Beckwith chosen over openly gay priest to avoid further controversy through the global Anglican community
NEWARK, N.J. Avoiding further controversy in the worldwide Anglican family, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark on Sept. 23 chose a Massachusetts priest as their new bishop, rather than an openly gay candidate on the ballot.
The Rev. Mark Beckwith, 54, won on the third ballot, taking 253, or about 53 percent of the 477 ballots cast by clergy and lay representatives.
Canon Michael Barlowe, 51, an openly gay priest from California, only had one vote, cast by a lay person, in the final round. Even in the first round, he only had 40 votes, 16 from clergy and 24 from lay people.
The Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, an openly gay priest at St. Paul’s Church in Chatham, felt Beckwith was the best choice to lead the diocese, but thought the global Anglican community’s pressure on the American church to avoid more gay bishops was an “elephant in the room.”
She thought it was sad that “someone of the caliber of Michael Barlowe had such a poor showing.”
In a statement released by the Newark diocese, Barlowe said Beckwith would make a talented leader and a faithful pastor. He also reaffirmed the quest of gays and lesbians to become Episcopal bishops. “God is calling lesbian and gay persons to be bishops, priests, deacons and lay ministers in the Church, and we must never deny God’s call,” Barlowe said.
Barlowe is currently an officer for congregational development for the Diocese of California in San Francisco.
The election in the historically liberal diocese came at a time when divisions over the Bible and sexuality are threatening the denomination and the worldwide Anglican family.
A win by Barlowe would have put the diocese at the center of a crisis over whether Anglicans who disagree about ordaining gays can stay in the same fellowship.
The feud erupted in the Anglican community in 2003, after the Episcopal Church consecrated its first openly gay bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
In June, the Episcopal General Convention, the church’s top policy-making body, voted to ask U.S. bishops to “exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration” of candidates “whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church.” However, the measure is not binding.
Beckwith, of Worcester, Mass., had previously served in the Newark diocese in Morristown and Hackensack. He must still be approved nationally by diocesan standing committees, which are panels of local lay people and clergy similar to a board of directors, and a majority of the more than 100 Episcopal bishops who lead U.S. diocese.
If approved, Beckwith will replace Bishop John Palmer Croneberger, who is resigning to spend more time with his ill wife, diocese spokeswoman Rev. Sandye Wilson said.
“I look forward to our next steps together and living among you as your bishop,” Beckwith said in a phone call broadcast to the gathering.
The Episcopal Church is the U.S. representative of the global Anglican Communion.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, September 29, 2006.