grace, we will stand firm, witnessing to the Lord’s gracious work on and in each of us. Some words towards the end of Paul’s letter to the Philippians come readily to many of us: The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (4:5-7)

Please pray that we will continue to engage these events prayerfully, faithfully, and diligently, trusting in the certainty of the promises of God. We remain committed to seeking the way forward that honors Christ in all things.

Yours faithfully,

Craig Smalley, Interim Dean and Rector

The Vestry of the Cathedral Church of the Advent

II. A note from Bishop Glenda Curry regarding the Ordination Service at the Advent (link)

December 11, 2021

Dear Friends,

This week I ordained four people as priests at the Cathedral Church of the Advent. This beautiful service renewed our practice of ordaining priests in a diocesan service at the Cathedral. Unfortunately, after the service, a blog writer posted an article that was critical of the Advent’s role in hosting the ordination service. This criticism has led the leadership of the Advent to question my actions in planning the service.

The information about the four people ordained was widely published in the diocese prior to the service. They were selected, trained, and approved for ordination pursuant to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church. They were vetted by the Standing Committee of the diocese and the Commission on Ministry.  As part of the agreement between the Advent and the diocese, the Advent has a seat on the Commission on Ministry but has not yet offered anyone to fill that place.

Ordination is a well-established process in the Episcopal Church that was followed in the same manner in this instance as in previous ordinations at the Advent over many years.  This was not the first time that someone with a theological expression different from the Advent has been ordained in our diocese and at the Advent.

I do not view the Advent hosting an ordination service as the Cathedral of the diocese as endorsing any ordinand’s particular theological expression, but instead is an expression of their hospitality and commitment to our diocesan community. I did not fail to communicate an issue because there did not appear to be an issue to communicate. The Advent was not asked to do anything to endorse or sponsor a theological viewpoint.

The diocese did not invite the press or outside media. The diocese did not highlight or draw attention to the theological expression of any of the ordinands. The live-streaming of the service was within the usual custom and practice of the diocese.

Reflecting on this week, I wish I had anticipated that someone would use a beautiful celebration to sow seeds of division. I wish I had anticipated that some people may want to undermine the ministry of the Advent and its relationship to the diocese. Sadly, there are people that see reconciliation and unity and want to break it apart.

God’s Peace,

The Rt. Rev. Glenda S. Curry, Ph.D
Episcopal Diocese of Alabama

III. The bloggers and the former dean

Following the ordinations two conservative blogs posted on the ordination service, drawing attention to the sexual identity of one of the ordinands.

Anglican.ink has taken down its post — their link,Winds of change blowing through the Cathedral of the Advent, has been taken down (“404 Not Found”). The beginning of the post, however, lives on Facebook (link):

Anglican.ink’s report/op-ed appears to derive from that of another blogger.

In his post the other blogger quotes the Rev. Andrew Pearson who resigned as dean of the Cathedral in May. (Pearson says he resigned for reasons other than the Episcopal Church’s approval of gays in the priesthood and of gay marriage equality. He joined the Anglican Church of North America (not of the Anglican Communion) and in September he started an ACNA church in Birmingham.

Of the recent ordination, Pearson says:

After 30 years of straddling through all of these issues, the Advent has made a fairly definitive decision to be an Episcopal Church full-stop….Today, December 7th, the Cathedral Church of the Advent hosted and participated in the ordination of a partnered homosexual as a priest. The cathedral choir provided the music, along with two staff organists. Cathedral Deacon Katherine Jacob was the gospeller. Interim Dean, Canon Craig Smalley, participated in laying hands on the ordinand. In a generation, that which was once protested is now sanctioned.

Pearson says that while he was dean he refused to schedule the ordination and that when he left the senior leadership of the Cathedral was aware of the reason.

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