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Hands off: Florida consecration illustrates depth of frustration

National

Issue: "Soldiers in harm’s way," Nov. 15, 2003

It was a cross between a coronation and a wedding. A musical prelude. The brass quartet played "Marche Royale." An acolyte in white robes swung high the censer of burning incense. Bishops from 21 dioceses in colorful vestments streamed into the church as 1,200 guests stood in St. John's Cathedral in Jacksonville, Fla.

At the end of the pageantry came the man whose consecration as bishop almost didn't happen as scheduled. The Rev. John Howard's election as bishop was approved last summer at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church (ECUSA). As was the Rev. Gene Robinson's.

Episcopal Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold had insisted on laying hands on both men to name them successors to the apostles in the Anglican tradition. A year earlier, the local Catholic bishop agreed to lend use of the cathedral for the Howard consecration on Nov. 1; it was the only church large enough. But when the Catholic bishop learned Bishop Griswold, a Robinson supporter, planned to preside, he rescinded the invitation. A squabble ensued between Bishop Griswold and retiring conservative Episcopal Bishop Stephen Jecko of the Diocese of Florida, whom Bishop Howard will succeed in February. In the end, Bishop Griswold backed off and sent a senior bishop to preside instead.

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"I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church," Bishop-elect Howard vowed during the traditional liturgy. His wife and two sons watched from the pews.

"If any of you know any reason why we should not proceed, let it be made known," the presiding bishop commanded. The congregation remained silent, many keenly aware that the following day's consecration in New Hampshire would be met with moral objections.

The morning after his consecration, Bishop Howard gathered a group of intimate friends for prayer and Bible study. It was nothing new for him. He led a weekly Bible study on Wall Street for six years while serving at his previous post as vicar, or senior pastor, of Trinity Church Wall Street, an elite and decidedly liberal Episcopal church. He believes in the inerrancy of Scripture.

"I am an orthodox and biblical Christian," Bishop Howard told WORLD. "I believe that part of my duty as a leader in the Episcopal Church is to lift up principles of chastity among the people of God." He opposed the Rev. Robinson's consecration but says he won't leave the Episcopal Church.

On Sept. 11, 2001, Bishop Howard and his wife, Marie, survived the terrorist attack near their home and church in lower Manhattan. In the grueling months that followed, he and his parish offered care and counsel to rescue workers.

The 52-year-old North Carolina native who calls Billy Graham his hero doesn't know what to expect next in the Episcopal crisis. "I think it's going to be a matter of from day to day praying for God's guidance and from day to day attempting to be faithful as best we can," he said.

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