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UM Seminary Gays Inhospitable To Episcopal Commencement Speaker For Upholding Church Doctrine

Iliff's invitation to bishop protested
By Virginia Culver
Denver Post Religion Writer

Tuesday, May 01, 2001- The invitations were already printed listing Episcopal Bishop Jerry Winterrowd as speaker at next month's commencement for Iliff School of Theology.

But the more than 1,200 invitations have been reprinted without a speaker's name. Winterrowd hasn't decided whether to go ahead with his June 3 address after gays and lesbians objected to his appearance.

Gays and their supporters at Iliff are particularly upset about guidelines Winterrowd issued in February stating that only celibate gays can serve as priests in Colorado Episcopal churches.

Craig Peterson, a gay student at Iliff, called the matter "incendiary. But I know the political realities and how difficult it would be to retract the invitation."

"Not insensitive to how they feel'

Winterrowd met with Iliff students and faculty for 90 minutes recently to discuss the problem and said he is "deeply distressed" over the controversy.

"I have a good relationship with gay and lesbian Episcopalians, though sometimes it's contentious," he said. "But I'm not insensitive to how they feel."

He said he hesitates "to go into hostile territory," and is concerned that protests might disrupt the "sacred atmosphere of the commencement celebration."

Winterrowd said he'll decide soon so the seminary will have time to get another speaker if he cancels.

The impasse has many ramifications. The 7 p.m. commencement ceremony is to be at St. John's Episcopal Cathedral, East 14th Avenue and Clarkson Street. Winterrowd is on the board of trustees at Iliff because 30 Episcopal students go there as part of the Anglican Studies Program.

"I told Jerry his stand (on gays) is incompatible with the spirit many of us value at Iliff," said Dee Paddock, an Episcopal student at Iliff.

A psychologist and heterosexual, Paddock said she decided against being ordained in the Episcopal Church because of Winterrowd's stand on gays.

Michelle Danson of Niwot, an Episcopal student at Iliff who supports Winterrowd's commencement appearance, said, "We've moved from being militant on this issue to hearing all voices, including those we're not comfortable hearing. Iliff is on the cutting edge of what it means to be inclusive."

Those opposing Winterrowd haven't decided whether they'll publicly protest if he does speak.

Iliff President David Maldonado said the invitation stands, though the school "is an open and welcoming" campus for gays. "Iliff is a place of diversity for many voices. We want it to be a safe place for people to be heard."

He said his aim is make sure issues such as this "are discussed openly. We're like a family, and families don't always agree."

But he said he doesn't want to get involved in discussions about the Episcopal Church's stand on gays and lesbians.

Actually, there is great disagreement in the Episcopal Church, which advises that single priests must be celibate. Delegates to the church's national conventions have repeatedly passed statements against non-celibate gays in the ministry, but the church has never written that into law, said Jim Solheim, spokesman at national church offices in New York City.

Peterson said he is "frustrated that the commencement keynoter doesn't reflect the inclusivity of the church. If Bishop Winterrowd would have come from behind his bishop's office and just told us he is struggling with this issue instead of reiterating that he is upholding his church I would have been pleased," Peterson said.

But, Peterson said, "I don't want to sound hypocritical. My own church (the United Methodist) is even less open to gays."

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