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L.A. Episcopal Diocese elects first woman bishop in its history

December 4, 2009 |  3:59 pm

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles elected the first woman bishop in its 114-year history today but had yet to decide whether to select an openly gay priest for a second bishop opening.

Clergy and lay leaders, meeting in Riverside for their annual convention, chose the Rev. Canon Diane M. Jardine Bruce, a local favorite from Orange County known for her financial expertise and ability to build up congregations.

Bruce, rector of St. Clement’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in San Clemente, edged out five other candidates, including two openly gay priests, for the first "suffragan" bishop post. Suffragan bishops assist a diocese’s primary bishop.

"All my life I have known that I have been called to serve God in Christ in God’s church," Bruce wrote in her biography on the diocese’s website.

Bruce, who was elected on the convention’s third ballot, received a majority of votes from both clergy and lay delegates. She appeared to benefit from a strong Orange County showing, but delegates said she was elected because she was the most qualified candidate.

"She’s a known quantity," said the Rev. Warren Nyback, a retired diocesan priest and convention delegate. "It’s an indication that the diocese is getting tired of male bishops. There’s been a yearning for a long time, especially among women clergy."

Bruce -- and the successful candidate for the second open position -- must be confirmed by a majority of the national church’s bishops and of diocesan "standing committees," which include clergy and lay representatives. Voting for the second position was beginning this afternoon; it was not clear when it would be completed.

If either of the gay candidates is elected, it would mark the first election of an openly gay Episcopal bishop since the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson was chosen bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

Robinson’s election threw the Episcopal Church and the global Anglican Communion into an uproar, leading to decisions by some conservative parishes and dioceses to leave the national church and resulting in a de facto ban on the election of additional gay bishops. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of Anglicanism.

But the U.S. church reversed course at its national convention in Anaheim in July, voting to open the top echelons of the church to gays and lesbians. The Los Angeles diocese is the first to test that policy.

Home to 70,000 Episcopalians across six counties, the diocese is widely viewed as one of the most liberal in the U.S. church of 2.1 million members.

Bruce, a onetime bank executive, has spent her 12 years as a priest in Orange County. She was the associate rector of Church of the Messiah in Santa Ana for three years before assuming her current post at St. Clement’s in 2000.

Raised as a Roman Catholic, she once thought that she would become a nun but instead chose marriage and family, she wrote in her biography.

Beside Bruce, the other candidates include the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool of Baltimore and the Rev. John L. Kirkley of San Francisco, the Rev. Zelda M. Kennedy of All Saints in Pasadena; the Rev. Irineo Martir Vasquez of St. George’s in Hawthorne; and the Rev. Silvestre E. Romero of St. Philip’s in San Jose. Glasspool and Kirkley are openly gay.

Glasspool received the second-highest number of votes in the balloting and is considered a favorite for the second position. Kirkley, the other gay candidate, finished toward the bottom.

Duke Helfand and Larry B. Stammer, reporting from Riverside