The House of Bishops unanimously approved resolution A142 Wednesday, which recommends the admission of the Anglican Diocese of Venezuela in Province IX of the Episcopal Church.
Bishops of several dioceses, led by William Smalley of Kansas and Barry Howe of West Missouri, voiced their support for the South American diocese and highlighted its missionary labor among Venezuelan indigenous peoples, disregarded by most denominations.
After a resounding “Yes” by the bishops, the room burst into laughter as Bishop Julio Holguin of the Dominican Republic sang “Alma Llanera” (Flatland’s Soul), considered the second Venezuelan national anthem, and Orlando Guerrero, Bishop of Venezuela, was granted a seat in the floor.
“It is a great joy for me and my diocese to be a full member of the Episcopal Church after waiting for so many years. For a long time we were isolated, and in 1982 we were given the status of extraprovincial diocese. Being fully admitted in ECUSA will be of support for the missionary work we are doing among native peoples. It is important for us to be members of a province, not to be alone. Being full members of ECUSA will make our companionship relations with other dioceses easier and will boost our missionary work,” he said.
Guerrero expressed his gratitude to the members of the Committee on Structure and the Committee on World Mission, with whom he worked for more than a year to put together the resolution.
“I must voice my thankfulness to Canon Gene Robinson of New Hampshire; he always supported us and took part in the process. Because we have many small congregations, he was always interested in our joining since that will help us grow,” he added.
Asked about the ramifications of the consent for Robinson, the Venezuelan prelate explained that homosexuality is a difficult topic in Latin American, “but we know that there have always been gay people everywhere, and there will always be. It is not a foreign reality for us either. We don’t believe that it is the product of a certain culture, and we are aware that it is a complex topic with many variables. Our clergy are open to discussions, and they are not scandalized by it, and I believe that our congregations share this view. Our ecumenical relations won’t be affected because other denominations are struggling with similar issues, so they know what is going on. We will debate those topics when we have to.”
According to data from the diocese, there are 10 permanent congregations, 14 missionary churches and a Sunday attendance of more than 1,300 people. The clergy is made up of seven priests, including a woman, three deacons and seven lay readers. Thus far, there are 20 people interested in ordained ministry.
One of the ongoing projects is the creation of a center for theological studies where people can get a bachelor of arts degree in theology; normally local clergy are trained in either Ecuador or England.
The Anglican presence in Venezuela dates to 1830, when the government allowed the opening of an Anglican chaplaincy by the British consul, Sir Robert Kerr Potter. Before then, Protestants and Jews were banned in the Spanish colonies. In 1872, the chaplaincy was put under the authority of the Bishop of Trinidad. In 1967 the diocese was established and supervised by English bishops. Guerrero, the first Venezuela-born bishop, was elected in 1985.