Glasspool: 'I anticipated some kind of reaction'
We sat down on Tuesday with the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool, who on Saturday became the first openly lesbian Episcopal priest elected a bishop in the Anglican Communion.
Pending confirmation, the Annapolis woman, who since 1992 has served as a rector and canon (advisor) to the bishops of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, will become bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Los Angeles. She would be only the second openly gay Anglican bishop in the world, after the 2003 consecration of V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire threw the Protestant denomination into its current state of turmoil.
The election drew a stern rebuke from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan D. Williams, who said her confirmation would jeopardize relations in the 70 million-member church. We've got a story in Wednesday's paper.
Following is a transcript of our conversation, which started with a question about Williams' warning.
With respect to the Archbishop of Canterbury, he has a personal relationship with the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, and I leave that in their realm. Certainly, I’m not ignorant of issues in the culture and the church, so yes, I can say I anticipated some kind of reaction. You never know what kind of reaction.
I want to be quick to say that personally, I have received hundreds, maybe a thousand at this point, and one negative e-mail among all of them. I’ve received e-mails from all over the world – from an 18-year-old gay man in Auckland, New Zealand, who said how proud and thrilled he was for the church. Episcopalians in the Diocese of Dallas, which is one of our more conservative dioceses, and a married couple, lay people, who wrote and sent their congratulations. A Lesbian couple who are Roman Catholic in England who said they were having such difficulty in their own church and they were so proud that the Episcopal Church was taking leadership in this way, demonstrating not only the reality of who we already are, but the inclusiveness of Jesus’ love for all people.
On the role in which she now finds herself:
Well, it’s very humbling, because first of all, I mean, here’s one of the bylines that was said to me by one of my mentors in this diocese: ‘Always remember you’re a celebrant and not a celebrity.’ And what that means is I’m a servant of God in Christ. And as a servant, I’m here to serve God’s people. As a bishop, to be a chief shepherd of the people. And I never want to lose that centeredness in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
So getting these e-mails from all over the world, that’s the level of the story that’s bigger than me. At which I become a symbol. And so I’m conscious of the symbolic nature of my election and hoped-for consecration, and it’s very humbling. It’s also very exciting, for me, you know, right now, I’m not ignorant of some people who are fearful that this will mean a real change in our relationship in the Anglican Communion. I’m more hopeful than fearful. I think it’s important right now that we say to the world that we tell our story as Christians, again, centered in the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that we’re inclusive. That God loves everyone. That the church has his arms wide open as Jesus did on the cross and is ready to be a safe place for people, all people, regardless of who they are, to be a part of a loving community.
Are you comfortable being a symbol?
It’s both a privilege and a responsibility. I feel like it’s an incredible privilege to be hearing from people I don’t know and who don’t know me all over the world. I have a friend in Ghana who is an Anglican priest in Ghana. And hopefully, he, again, God willing, wants to attend the consecration. He’s a straight man. He’s married with two sons. And I and my partner, Becki, have hosted them in this country. So that’s all a privilege and very exciting.
You know, it’s a responsibility because people have entrusted me in this election. The people of the Diocese of Los Angeles have entrusted me to be a leader. And I feel my primary responsibility, certainly after the consent process, and after the consecration, is to the people of the Diocese of Los Angeles. But I guess that symbolic level of things going on, I hope simply to facilitate a kind of liberation for people who have felt imprisoned in various ways, either by their sexual identity, or by the color of their skin, or the fact that they’re in poverty or whatever, that this is all part of God’s freeing up of the world and healing and reconciling of the world.
On conservatives disappointed by her election:
I’ve made it a point throughout my ministry of seeking out very intentionally people who think and feel and believe differently than I do. So right now, I meet once a month with a brother in Christ, a fellow colleague in Christ, who may in fact be in pain. I’ve not talking with him since the election. But we meet noce a month faithfully to engage with one another. And my message to my more conservative sisters and brothers is I need you and the church needs you and you are part of this wonderful family that we hold dear. That in the Episcopal tradition we call the Episcopal Church. So I don’t know what kind of pain is out there yet, and I’d like to talk and say, keep talking, know that what is most important is that we continue to come together around the table on Sunday in celebration of the Eucharist.
I’m reading a book by the late Richard Norris that talks about leadership in the church and talks about Sunday worship and gathering for the Eucharist as a rehearsal of the reign of God. A rehearsal every week of the reign of God, or sometimes more frequently. So as long as 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, because I’m not the most liberal person on the planet, believe it or not, there are some ways in which I’m pretty conservative. But as long as we can come together at Christ’s table to celebrate and receive the Eucharist, we’re okay. You know, beyond that, we need to work it out, we need to engage one another, we need to continue in dialogue. The minute we can’t come to the table anymore, then we’re in trouble.
Are you looking forward to the job?
I am looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to there are some wonderful people I’ve have the honor and privilege of meeting in the diocese of Los Angeles. It’s people who are far smarter than I am and have lived maybe on both coasts already know how culturally different it is. The diocese of Los Angeles is an extremely diverse, multicultural, pluralistic diocese that is really seeking to think outside the box is perhaps putting it mildly. But there are interfaith dialogues going on and creative ways of worshipping. I’m in the process of learning Spanish, because if you live in Los Angeles, half the people are bilingual if not three quarters, so I’m learning Spanish and hope to really have something of an immersion experience in living there.
Bishop Job Bruno and my other sister who was elected prior to the election, Diane Jardine Bruce, is a wonderful, wonderful person, and I look forward to meeting all the people and being challenged by the newness and the creativity. And then beneath all that it seems to me there’s a yearning for community, a yearning for bonding together around the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So I’m looking forward to all of that. It’s a situation in which I feel excited for the future of the whole church and I also feel excited because I know I’m going to grow. I’ve learned about myself that I grow most and best when I have allowed myself, usually, in response to God’s call, to be put outside my comfort zone, and be challenged by the newness and difference of that.
Do you expect to be confirmed?
I’m very hopeful, having been the head deputy to General Convention for the Diocese of Maryland in four different general conventions now, in 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009, my feeling is that the Episcopal Church is moving ahead. This is a progression. It’s not an earthquake or anything. We’ve had a lot of turmoil, a lot of conflict, a lot of dialogue, and we’re moving ahead to tell our stories, our stories of faith, to claim our identity as the Episcopal Church, to be who we are as the people of God and to deal with the hurting world. To deal with extreme poverty, to support in the ways in which we’ve pledged the United Nations program of the Millennium Development Goals, but also to be the church. To be the church for the world. To build community. To build up the body of Christ so we can better serve the world in Christ’s name.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
I’m deeply grateful. I am profoundly moved by just about everything that’s going on. The convention itself was and is just a wonderful experience of feeling the Holy Spirit move in a body larger than oneself. So that no one single person who came to that convention in the Diocese of Los Angeles, no one single person had his or her own will done. That’s what it meant to have the power of the Holy Spirit palpably present in a group gathered around the Eucharist, gathered around Christ. And then open to the power and movement and guidance of God’s Holy Spirit. That experience in and of itself is profoundly moving.
So I’m excited. I’m excited about the future. I think this is a real hopeful sign to the world. You know, especially to young people, who sometimes look at the church and especially the institutional church and say, 'What are they talking about? What is all this stuff?' I think the Episcopal Church is particularly poised to offer hope, to engage with the future, both in terms of new technology, and art and music and science with the story of the people of God.