ST. GEORGE — Delegates from 22 Utah Episcopal parishes voted Saturday to stand behind the election of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire and to continue their financial support of a church "under siege."

More than 200 delegates voted on several resolutions presented during the Episcopal 98th Diocesan of Utah Convention, held for the first time in southern Utah at the Dixie Center. More than 380 members of the Episcopal Church attended the two-day meeting, which was hosted by Rev. Mary Allen of Grace Episcopal Church in St. George.

The vote in support of Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson also means the Utah delegates approve of the national church's decision to allow for eventual blessings of same-sex unions in local parishes, according to the Rev. Dan Webster, the diocese's news director.

"This has been a year of much work and many good challenges," said the Right Rev. Carolyn Tanner Irish, the 10th Bishop of the diocese, during her remarks Friday evening. "The area of constancy in the mission of all Christians is our witness and work for issues of justice. I am aware that some people think these issues are just matters of opinion, but they are not that."

The pursuit of justice, said Irish, applies to all Christians and is a general component of the gospel they wish to share.

"From my perspective, they (items of justice) include our active commitment to human rights, most immediately for gay and lesbian persons, for people in the criminal justice system, and for anti-racism training as well," she said.

Irish reminded delegates that a significant part of the church's mission is to turn outward with service to the needs of others.

"Stewardship and evangelism are areas that eventually require action, not just theological discussion and opinion," Irish said. "We are privileged to be stewards of the gospel, stewards of the earth, and stewards of our time, talent and treasure while we are living on Earth."

The Utah Diocese could very well be the wealthiest diocese per capita in the Episcopal Church, and perhaps in the entire Anglican Communion, Irish said. Interest earned from a trust fund, established from the proceeds of the sale of St. Mark's Hospital, supports the congregations and other ministries of the Utah diocese, she said.

"We now spend all of the income from it, over $5 million a year, mostly on ourselves — 6,000 Episcopalians. And every year, our churches ask for more. Is there something wrong with this picture?" Irish asked.

The needs of the national Episcopal Church are greater today because of the recent controversy over a gay bishop and the recognition of gay unions, she said.

"Some dissident bishops and their dioceses are withholding their financial support. The need, incidentally, is not only financial; our whole church is under siege and it needs our prayers and any other expression of fidelity and support we can offer," Irish said.

Delegates also voted to commit more resources to youth ministry, adopted a new Constitution and Canons, established a Peace and Justice Commission, and agreed to move ahead in building a Diocesan Center next to the Cathedral Church of St. Mark in downtown Salt Lake City.


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