A rift in the faith

Father John Rollinson of St. James Episcopal Church in Clovis said he is considered an “old fossil” for opposing some denominational trends. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth

By Darrell Todd Maurina

Sunday’s consecration of Gene Robinson of New Hampshire as the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church has led to protests from many in the denomination.
The Rev. John Rollinson, pastor of Clovis’ St. James Episcopal Church and three mission churches in nearby cities, counts himself among the dissenters.
“It was a very sad and tragic day for traditional orthodox Anglicans worldwide,” Rollinson said. “It was at the same time a very joyous day for those who hold a modernist and post-modernist view of the church.”
Rollinson, who has spent a dozen years serving churches in Clovis, Portales, Tucumcari, and Fort Sumner, said some Episcopalians refer to him as an “old fossil” for opposing what he sees as liberal trends of the denomination in which he was born and raised. However, Rollinson said he was grateful to have the support of a conservative bishop in New Mexico, Bishop Terence Kelshaw, and a predominantly conservative diocese that largely shares his opposition to gay marriage.
Two conservative Episcopal churches in New Hampshire are already demanding to have a different bishop oversee their churches. One conservative pastor in Pennsylvania has come under the oversight of an Anglican bishop in Africa to avoid discipline by his American bishop. But Rollinson said the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande has close relations with a number of sister churches in the developing world that are among the more conservative in the Anglican Communion. His own church in Clovis helps support financially struggling Anglicans in Africa and the diocese recently invited the Anglican bishop of Chile to speak at its meeting in Albuquerque.
“(Bishop Kelshaw) protects us in some ways from the craziness going on elsewhere in the church,” said Rollinson.
Rollinson said the issue of homosexuality is only one example of problems in the Episcopal Church.
“The Bishop Robinson crisis is not really about homosexuality, it is about fornication and a different view of the Bible,” Rollinson said. “Bishop Robinson doesn’t believe he is doing anything wrong. As some have pointed out, it is not as much about sexuality as of Holy Scripture. To make a case for gay sex, one has to retire various parts of Holy Scripture.”
Rollinson said evangelicals in Clovis learned years ago not to think local Episcopalians agree with all the decisions made by the denomination on a national level. He said a number of local pastors spoke to him this week to express condolences.
However, Rollinson said a denominational split may be inevitable. Most Anglicans worldwide belong to what were once mission churches in the nations formerly ruled by Britain, and Rollinson said the Anglican churches of the developing world have been among the loudest in condemning the American decision to appoint a gay bishop.
Rollinson said he hopes worldwide Anglicans agree to allow the creation of two different Episcopal bodies in the United States, similar to the current situation in which several different Lutheran bodies exist in the United States. While favored by many conservatives since it would allow them to remain members of the Anglican Communion, that proposal is opposed by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, head of the Episcopal Church in the United States, and looked at with concern by others.
“We won’t get support for that from our own presiding bishop,” Rollinson said. “If that were to be done, we would need the support and help of at least some of the worldwide Anglican primates.”