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Petitions put rejected candidate in running for bishop

North Dakota's Episcopal Diocese announced Wednesday a sixth candidate for its open bishop seat -- a candidate originally rejected by the diocesan search committee.

North Dakota's Episcopal Diocese announced Wednesday a sixth candidate for its open bishop seat -- a candidate originally rejected by the diocesan search committee.

Three clergy and three lay persons nominated the Rev. Henry Lawrence Thompson III of Coraopolis, Pa., using a petition process never before used in the selection of North Dakota's Episcopal bishop.

Thompson's nomination isn't sitting well with some members of the diocese.

"We are disappointed that a candidate has been nominated by petition and would be unhappy if he were elected," wrote the V. Revs. Pam and Steve Easterday, co-deans of Fargo's Gethsemane Cathedral, in an e-mail to The Forum on Wednesday.

"We do not believe that (Thompson) could be an effective leader for the whole diocese," they said.

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In December, the diocesan search committee announced its five final candidates, none of whom directly expressed their views on the recent confirmation of the openly gay New Hampshire bishop, the Rev. Gene Robinson.

Instead, the committee asked candidates about how they plan to move forward and unite North Dakota's divided Episcopal diocese, said Donna Pettit, search committee chairwoman.

The lack of direct questions regarding homosexuality angered some members of the diocese, who used the petition process to nominate Thompson.

Thompson, who now serves as a dean and associate professor at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Penn., didn't know why he was rejected by the search committee.

He said it probably had to do with the strong stance his seminary took against Robinson's confirmation.

While Thompson disagrees with the confirmation of homosexual clergy, he said it's important to work together.

"I think he's a very well-rounded candidate," said the Rev. John Floberg of Thompson. Floberg is rector of St. Luke's in Cannonball and St. James in Fort Yates.

Floberg spearheaded the petition drive to nominate Thompson after the search committee named its five finalists in December.

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He said he did it "to give the diocese a broader range of candidates."

Pettit wouldn't comment on why the search committee rejected Thompson's application.

"I believe we came up with qualified candidates," she said. "I'm disappointed. The committee worked very hard."

Pettit said she was annoyed with Floberg, who originally served on the search committee but dropped out after being named a potential candidate for the bishopric.

Floberg said he didn't want to take away from the search committee's work, but Thompson is an additional solid candidate who should be considered.

"The last thing in the world that I'd ever want is to be involved in something that would tear this diocese apart," Floberg said.

When asked about Thompson's views regarding homosexual clergy, Floberg referred The Forum to what the candidate wrote in his application.

In the application, which can be found on the diocesan Web site, Thompson writes: "Debates about sexuality, and more recently the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, have consumed far too much of our energy, our time and our thinking."

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"We have not handled this conflict wisely in the past," he writes.

The North Dakota Episcopal bishop election will be Feb. 7 at Gethsemane Cathedral in Fargo. If diocesan members don't come up with a majority vote for one candidate by 9 p.m. that day, the whole search process will begin anew, Pettit said.

"Now we need to sit back and let it go, and just hope people understand what's going on here," she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Lisa Schneider at (701) 241-5529

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