Some wonder what exactly supplemental episcopal pastoral support is and why the diocese needs it. Bishop Smith explained, “In our tradition, in all churches that incorporate the historic episcopate for that matter, there is the ecclesiastical understanding that the sacramental ministry of priests is an extension of the ministry of the bishop. This is most clearly seen in our Book of Common Prayer service for “Celebration of New Ministry” when the bishop instructs the priest to “take this water, and help me baptize in obedience to our Lord,” and later when bishop says, “let all these be signs of the ministry which is mine and yours in this place” (BCP 561-2). It is also evident in the bishop’s ordination when he or she is instructed “to celebrate and to provide for the administration of the sacraments of the New Covenant” (BCP 518). Therefore, General Convention added the provision for supplemental episcopal pastoral support for a bishop who “holds a theological position that does not embrace marriage for same-sex couples.”
Bishop Gallagher added, “We will serve the Diocese and the people as a team, offering a diverse approach to the life of faith. At Bishop Smith’s direction I will be available to walk in faith with all those who might need my gifts.”
This won’t be the first time Bishops Smith and Gallagher have worked together.
“I was assisting Bishop in North Dakota for several years with Bishop Smith,” said Bishop Gallagher, “We have known each other for more than 30 years. We taught two classes together during COVID for lay and clergy leaders in Indigenous communities and now work with the Navajoland Iona Collaborative. We are good friends, we can be honest with each other, and we are both committed to serving Christ and have deep prayer lives.”
Hoping to lead by example, Bishop Smith agreed, “While +Carol and I differ on our theological views about whether Christian marriage is between two persons or between a man and a woman, we have been friends and colleagues for many years and have been able to focus on that which unites us rather than divides.”
Both bishops hope to draw on their previous experience working together and their Native American heritage for this future partnership in Albany. Bishop Smith explained, “Our relationship goes back thirty years or so beginning in Oklahoma where we are rooted in Native American communities. +Carol is a member of the Cherokee Nation and I am enrolled in the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Long ago, tribal nations learned it is essential for the well-being of our several peoples to work together for the common good rather than focusing on competition and winner-take-all. We both know what it is to be theological minorities with our conflicting views: me in the Episcopal Church and her in the Anglican Communion. Our hope is to model true “communion across difference,” to use a phrase from General Convention.”
As the first American Indian female bishop in the Episcopal Church and the first Indigenous female bishop in the worldwide Anglican Communion, Bishop Gallagher would concur. “In Southern Virginia, North Dakota, Newark and Montana, my ministry has always been in balance and differently expressed than the bishops I served with. I offer myself, wholly who I am, with trust that God will use me to help respond to the needs of the Diocese of Albany,” she said, “We are a diverse and complicated church.”
In Albany, the bishops will work together to help bridge the gap between clergy and lay persons who differ on the subject of same-sex marriage. Bishop Gallagher is hopeful, stating, “As the first Indigenous woman bishop I understand the challenges of a church in changing times and have always been called to places of bridge building and healing. My ministry among the people of the Diocese of Albany will be a companion approach, walking with Bishop Smith.”