The leader of the Episcopal Church arrives Friday in Riverside amid a debate on homosexuality that continues to tear the denomination apart.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the 2.4 million-member denomination, will attend the annual meeting of the Diocese of Los Angeles on Friday and Saturday at the Riverside Convention Center. On the convention agenda is a resolution on whether priests in same-sex relationships should be consecrated bishops.
Inland priests on both sides of the church's homosexuality debate are tired of the years-long battle over the issue.
"Any time you have a single-issue focus, you're bound to be missing other things that are happening," said the Rev. David Maurer, vicar of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Fontana. "With the economy of the day, the issues that are really plaguing the Inland Empire today are, 'Where can I get food?' or 'How can I get gas?' or 'Will I have work tomorrow?' "
Maurer said that, although the debate over gay-related issues dominates media coverage of the Episcopal Church, he's never heard it discussed in his congregation. He's never mentioned it in a sermon.
Maurer believes the blessing of same-sex unions, which the Los Angeles Diocese allows, goes against biblical teaching.
The Rev. David Starr, vicar of St. John's Episcopal Church in San Bernardino, performed two same-sex weddings over the summer, one for his gay son. He also has a lesbian daughter. Starr strongly believes that, because God created all people in his image, gays and lesbians must be accepted as full members of the church, with the right to become bishops.
But, like Maurer, he never discusses the controversy over homosexuality in his sermons.
"It's a distraction," Starr said. "If I get mired in that, I lose focus on the people who need us."
Instead, Starr said his church concentrates on providing food to people in its poor San Bernardino neighborhood, and on homework and reading programs for local children.
Starr said he supports the resolution to rescind the moratorium on gay bishops because the ban deeply hurt some gay and lesbian Episcopalians, who viewed it as relegating them to second-class status within the church.
But he said it is theological conservatives who have forced the church to spend so much time discussing gay-related matters.
"If they weren't pushing this, there wouldn't be an issue," Starr said.
Unlike other denominations, the Episcopal Church has long allowed differences of opinion on theological matters. For example, even though the Forth Worth and Quincy dioceses, as well as the San Joaquin Diocese in Central California, refused to ordain women, they faced no punishment from the national church.
In the liberal Los Angeles Diocese, Bishop J. Jon Bruno supports blessings of same-sex unions but does not require priests to perform them.
The Rev. John Saville, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Corona, said although he would not perform a blessing of a same-sex union, he supports amending the Episcopal liturgy to include such blessings (priests now perform the blessings outside the liturgy).
Focus on Unity
And even though he opposes changing church liturgy to include same-sex marriage, Saville respects priests who support a liturgical change.
"People love this church for its great breadth and width," he said. "We trust God's spirit to guide us and lead us and work through this."
The Rev. Paul Price, of St. George's Episcopal Church in Riverside, said Episcopalians should focus on what unites them and what makes the church unique: A combination of a Catholic liturgical tradition and a Protestant belief in allowing lay people to interpret the Bible on their own.
One of Price's gay congregants, Gerald Motto, said he would continue to push the church to support same-sex-marriage liturgy. He believes the 2006 moratorium on new openly gay bishops was morally wrong and a step backward for gay Episcopalians.
Yet Motto, 70, of Moreno Valley, said he would welcome back the dioceses that left, even if they continued to oppose full equality for gays within the church.
"There is a place in our church for every single person," Motto said. "We don't come to church for people. We come to church to worship God."
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