A gay bishop, and a revolt in some pews

Misgivings in the Maine diocese echoes larger Episcopal rifts after Sunday's ordination.

On the day the Episcopal Church ordained a gay bishop in New Hampshire, Brenda and Doug Adams weren't in their regular pew at St. Thomas' Church.

Instead, they drove 90 minutes down the Maine coast to attend a non- Episcopal service in Portland. It's a trip they've repeated nearly every Sunday since the Rev. V. Gene Robinson's appointment as bishop was approved in August. "We just could not continue to support the Episcopal church," says Mrs. Adams.

Their quiet departure may not compare with the open insurrection brewing in many conservative dioceses around the country. Indeed, that any dissent is bubbling up in Maine may seem surprising at first glance. This is a state where residents are usually loath to make waves. It is also one of the most liberal Episcopal dioceses in the country, and the fifth to ordain a woman, Chilton Knudsen, as bishop.

But still, the ordination in neighboring New Hampshire has prompted some Maine faithful to withhold money or even plot group breakaways. Coming from where they are, these moves are some of the starkest signs yet of the deep schism threatening to tear the church apart.

"These fissures seem all but inevitable," says Leo Sandon, a professor of religion and American studies at Florida State University in Tallahassee. "You're talking about a kind of Anglo-Catholic faction within the Episcopal Church."

Many of the dissenters are of the older generation who say that Mr. Robinson's ordination was the last straw after three decades of grievances. First came changes in the liturgy and then the ordination of women priests.

That was enough to drive away, one by one, Mr. Adams's father and his six younger siblings. Robinson's ordination persuaded him and his mother to depart, too.

The decision wasn't easy for Mr. and Mrs. Adams, who began attending the church near Camden's sailboat-filled harbor after retiring to the area several years ago. Mr. Adams served as an usher and lay reader, though he tried staying out of church politics.

What finally pushed them out, Mrs. Adams says, was the decision by their priest, the Rev. Michael Rowe, not to address the controversy from the pulpit, relegating it to a more informal discussion after the service.

"This is too serious a subject to chat about over coffee," Mrs. Adams says.

Robinson's ordination also prompted Richard McLaughlin to leave St. Thomas for a Baptist church 90 minutes north in Bangor. He says his departure was inevitable after he was the lone dissenter in a church vote on ordaining Ms. Knudsen as bishop.

"We're there to worship God, not be social engineers," he says. "I wanted my children out before they were involved in false teachings." He particularly fears the impact the decision will have on the wider Anglican Church in Africa - a cause he continues to support financially.

Mr. Rowe says those decisions to leave the church are so far "the exception," although a half-dozen other parishioners asked if their donations could be limited to the church to avoid being "implicated with actions by the diocese."

"It has created significant upset and turmoil and slowed us down," says Rowe. "We haven't been able to focus on what we're primarily concerned with."

At the Maine diocese's annual convention last month, delegates from an Episcopal church in Gardiner introduced a resolution condemning Robinson's ordination as a "tragic mistake." Instead, delegates approved a statement that Knudsen says "commits us to continue the discussion, to respect our differences and to continue to carry out the work of the Gospel of Christ here in Maine."

That response proved unsatisfactory to at least four parishes that have approached an Episcopal Church splinter group - the Anglican Church in America - about setting up their own churches.

The Rev. Kevin Holsapple, rector at St. John's in Bangor, says he might support such a move were it not for the many legal and property impediments. "It's a sad day for me," he says. "It's a departure from the teachings of the Scriptures, and it's going to alienate us from the rest of the Anglican Communion."

It's a path already taken by parishioners at the Anglican Cathedral of St. Paul, the church the Adamses opted to attend. The parish voted to stop paying dues to the Episcopal Church in 1974 after women were ordained as priests. It formally broke away 15 years later, taking their building with them. The ensuing legal battle over the church was eventually settled out of court.

The Adamses didn't even know the Anglican Church of America existed until they saw an ad in a local newspaper. In picking this Portland church, they traded one stone-covered harborside church for another. Instead, however, of the crowd of nearly 150 that gathered in Camden, at times they could count on only one other person to attend the 7 a.m. mass at St. Paul.

Still, they liked what they saw. "I am so grateful that people stood on principle and stayed with the Scripture and teachings," says Mrs. Adams. Mr. Adams says it reminds him of the services he attended as a kid. "It was a trip home," he says.

At the early service this past Sunday, the Rev. Lester York alluded briefly to ordination, saving lengthier comments for the 10 a.m. mass.

Back at St. Thomas, Robinson's ordination didn't come up. Rowe says there were six baptisms to fit in and an All Saints' Day presentation by Sunday school students dressed up as St. Francis and Joan of Arc. Says Rowe, "We had other things to do."

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