Institute on Religion and Democracy, Episcopal Church, Falls Church, Diocese of Virginia, Lauren Stanley, Jo Belser, Daniel Deng Bul Yak, Episcopal Church of Sudan, Episcopal Diocese of Haiti, Peter Lee, Ted Gulick, IRD Blog
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post identified Stanley as “openly lesbian”. Rev. Stanley has written to clarify that she is heterosexual (see comments section below).
The continuing Episcopal congregation of the Falls Church (TFCE) has invited an Episcopal priest who was famously recalled from the Sudan in a controversy over same-sex blessings to lead services on July 1.
The invitation comes one month after TFCE assumed control of the historic property following a court ruling against the departing Anglican congregation. The Anglican congregation (TFCA) voted overwhelmingly to separate from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 2006 following disagreements about the authority and interpretation of scripture.
Stanley’s invitation to TFCE follows the diocese’s first ordination of an openly lesbian clergywoman earlier this month. On June 2, Assistant Bishop Edwin F. “Ted” Gulick Jr. ordained Jo Belser of Alexandria, VA to the transitional diaconate in a service at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Burke, VA. As a layperson, Belser served as an official with Integrity Virginia, the diocese’s unofficial homosexual and transgender caucus.
Stanley is best known for her four year missionary assignment at Renk Theological College in Sudan. In March of 2009, Stanley was recalled to Virginia by Bishop Peter Lee at the request of Archbishop Daniel Deng Bul Yak. The head of the Sudanese church acted after the Virginia clergywoman made public comments at Diocesan Council defending a resolution opening the door to the blessing of same-sex unions. Responding to concerns that such a resolution would do irreparable harm to the long-standing mission relationship between the Diocese of Renk and the Diocese of Virginia, Stanley insisted that the Sudanese did not care. Archbishop Deng Bul Yak told Bishop Lee that Stanley’s comments were offensive.
In December of 2011 the Episcopal Church of the Sudan publicly revoked an invitation to Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, citing the U.S.-based church’s liberal stance on sexuality issues. The Sudanese church simultaneously recognized the Anglican Church in North America, while stating that they would continue to work with some individual churches and dioceses within the Episcopal Church.
Following termination of her work in the Sudan, Stanley was stationed as an Episcopal Church missionary in the Diocese of Haiti, the largest in the U.S.-based Episcopal Church. That assignment also ended with Stanley being recalled after only a year. Stanley is currently listed as a doctoral candidate at Virginia Theological Seminary and is described as “Priest, Preacher, Consultant, Visionary.”
Formed soon after the Anglican congregation split from the Episcopal Church, TFCE has been led by an interim priest-in-charge for the past year. Unlike the Anglican congregation, the significantly smaller Episcopal congregation has remained comfortable with the theologically liberal direction of the diocese. In 2010, an alternate Lay delegate from the church, Doug Hansen, spoke before the Resolutions Committee Open Hearing at Diocesan Convention in support of Resolutions R-3 (Inclusiveness in Ordained Ministry Regardless of Sexual Orientation) and R-4 (Authorizing Rites of Same-Sex Blessings).
The congregation’s vestry recently announced that the Rev. John Ohmer of St. James Episcopal Church, Leesburg, VA, has been called to be Rector of the church. Ohmer, a former aide to then-Senator Al Gore, serves alongside Stanley as a staff writer for Center Aisle, the Diocese of Virginia’s General Convention opinion journal.