Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold is ending his nine-year term while Anglican archbishops are demanding that the church stop electing gay bishops — at least for now.
Three years ago, the denomination outraged many Anglicans by confirming the first openly gay Episcopal bishop — V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. arm of the Anglican Communion.
The election for Griswold's successor is taking place Sunday during the Episcopal General Convention, where delegates will decide whether to enact the moratorium. If the assembly fails to adopt a ban, the communion could break apart.
To choose Griswold's successor, bishops will vote in a closed session, then return to the convention to present the winner to delegates for confirmation.
There was no clear front-runner among the seven candidates vying to become chief pastor.
The nominees are Bishop Edwin Gulick of Kentucky; Bishop Stacy Sauls of Lexington, Ky., which is a separate diocese; Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana; Atlanta Bishop Neil Alexander; Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori; Alabama Bishop Henry Parsley and Bishop Francisco Duque-Gomez of the Episcopal Church in Colombia, which is part of the U.S. church.
Schori is the denomination's first female nominee.
The winner will inherit a fractured church.
The Pittsburgh-based Anglican Communion Network, which represents 10 U.S. conservative dioceses and more than 900 parishes within the Episcopal Church, is deciding whether to break from the denomination. The House of Bishops recently started a defense fund that will help fight legal battles against parishes that want to leave and take their property with them.
Membership in the Episcopal Church, as in other mainline Protestant groups, has been declining for years and has remained overwhelmingly white. More than a quarter of the 2.3 million parishioners are age 65 or older.
None of the nominees is expected to take the church in a dramatically different direction.
Only two — Jenkins and Parsley — voted against confirming Robinson. (Duque-Gomez was not eligible to vote.) However, the network of conservative Episcopalians thinks neither of the men has done enough to protest the direction of the church.
The presiding bishop represents the Episcopal Church in meetings with other Anglican leaders and with leaders of other religious groups. But the presiding bishop's power is limited because of the democratic nature of the church. The General Convention is the top Episcopal policy-making body and dioceses elect their own bishops.
The new presiding bishop will be installed Nov. 4 in the Washington National Cathedral.