THE conservative Cathedral Church of the Advent, in Birmingham, Alabama, is in conflict with the diocese after its interim Dean, the Very Revd Craig Smalley, protested that he had inadvertently hosted a ceremony of which he disapproved: the ordination of a married gay man, the Revd Jose Fernandez.
The Dean was listed as master of ceremonies for the ordination at the Advent, as the cathedral is commonly known, at which the Bishop of Alabama, the Rt Revd Glenda Curry, officiated, the Episcopal News Service (ENS) reports.
After news of the service emerged, on 7 December, bloggers accused the Dean of reversing the Advent’s position on sexuality by taking part in it. The Dean said that the Bishop did not tell him that one of the four candidates was gay, and that none of the staff, clergy, wardens, or vestry knew anything about the candidates. He said that the Advent was simply hosting the event on behalf of the diocese
The cathedral is declared to be “committed to historical orthodoxy, scriptural primacy, and instincts which lean towards Anglicanism’s roots in the Reformation” — a position, the Chapter says, “once more commonly represented in the Episcopal Church”.
The resignation of the former Dean, the Very Revd Andrew Pearson, last May, prompted a covenant with the diocese in which the Bishop affirmed and agreed that the Advent would have “the freedom to express its theology and conduct its ministries in a manner consistent with its theological expression”.
The covenant specifies that the Advent be treated as its own parish, in addition to being the seat of the diocese; that it will use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer; and that it will no longer offer the “Advent-only” donation option previously open to those wanting to avoid supporting the diocese and the Episcopal Church.
In their responses to the ordination, neither the Dean nor the Bishop mentioned the name of the priest, or the topic of sexuality, and both their statements, the ENS report says, criticised the bloggers for inflaming tensions and reporting inaccuracies.
The Bishop said, “I love the Advent. The diocese of Alabama loves the Advent. Just this week, in our diocesan cycle of prayer, we prayed for the Advent. I am committed to the covenant between the diocese and the Advent.”
She continued: “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 at the cathedral of the diocese as endorsing any ordinand’s particular theological expression, but instead as 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.”
ENS points out that this is not the first time that the Advent’s conservative position has put it at odds with the diocese and the Episcopal Church. In 2003, when the General Convention approved the election of Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire, the then Dean, the Very Revd Paul Zahl, flew a black flag outside the cathedral in protest.
Dean Smalley told his congregation in a letter: “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.
“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.
“This incident has revealed systemic failures at the Advent and the Diocese in how we interact together as the Cathedral.”