The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church today sought to paper over the growing rifts in his troubled denomination with an appeal to the church's bishops meeting here to rally behind a multi-million-dollar fund drive for church missions.
But the fund drive, too produced [WORD ILLEGIBLE] when Bishop John T. Walker of Washington objected to it in a dramatic statement.
Bucking the trend of generally laudatory speeches about the Venture in Mission program, the recently installed Bishop Walker announced quietly that the Washington Diocese "is not at this point prepared to engage in fund-raising" for the Venture in Mission.
"I am deeply disturbed and worried about much that happened here," he said. He noted that he had received numberous phone calls and telegrams from Episcopalians back home who were "very angry."
"I need your help," Bishop Walker appealed to his fellow bishops, "so that the people of Washington can understand that their church has not abandoned them in their support for the ordination of women.
"We really do feel abandoned," he continued."That's what all the letters and telegrams and phone calls are all about." Other bishops also reported receiving large numbers of messages from home.
The source of the anger was a statement Presiding Bishop John M. Allin made to the House of Bishops, at its opening session last Friday that, even though the national church voted more than a year ago to authorize ordination of women to the priesthood, he could not accept that decision and would not implement it. He offered offered to resign if his fellow bishops thought he should.
While a formal response to that offer is not expected until Wednesday, preliminary reaction of the bishops indicated that a majority wants him to stay.
A "conscience clause" which the bishops adopted yesterday would make the national church policy on women priests inoperative for anyone - priest or bishop - who in conscience disagrees with it.
The Washington Diocese was the focus of much of the activity pressing the national church to drop its barriers to women priests a year ago.
Citing the Washington Diocese's traditional loyalty - financially and otherwise - to the national church, Bishop Walker continued: "How does a diocese participate when it has serious questions now about the leadership of this church?"
Bishop Allen responded that he has not asked the church "to change any of its commitments" in announcing his own dissent from the decision to ordain women.
He advised Bishop Walker to "do what you can and that will be enough . . . but be sure and tell them [church members back home] that no presiding bishop has done anything but plead with everybody to quit arguing so we can get into the ghetto" - a reference to the church mission work the fund-raising drive meant to encourage.
The Walker statement seemed to shatter what had appeared to be an unwritten law to say nothing controversial in public sessions. After he spoke, Bishop William Folwell of Winter Park, Fla., pointed out that, "It is very difficult to stand up and speak against the Venture in Mission." But he pointed out that, during the recess, "The conversation in the hall and the men's room was totally negative."
Earlier today, a group of 36 bishops from the large metropolitan areas of the United States - representing the bulk of the 2.9 million-member Episcopal Church in this country, reported on the progress of an urban coalition they had formed within the church.
The coalition, headed by Bishop Walker, is to hold hearings in five cities which, according to Bishop John Spong of Newark, will "give the church the opportunity to listen to voices not usually heard in church circles." The hearings are expected to pinpoint issues on which church efforts should focus, Bishop Spong said.