Thursday, June 29, 2006

Gay in running for Newark (think Spong country) bishop post

Thursday, June 29, 2006
The Episcopal Diocese of Newark, which oversees 12 churches in Hudson County, has included a gay priest on its slate of four candidates for bishop.

The nomination of the Rev. Michael Barlowe, 51, defies a recent edict from Episcopal Church leaders urging "restraint" in appointing openly gay bishops.

Barlowe, the congregational development officer in the Diocese of California, has lived with his partner - the Rev. Paul Burrows, an Episcopal church rector - for 24 years.

Barlowe was one of three gay candidates last month for the bishop's position in San Francisco. He lost that election to the Rev. Mark Andrus.

The other candidates are the Rev. Mark Beckwith, 54, rector of All Saints Church in Worcester, Mass.; the Very Rev. Canon Petero Sabune, 53, chaplain at Sing Sing Correctional Facility and associate pastor at Trinity Church in Ossining, N.Y.; and the Rev. William "Chip" Stokes, 49, rector of St. Paul's Church in Delray Beach, Fla. No candidate is perceived to be the favorite; all four have agreed not to speak to the media.

The bishop will be elected Sept. 23 by about 460 clergy and lay people in the diocese of 30,000 that covers most of northern New Jersey. The new bishop will replace Bishop John Croneberger, who is retiring after nearly eight years.

If elected, Barlowe wouldn't be the first gay bishop in the Episcopal Church - the Rev. Gene Robinson was elected bishop in New Hampshire in 2003.

But in a vote at the national Episcopal Church's triennial convention on June 21, church leaders urged nominating committees to "exercise restraint" in considering gay priests for bishop's posts.

The Episcopal Church has been seeking closer ties with the more conservative Anglican Communion, which has about 77 million members worldwide.

Having a gay priest on the ballot will likely draw international attention, but it likely won't cause a stir in the Newark Diocese, said the Rev. Gerard Pisani Jr. of Trinity Parish in Bayonne.

"Most of us in Newark are rather comfortable," he told The Jersey Journal yesterday. "In a church that believes that God loves everyone at all times, it is unlikely for someone to be rejected on account of his sexual preference."

Barlowe's sexuality will certainly be discussed during his consideration, said Pisani, just as every nominee's family life is discussed prior to the elections. But the issue won't "make or break him," he said.

The Rev. Rosemarie Hassan, of Trinity Church in Kearny, agreed that it would be difficult to find an Episcopalian church in Hudson County that opposes Barlowe's nomination. But outside the Diocese of Newark, he said, sentiments are more varied.

"There are some people exalting in support (for Barlowe's nomination), but others are really upset about it," she said. "As far as the final results, it's really impossible to tell."

Newhouse News Service staff writer Jeff Diamant contributed to this report.

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