The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles on Saturday elected the first openly gay bishop since the national church lifted a ban that kept gays out of its highest ordained ministry, a move that deepened divisions between liberals and conservatives in the faith.
Clergy and lay leaders, meeting in Riverside for their annual convention, chose the Rev. Canon Mary D. Glasspool, 55, who has been in a committed relationship with another woman since 1988, from a field of six candidates. She is a canon, or senior assistant, to the Diocese of Maryland bishops.
Glasspool's election to fill one of two openings for suffragan, or assistant, bishop followed the selection Friday of the Rev. Canon Diane M. Jardine Bruce, 53, the rector of a San Clemente church.
The two became the first women elected as bishops of the diocese in its 114-year history.
"Two women and one of them is gay -- I just think that's great," said Diana Rising, a member of St. Luke's of-the-Mountains Episcopal parish in La Crescenta, where the diocese recently evicted a conservative congregation that had broken away from the church.
Glasspool's election riveted much of the convention as well as the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch.
She won the Los Angeles post on a seventh ballot, breaking a deadlock with the Rev. Irineo Martir Vasquez, vicar of St. George's Episcopal Church in Hawthorne, that had persisted throughout the day.
Afterward, Glasspool said she thought the voters did not base their decision simply on sexual orientation or any other single characteristic of the candidates.
"I believe the people of the diocese, by the grace and power and influence of the Holy Spirit, went beneath skin deep, went beneath the superficial characteristics and boxes into which we put people to really look at individual people," she said.
Glasspool is the first openly gay priest to be elected bishop since the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire in 2003.
Robinson's election threw the church and the Anglican Communion into an uproar, prompting the members of dozens of conservative parishes and four dioceses to vote to leave the church. It also led to the moratorium on additional gay bishops.
Reached in Manchester, N.H., Robinson praised the Los Angeles result. "This has been amazing 6 1/2 years, but it has sometimes felt lonely, and I cannot think of a better partner in the House of Bishops than Mary Glasspool," he said.
Opponents of gays in the church leadership said they were disheartened by Glasspool's election but had been expecting it.
"I can't say it surprises me," said the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, bishop of the South Carolina diocese, which has begun withdrawing from some of the national church's councils to protest the policies on gays. He said the split in the church is likely to endure:
"Is there anything that can be done to bridge it? No one has come up with it yet."
The Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian for the South Carolina diocese, said in a statement that Saturday's decision "represents an intransigent embrace of a pattern of life Christians throughout history and the world have rejected as against biblical teaching. . . . It will continue to do damage to the Anglican Communion and her relationship with our ecumenical partners."
Glasspool and Bruce have yet to be confirmed by a majority of the church's diocesan bishops and standing committees, which include clergy and lay representatives. Confirmation, known as consent, is rarely denied. The Los Angeles elections bring to 17 the number of female bishops in the church. There are about 300 active and retired bishops overall.
For a time, the 2.1-million-member church sought to discourage the elevation of gay priests as bishops in hopes of lessening the strains in the 70-million-member Anglican Communion. But conservatives remained disenchanted by what they saw as liberal interpretations of the Bible.
Members of the four breakaway dioceses and some of the dissident parishes aligned themselves with conservative Anglican bishops in Africa and South America.
So great were the possibilities of a widening schism that the archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, implored the 109-diocese American church to go no further.
But last July, the Episcopal Church voted at its national convention in Anaheim to open the top echelons of the church to gays and lesbians.
Delegates to the Los Angeles convention in Riverside said Glasspool's sexual orientation was only one factor in their decision. They called her a gifted priest with extensive diocesan experience from her position in Maryland.
"I don't think it's a referendum on electing a woman or a gay person," said the Very Rev. Mark Kowalewski, dean of St. John's Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles. "Those are secondary characteristics."
Home to 70,000 Episcopalians across six counties, the diocese is widely viewed as one of the most liberal in the U.S. church. Its primary bishop, the Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, is an outspoken advocate for the rights of gays in the church. He acknowledged Saturday that the election could stir more controversy.
"I think there will be a little bit of a wave, but as far as I'm concerned we need to look at Jesus and what Jesus would call us to do," Bruno said.
Another gay candidate, the Rev. John L. Kirkley of San Francisco, withdrew late Friday after falling behind in the early count. The other entrants were the Rev. Zelda M. Kennedy of All Saints in Pasadena and the Rev. Silvestre E. Romero of St. Philip's in San Jose.
At St. Luke's, a picturesque stone church in the shadow of the San Gabriels, support for a gay bishop ran high. Parishioners waited for Saturday's outcome while holding a crafts sale in the church parish hall. They have been trying to rebuild membership to replace the ousted congregants, who lost a court battle over ownership of the property.
New member T.J. Nabors, whose son is an Episcopal priest in San Francisco, said Glasspool's win was "very exciting."
"This was an important statement in terms of the quality," she said. "I hear that Mary Glasspool is deeply committed to social justice, which in a diocese like Los Angeles is very important."
Times staff writer Duke Helfand contributed to this report.