In a recent letter sent to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, and shared with the Facebook group Voices in the Diocese of Albany, Ann Carlson of St. Mark's, Malone said that "it is widely rumored within the diocese that the bishop will not allow clergy to be employed here unless they vow to maintain and support strict theological positions on abortion, homosexuality, the nature of marriage, etc."
The diocese has chosen not to comment on the questions that it asks clergy seeking to enter the diocese, so the rumor that the answers to these questions determine a candidate's acceptability could not be confirmed. That is, until now.
A priest from another province of the Church who responded to a clergy search this past summer contacted me about a troubling experience. This priest's initial approach to the parish vestry was greeted positively. The senior warden responded: "Rev. ---; Thank you. This is great. I am excited about moving forward and determining if we have a call to work together." But before the applicant could speak further with the parish or see diocesan officers, Beth Strickland, Transition Officer for the Diocese, conducted a telephone interview, which the applicant thought went well. The only additional requirement before proceeding were answers to written "supplemental questions." These questions were:
1. With respect to your theological views, what is your position on biblical authority?
2. Do you believe in the virgin birth?
3. Do you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus?
4. Do you believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father?
5. The teaching of the Church since the beginning has been that sexual relations are appropriate only between a man and a woman – and then, only within the context of their marriage. That was most recently ratified at Lambeth in 1998 and has been reaffirmed in subsequent meetings of the Anglican Primates. This is the mainstream Anglican teaching.
Where do you stand on the morality of homosexual practice?
Where do you stand on the blessing of same sex unions?
Where do you stand on the ordination of those involved in same gender unions?
6. Please describe your prayer life.
7. The Episcopal Church holds that Episcopalians should consider abortion only after prayer, deliberation and the counsel of the church. In 2007, the Convention of the Diocese of Albany passed a resolution that affirms the sanctity of human life as a gift of God from conception to natural death. Under what circumstances do you think it would be acceptable for a woman to have an abortion?
Even after this personal rejection and disappointment, the applicant was able to recognize that the real loss was to the diocese. A church without a rector, eager to interview a qualified candidate, was denied that opportunity. "It is sad that a diocese with at least 10 empty churches will not give me at least a chance."
So, is there a "litmus test" for applicants to clergy positions in the Diocese of Albany? Are there arbitrary questions above and beyond the Prayer Book responses that have to be answered "correctly" in the Diocese of Albany? We wondered what questions the diocese required before a parish seeking a new rector would even be able to interview the candidate: now we have them. And if the answers are not sufficiently "orthodox", the response will be:
You Shall Not Pass!