Shortly before members of the Diocese of Quincy's governing synod are expected to consider voting to leave the Episcopal Church, diocesan Bishop Keith Ackerman announced his retirement, effective November 1.
The announcement was made October 29 in a news release from the standing committee of the diocese, the governing body that has been serving as the ecclesiastical authority since early August when Ackerman began a sabbatical. The sabbatical was to conclude November 1.
"Bishop Ackerman has reached this decision after much thought and prayer. The bishop and his wife, Jo, conferred with his physicians, many trusted friends and the standing committee before making this decision," the release said.
It also said that Ackerman plans to remain in the area of the diocese for some time and will be available, under arrangement with the standing committee, to perform episcopal acts and provide spiritual counsel to members of the diocese.
Ackerman will address the synod for a final time, as immediately-retired bishop on November 7, but he will not participate in the business meetings, said the Rev. James Marshall, president of the Standing Committee.
"I give thanks for the ministry of Bishop Ackerman, and pray that his retirement may permit him time to recover his health," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said October 30. "The people of the Diocese of Quincy remain in my prayers and those of many, many other Episcopalians. We encourage all to remember that there is room in this Church for all who desire to be members thereof."
The synod will consider resolutions that would sever ties with the Episcopal Church and join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, which covers the southern portion of South America. Ackerman is known for his conservative stand on several theological issues, including the wider Episcopal Church's more-inclusive stance toward homosexuality.
The Quincy diocese, located in western Illinois, includes 24 churches and about 1,800 members.
When asked if Ackerman would also join the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone if the diocese votes for such realignment, in order to perform episcopal acts in the area, both Marshall and the Rev. John Spencer, diocesan press officer, said they did not know.
Marshall said Ackermanâs retirement "presents us with a significantly different scene and leaves many things up in the air."
He also added that "on the other hand, the resolutions have been well thought out and all indications are that the diocese will move for realignment."
Marshall said that Ackerman has been in "less than robust health" in recent years and that the stress surrounding the upcoming decisions to leave the Episcopal Church "may have taken a toll on him."
Spencer said that while he was surprised by the timing of the announcement, "some did see this coming and know of the heavy load the bishop has carried for a long time."
When asked why Ackerman decided to announce his retirement now, Spencer said he did not know all the reasons, which are mostly personal.
Ackerman was unavailable for comment.
Ackerman, 62, was born in McKeesport, Pennsylvania and received a bachelor of science degree from Marymount University in 1971. He received a master of divinity degree from the Nashotah House seminary in Wisconsin in 1974.
He was consecrated bishop of Quincy in 1994. That same year Nashotah House awarded him a Doctor of Divinity degree.
He currently serves as president of the Council of Forward in Faith North America, an organization which is opposed to what it perceives as liberal trends in the church, including the ordination of women and homosexuals. He is also as a member of the Common Cause Partnership, which is led by deposed Bishop Robert Duncan and is dedicated in part to developing an "Anglican union" that at least some Anglican Communion primates would recognize.
In September 2006, Quincy joined a small number of Episcopal Church dioceses seeking what they called "alternative pastoral oversightâ from a primate other than the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. The diocese had called a special synod meeting following the 2006 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, which elected Jefferts Schori. The Diocese of Quincy does not ordain women to the priesthood.
A news release issued at the time by the diocese said it objected to certain actions by the leadership of the Episcopal Church. It also said that part of the reason for the diocese's request was the theology of Jefferts Schori, who allowed Diocese of Nevada congregations to offer blessings of same-gender unions and voted in 2003 to consent to the election of openly-gay Bishop Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.
Quincy was "unwilling to accept the leadership" of Jefferts Schori, the news release said.
At its 2007 Synod, Quincy voted to remain in the Episcopal Church. Ackerman did not preside at the 2007 synod due to ill health.
In mid-August 2008, the standing committee of Quincy sent a 35-page document to all of its members outlining the case to leave the Episcopal Church.
The specific resolutions to be considered by the synod, scheduled for November 7-8, were released in early October.
No episcopal election date set
Spencer said the immediate priority for the Diocese of Quincy is to get through next weekâs synod meeting and "know with certainty where we stand." He said that no discussions have yet taken place about searching for a new bishop or setting the date for an episcopal election.
The Standing Committee will continue to serve as the ecclesiastical authority for the time being, Spencer said. "We have a very close diocesan family here," said Spencer. "We can pull together and get through a lot. Thatâs what we are doing right now."
"We also love our bishop and we now know it is time he gets some rest."