Washington area Episcopalians were told this week that recent actions of the House of Bishops will have little long-range effect here on the church's decision to ordain women priests and may help to prevent further division in the church.
Both priests and lay members had twice dismay over announcement by the national church's Presiding Bishop John Allin that he would not personally implement the church's decision, reached last year, to admit women to the priesthood.
The church's House of Bishops, which met last week in Port St. Lucie. He upheld Bishop Allin's leadership despite his public disagreement with church policy.
The House of Bishops also adopted a "conscience statement" asserting that bishops and priests would not be standing in the church if, on grounds of conscience, they continue to oppose the church's decision to ordain women.
The actions of the bishops, who a year a go voted 95 to 61 in favor of ordaining women, generated resolutions, sermons and hundreds of individual messages of protest in the Washington Diocese, which had been in the fore-front of the long fight to persuade the national church to open the priest-hood to women.
This week, Washington Bishop John T. Walker met with several groups of church leaders, assuring them that he would continue to implement church policy on the ordination of women and their full acceptance in the church.
"There is no question that the ordination of women is a reality in the church," he told some 50 priests and deacons of the Washington Episcopal Clergy Associations.
"I supported it (ordination of women). I will continue to support it and I will work for women to be fully recognized as priests anywhere in the church," said Bishop Walker.
In a related development, the Rev. William A. Wendt. rector of the Church of St. Stephen and the incarnation, notified Bishop Allin that he would use the conscience statement adopted by the bishops to appeal a church disciplinary action against him.
Father Wendt, an advocte of ordaining women, was censured two years ago for disobeying his bishop by permitting an irregularly ordained woman to function as a priest in his church.
In other reactions to the House of Bishop meeting, the faculty of the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria adopted a resolution affirmating its support of women in the priest-hood.
Women make up about 30 per cent of the student body at the Virginia seminary. One of the women, Chotard Doll, a senior, said the statement on women priests "hurt me very much."
By raising the issue again more than a year after the Church's legislative body, the General Convention, had made its decision, "he (Allin) opened all the wounds of the 1976 General Convention," said Doll, who is the daughter of the retired bishop of Maryland. "He destroyed all the healing that took place during the years."
The Rt. Rev. Robert Gibson, the acting Bishop of Virginia, took a different view of the House of Bishops' actions. In a letter to priests of the diocese, he acknowledged the "disturbed state of mind" of the clergy over actions by the bishops last week.
In a letter to priests of the diocese he expressed the belief that the House of Bishops' "official statements and actions will serve arrest, perhaps reverse, what was a dangerously growing schismatic movement in the Episcopal Church."
About 20 of the Episcopal Church's more than 7,000 parishes have split from the church over the question of women's ordination and other issues.