[Episcopal Diocese of Mississippi] The Episcopal bishop of Mississippi on Feb. 1 formally called for the election of his successor.
The Rt. Rev. Duncan M. Gray III announced the beginning of a process which will lead to the election of a bishop coadjutor on May 3, 2014. Gray said that he plans to continue as diocesan bishop until February 2015, at which time the new bishop will succeed him.
Gray made his announcement in his opening address to the 186th Annual Council of the Diocese of Mississippi in Jackson. He has served as the ninth diocesan bishop for 10 years, having served two years before as bishop coadjutor. Prior to being elected bishop in 2000, he was rector of St. Peter’s Church in Oxford.
The diocese’s elected Standing Committee will oversee the nomination and election of the next bishop. The actual work of the nomination process will be undertaken by a search committee, and the election and ordination will be directed by a transition committee. Both the nominating and transition committees will be named in the coming weeks.
The bishop of Mississippi is the chief pastor and canonical overseer for the state’s 85 congregations, clergy and more than 18,000 members.
Blessing same-sex unions
In his address, Gray also announced a discernment process which congregations may voluntarily enter in order to gain his permission to bless same-sex unions. He compared his process to the one implemented by the bishop of Texas.
While a general ban on the blessing of same-sex unions remains in place, he will allow congregations which self-select and undergo a thorough process to move toward blessings.
Clergy and vestry – the elected lay leaders of a local congregation – will be free to enter into a process of prayer and study on the matter. They will be asked to submit the design and results of their study and also to explain to the bishop how the blessing of same-sex unions would enhance the congregation’s missional efforts. He said he would also require those congregations discerning such a call to describe how they would prepare couples for the blessing liturgy. Congregations would also be required to report back on their experience in time for the 2015 General Convention.
Gray said that he is taking the step to keep the issue from dominating the nomination and election of his successor. He also noted that the process is “provisional” and will be allowed only until the 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 2015. He said that the blessing liturgy provisionally approved by the 2012 General Convention is “not marriage,” something which would not be allowed under state law and “which my own conscience would not accept.”
He said: “No priest, no vestry, no congregation will be asked to do anything that violates their conscience. This liturgy will only be authorized in congregations that have met” the criteria and have petitioned for permission.