Diocese of Albany announces arrangement for handling same-sex marriage oversight

By Meaghan Keegan
Posted Dec 21, 2021

The Rt. Rev. Carol J. Gallagher and the Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith. Photo: Diocese of Albany

[Diocese of Albany] In an effort to foster communion across differences regarding the use of same-sex marriage rites in the Diocese of Albany, the standing committee has invited the Rt. Rev. Carol J. Gallagher to provide supplemental episcopal pastoral support.

On Nov. 1, the standing committee released the statement “Toward Communion across Difference in the Episcopal Diocese of Albany: Statement on the Implementation of General Convention Resolution 2018-B01.” In this statement, the committee explained that while they hold a traditional view of marriage they recognize that in order to comply with General Convention Resolution 2018-B012 and in order to work toward healing within the diocese, a pathway needed to be made available for those clergy wishing to utilize same-sex marriage rites. The statement directed clergy who wish to use the same-sex marriage rites within the diocese to contact the Rt. Rev. Michael G. Smith, assisting bishop, to work out supplemental episcopal pastoral support. Going forward, Smith will be working with Gallagher to accomplish this provision.

Gallagher is a member of the Cherokee tribe and serves as regional canon in the Diocese of Massachusetts. Most recently she served as assistant bishop in the Diocese of Montana and as bishop missioner for the Bishops’ Native Collaborative. She has served as assistant bishop in the Diocese of Newark and as bishop suffragan in the Diocese of Southern Virginia.

Some wonder what exactly supplemental episcopal pastoral support is and why the diocese needs it. Smith explained, “In our tradition, in all churches that incorporate the historic episcopate, for that matter, there is the ecclesiastical understanding that the sacramental ministry of priests is an extension of the ministry of the bishop. This is most clearly seen in our Book of Common Prayer service for a Celebration of New Ministry, when the bishop instructs the priest to ‘take this water, and help me baptize in obedience to our Lord,’ and later when bishop says, ‘let all these be signs of the ministry which is mine and yours in this place’ (BCP 561-2). It is also evident in the bishop’s ordination when he or she is instructed ‘to celebrate and to provide for the administration of the sacraments of the New Covenant’ (BCP 518). Therefore, General Convention added the provision for supplemental episcopal pastoral support for a bishop who ‘holds a theological position that does not embrace marriage for same-sex couples.’

Gallagher added, “We will serve the diocese and the people as a team, offering a diverse approach to the life of faith. At Bishop Smith’s direction I will be available to walk in faith with all those who might need my gifts.”

This won’t be the first time Bishops Smith and Gallagher have worked together.

“I was assisting bishop in North Dakota for several years with Bishop Smith,” said Gallagher. “We have known each other for more than 30 years. We taught two classes together during COVID for lay and clergy leaders in Indigenous communities and now work with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative. We are good friends, we can be honest with each other, and we are both committed to serving Christ and have deep prayer lives.”

Hoping to lead by example, Smith agreed. “While Carol and I differ on our theological views about whether Christian marriage is between two persons or between a man and a woman, we have been friends and colleagues for many years and have been able to focus on that which unites us rather than divides.”

Both bishops hope to draw on their previous experience working together and their Native American heritage for this future partnership in Albany. Smith explained, “Our relationship goes back thirty years or so, beginning in Oklahoma, where we are rooted in Native American communities. Carol is a member of the Cherokee Nation and I am enrolled in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Long ago, tribal nations learned it is essential for the well-being of our several peoples to work together for the common good rather than focusing on competition and winner-take-all. We both know what it is to be theological minorities with our conflicting views: me in The Episcopal Church and her in the Anglican Communion. Our hope is to model true ‘communion across difference,’ to use a phrase from General Convention.”

As the first American Indian female bishop in The Episcopal Church and the first Indigenous female bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion, Gallagher concurs. “In Southern Virginia, North Dakota, Newark and Montana, my ministry has always been in balance and differently expressed than the bishops I served with. I offer myself, wholly who I am, with trust that God will use me to help respond to the needs of the Diocese of Albany,” she said. “We are a diverse and complicated church.”

In Albany, the bishops will work together to help bridge the gap between clergy and lay people who differ on the subject of same-sex marriage. Gallagher is hopeful, stating, “As the first Indigenous woman bishop I understand the challenges of a church in changing times and have always been called to places of bridge building and healing. My ministry among the people of the Diocese of Albany will be a companion approach, walking with Bishop Smith.”

Gallagher will begin providing supplemental episcopal pastoral support for the diocese in January 2022. To date, three clergy members in the diocese have approached Smith about exercising this option.