Hundreds of clergy members and laypeople convened Saturday in Bangor to elect a new bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Maine. Pending confirmation by the other Episcopal dioceses, the Rev. Thomas James Brown, 48, will be the first openly gay Episcopal bishop in Maine and the third ever elected in the U.S.

“I did not see this coming. I am of course delighted and thrilled,” Brown said in an interview Saturday night.

The Rev. Thomas James Brown

A majority of the 261 clergy members and laypeople elected Brown after three rounds of balloting at the Cross Insurance Center. Brown will be the 10th bishop selected by Maine’s Episcopal Church in its nearly 200-year history. He will replace Bishop Stephen Lane, who is retiring after leading the church for 11 years.

Brown has been the rector for the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, Massachusetts, since 2009. Before that he spent nine years as a rector for a parish in Brattleboro, Vermont, and was the director of alumni and church relations at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkley, California, after receiving his master’s of divinity at the school. Brown was ordained in 1998.

Brown said he was encouraged by church leadership and members of his parish to seek higher leadership and several people nominated him for the position in Maine. But his interests also aligned with those of the Maine congregation. “A big thing that stood out for me is that the people of Maine wanted someone to articulate their faith in Jesus while still remaining open to people of other faith and no faith,” he said. “That seems like a great gift of the people in the Episcopal church and something I’ve been engaged in for two decades.”

As a native of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Brown also connected with Maine’s rural character and was inspired by the success enjoyed by Maine’s two most recent Episcopal bishops.


“Whatever this is, this election today, it is really about Maine and the Episcopal Church in Maine than it is about me,” Brown said.

The diocese received 27 nominations and applications for bishop last year, about three times the usual number it receives for the position. At the time, spokesman John Hennessy attributed the volume of applications to Portland’s growing reputation for having a high quality of life. The diocese has its headquarters in Maine’s largest city.

Five finalists visited the state last month for a series of “walkabouts” to meet congregations and answer questions.

“Clearly, Father Brown made an impression with the most people,” Hennessy said in an interview Saturday.

Brown’s sexual orientation and his marriage were nonissues, Hennessy added.

“It was presented as matter-of-fact as the other candidates,” he said. “It never, ever became an issue in any of the meetings he had with the diocese.”


The election has to be confirmed by the more than 100 other Episcopal dioceses in the U.S., a process that will take four to six weeks, Hennessy said. Brown will be consecrated as bishop in June.

The Episcopal Church supports LGBTQ issues. It affirmed full and equal claim to the care of the church for homosexual people in 1976, and transgender people are also assured access to the church’s ministry. The church allowed its priests to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies in 2015 and expanded same-sex marriage rites to all dioceses last year, so that people could get married even in places where local church leadership opposed to the practice.

In 2003, Gene Robinson became the first openly gay Episcopal bishop to be elected, taking the position in the New Hampshire Diocese. Robinson retired in 2013. The Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese elected an openly lesbian priest, the Rev. Mary Glasspool, as its suffragan bishop in 2009.

The Episcopal Diocese of Maine includes about 10,000 people in 59 churches and ministries across the state.

Episcopalians make up about 3 percent of Maine’s Christian population, according to 2014 data from the Pew Research Center.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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