from The Chestnut Hill (PA) Local
by Clark Groome
When the Rev. Mary Douglas Glasspool was called to be assistant to the rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Chestnut Hill she was the first woman to serve on the staff of the local parish.
On Dec. 5 she was elected to be one of two bishops suffragan (an elected assistant bishop) in the Diocese of Los Angeles. While not the first female bishop (she will be the 17th), she is the first openly gay woman elected to the episcopate.
Arriving at St. Paul’s in 1981, the newly ordained deacon and recent seminary graduate began her ministry only a few years after the Episcopal Church officially allowed women to become priests.
Since then Glasspool has had a distinguished career that has put her at the center of many important and controversial changes in the Episcopal Church.
Going back to her early days at St. Paul’s, she said in an interview for that parish’s 2006 sesquicentennial history that there was some resistance to her being called to St. Paul’s.
The parish’s rector at the time, the Rev. James R. Moodey, “was very intentional about wanting to promote women’s ordination and do so in a way that kept in mind the totality of the church,” Glasspool said.
“My first day on the job, Jim gave me a list of people to go visit,” she said. “I didn’t know this but it was the five or six people who had been most verbal about their doubts about having a female priest.”
Apparently she won the day.
“I don’t remember that there was a lot of talk about [having a woman priest], said the Rev. James C. Ransom, who was the other assistant to the rector when Glasspool arrived. “St. Paul’s has always been supportive of the ordination of women.”
After serving St. Paul’s for three years, she was called to be the rector of St. Luke’s and St. Margaret’s Church in Boston. While there she was again at the center of one of the church’s defining moments.
In 1988 she placed the Rev. Barbara C. Harris’ name in nomination to be bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Massachusetts. After shepherding her candidacy, Glasspool watched as her old friend from Philadelphia was elected the first female bishop anywhere in the Anglican Communion.
After several more years in Boston, she became the rector of St. Margaret’s Church in Annapolis, Md., a position she held from 1992 to 2001. Since then she has been canon (assistant) to the bishops in the Diocese of Maryland.
Jim Ransom has the unique perspective of having worked with Glasspool both at the beginning of her ministry and, up until he retired two months ago, with her in Maryland. He described her as a priest “of deep faithfulness.”
Her father was priest and so, Ransom said, Glasspool grew up in the church.
“From an early age she embraced the Christian understanding of things as the way they should be,” he added. “She lived with the reality of God in her life from a very early time. God is at the center of everything she does and thinks and how she lives. That shows immediately when you’re with her.”
Her gifts propelled her to be nominated to become one of the two bishops suffragan elected by the Diocese of Los Angeles on Dec.5.
Once again, Mary Glasspool is at the center of a defining moment for the church. While the election of women to the episcopate has become a familiar and mostly accepted practice since Harris’ election in 1988 – the Episcopal Church’s presiding bishop and primate is a woman – Glasspool, 55, is only the second openly gay person to be elected a bishop in the church. Since 1988 she has been in a committed relationship with Becki Sander.
When V. Gene Robinson, a partnered gay man, was elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, many in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, of which the American church is one of 38 autonomous provinces, were not pleased. The issue of the role of gays in the church hierarchy was controversial, with some provinces supportive, others uncertain and several vehemently opposed.
Unlike many Anglican provinces where bishops are appointed, the members of an American diocese elect their bishops, an act that must receive the consent from a majority of the standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction in the church’s 110 dioceses.
Robinson received the necessary consents. The controversy that followed led to an intentional moratorium on the election of openly gay priests to the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops. That moratorium was lifted at the church’s 2009 General Convention.
Glasspool’s candidacy arose on the heels of that triennial convention’s decision that, basically, leaves the decision up to individual dioceses while recommending that all tread softly and only go in that direction when they are sure that the person, regardless of his or her sexuality, is the most qualified for the job.
Her election has, not unexpectedly, created some controversy, although everyone contacted for this article believes that she will receive the consents she needs.
The Rev. Glen M. Matis, president of the Diocese of Pennsylvania’s standing committee, believes that Glasspool’s election will be ratified and will have the support of the local diocese.
The Diocese of Pennsylvania’s assisting bishop, Rt. Rev. Rodney R. Michel can’t vote because he’s not the diocese’s elected leader. In a recent conversation Michel said, “If I had a vote I would vote for Mary enthusiastically.” He, too, believes that Glasspool will garner the support necessary.
Barbara Harris, whose election was also the subject of controversy, agrees that she will be confirmed.
“She is an excellent priest,” Harris said in a recent telephone interview. “She has a good sense of pastoral care, which is important [to a bishop]. She has a view of a diocese beyond the confines of a parish ministry having served for these past eight years as canon to the bishops of Maryland.
“I think she has had a well-rounded ministry that has given her some understanding of the role of a bishop suffragan.”
Speaking after her election Glasspool said she was “honored by the trust that the people voting in that convention showed in me.”
“My feeling,” she continued, “is that the Episcopal Church is moving ahead. This is a progression. It’s not an earthquake or anything.
“I and my brothers and sisters who may be more conservative than I, and my brothers and sisters who may be more liberal than I, as long as we can come together at Christ’s table to celebrate and receive the Eucharist, we’re OK. Beyond that, we need to work it out.”
St. Paul’s current rector, the Rev. E. Clifford Cutler, has known the bishop-elect since they served parishes in Pennsylvania and moved almost simultaneously to Massachusetts: Glasspool in late 1984 and Cutler in early 1985.
“Mary has a keen sense of justice,” Cutler said. “She’s a very fine priest.”
If confirmed, she will be the fourth member of the clergy to serve St. Paul’s who went on to become a bishop. The other three are: the Rt. Rev. William Hobart Hare, the parish’s second rector (1860-1863) and, from 1873-1909, bishop to the Native Americans in what was then called the Diocese of Niobrara and is now South Dakota; the Rt. Rev. Malcolm Endicott Peabody, St. Paul’s rector from 1925 to 1938, then bishop of Central New York from 1938 until 1960; and The Rt. Rev. James R. Moodey, the man who brought Mary Glasspool to St. Paul’s. Moodey was St. Paul’s rector from 1976 to 1983 and bishop of Ohio from 1983 until 1993.
“I think Mary will get the consents,” Cutler said. “This is an issue in our communion that we don’t have agreement on and yet we can disagree and be members of the body of Christ. Churches have disagreed forever. I hope for a maturity that will allow the communion to still be together as we work through some of our different ways of interpreting scripture and our life together.”
Church law requires that the standing committees and bishops vote on her election within 120 days of being notified of it. That means that the results will be in no later than the end of March. If confirmed, she will be consecrated bishop in Los Angeles on May 15, 2010.