BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: As we reported earlier, this weekend's consecration of Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson has ignited an international debate about the role of gays in the church. But it's also having an emotional impact at the local level. Some Episcopalians are celebrating what they see as the church's courage, openness, and diversity. Other Episcopalians are lamenting what they believe is a radical departure from Christian teaching. Often, both views are in the same congregation. Kim Lawton has our story of one parish that is wrestling vigorously over what to think and how to respond.
KIM LAWTON: Sunday morning at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. St. Stephen's is nearly 100 years old -- in Virginia, the birthplace of American Anglicanism, that's relatively young. It's a large and active parish: about 3,500 baptized members, three different Sunday morning services, and numerous local ministries. Parishioners describe the congregation as middle to upper-middle class, conservative-leaning -- and deeply divided over the appointment of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire, and his approval by the church's national convention.
TIMOTHY MCCOY Sr.(Parishioner): My reaction to the news coming from the convention was that of disgust.
WEEZIE BLANCHARD (Parishioner): I was really pleased, just because of the message that it sent of acceptance.
RIKER PURCELL (Parishioner): I thought it was a poor choice. But I also thought if the church in New Hampshire thinks it's best, then perhaps it is best for them.
COTESWORTH PINCKNEY (Parishioner): I think some people were, are, just shocked. And I think, probably the feeling -- I think the feeling that I have and my wife have of just sort of sadness, that we've lost something, is probably the most typical feeling. But I am really amazed at the depth and breadth of concern.
LAWTON: The divisions have set off a series of frank, sometimes uncomfortable conversations about what the parish -- and its members -- believe.
Ms. BLANCHARD: We've had Bible studies. We've had small and large group meetings that have been available. Each of the clergy has been available to talk about this issue, not to try to change anyone's minds, but just to sit and listen.
Reverend THOM BLAIR Jr. (Rector, St. Stephen's Episcopal Church): I've tried to hold up the thought that people are always more important than the ideas that they have, and that even if we do disagree in a serious way, that we can still do that and be faithful members of the Body of Christ.
LAWTON: Episcopalians base their teachings on what they call "a three-legged stool" of scripture, tradition, and reason. But on this issue, applying those three has led parishioners to vastly different theological positions.
Mr. PURCELL: As an Episcopalian, I have always been taught that it's my obligation to struggle with these issues in the context of the Bible and tradition and faith and reason, and that it's never been a part of my church experience that I had to accept anyone else's interpretation of the Bible.
Mr. PINCKNEY: I think there are some rules that are so, to me, so ingrained in the faith, that, really, everybody ought to observe them.
WILLIAM DUKE (Parishioner): We, the people, have modified it and changed the traditions, some faster than others. And there are some that I didn't like when they first started, such as the ordination of women, but it worked fine.
Mr. PINCKNEY: If I were a female priest and you said to me, "Well, isn't this the same thing?" Or, "Isn't consecrating an openly practicing gay similar to the ordination of a female priest?" I'd say, "Wait a minute. This is night and day. One was pure tradition, right? And the second one is, is ethics, if you will. It's moral. It's a rule. Right? It goes against at least the traditional biblical interpretations."