Skip to comments.Statement of the Vestry of St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bristol, CT
Posted on 07/18/2005 1:48:51 PM PDT by sionnsar
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In the pulpit of St. John's Episcopal Church, the Rev. Susan J. McCone stood before about 50 people who came to worship Sunday morning. Some of the parishioners said they were there as a show of support, while others did not want to take sides in the bitter controversy that has rocked the Bristol church.
Whatever their reasons, McCone, in her first service since being named to replace the church pastor, said she was grateful for their presence.
McCone acknowledged the turmoil following a decision by the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut last week to strip the Rev. Mark Hansen of his priest duties. She now has the unenviable task of stepping in, with many in the congregation angry at Bishop Andrew Smith and the Episcopal Church. Some vowed earlier this week not to return to St. John's.
"I know it was very difficult for many of you to come this morning, and Bishop Smith and I are very grateful for you for your devotion to your faith and to St. John's parish," McCone said.
McCone talked about her own fears during the morning service, which drew less than a quarter of the congregation of about 200 people. "I was called by Bishop Smith [to lead the church] but I also believe that I was called by God," she said. "And during this week, at times when I was alone, I asked, `Why, God, why me?'"
McCone asked members to come speak with her later in the evening at a special meeting called by Smith and open only to church members. More than 100 parishioners attended.
Many members interviewed after the meeting ended late Sunday were critical of the methods Smith used in Hansen's removal, including changing the locks on the church offices. Some members said they were not prepared to accept McCone as pastor of the mostly conservative congregation.
Hansen is one of six Connecticut priests embroiled in a dispute with the bishop stemming from Smith's vote in 2003 to support the consecration of the first openly gay bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church.
The controversy has ignited the passion of conservative Episcopalians who believe the church has abandoned traditional teachings. The six churches have sought to be placed under the authority of a different bishop, but discussion on the matter broke down weeks ago.
Many St. John's parishioners said Sunday night that they will not return and will instead attend Trinity Episcopal Church, a conservative congregation that is one of the six in dispute with the bishop.
Smith said his decision to remove Hansen was not related to the gay bishop issue, but rather Hansen's refusal to communicate with the diocese concerning church matters.
"I don't understand why the bishop is doing this to us," Tammy Vogt, a member of the vestry, said after the meeting. "We are his flock, and he is supposed to be leading us with his staff. Instead, he is hitting us over the head with it."
Vogt said the church leadership dispute may end up in court. "We will fight this on all fronts," she said.
During the morning service, McCone thanked the members who called and those who came to the church Friday to help prepare for Sunday services.
She apologized for the lack of flowers on the altar and that there would be no coffee after the service this week, but said she believed things would be better in the days and weeks to come.
"There is genuine pain and brokenness in this congregation that needs to be talked about as we move forward together," McCone said.
Robin Hammeal-Urban, pastoral response coordinator for the Episcopal Diocese, said she will reach out to members on all sides of the issue to find ways for them to talk to one another.
"This transition is both an end and a beginning," Hammeal-Urban said. "There are feelings of deep loss and grief, and a lot of issues to discuss."
After the morning service, people gathered in the church foyer to talk. The group consisted mostly of church members, but also included some people from the diocese as well as other area churches.
"I just wish peace to everybody," said Charles Kasmer, a St. John's member for 40 years, who assisted McCone during communion.
Nancy Ryan, a member for nine years, said she felt McCone deserved a chance. "I'm not taking sides," she said. "I'm leaving it in God's hands."
Maureen O' Regan, a member for a year and a half, said it was difficult to come to church and not see many of the people she has come to know. "They're like my family - it hurts to be here without them, I don't want them to be angry with me for being here."
O'Regan said she would attend the evening meeting to hear the bishop's side of the story. "He's doing his job," she said. "He should have his turn to speak."
Afterward she said, "Both sides need to listen to each other," and right now people are not listening.
Dave Desmarais said he was concerned about what was happening in the congregation.
"There's a division in the congregation, and there's a significant number in the parish who feel different about the issues," Desmarais said. "People who disagreed are getting a voice, are getting to speak out for the first time in a long time."
Pathetic how less than 1% of the population has so easily managed to destroy the oldest Church in America.
50 out of 200 showed up, right after the taking.
Looks as though the "bishop" will win in the middle run.
In the long run, well, that's not in our hands, is it?
Just because they self-identified as parishioners doesn't make it true. Maybe someone who knows this parish can tell us.
The time has come for very aggressive legal action.
The time has also come for the regular congregation, the whole 200 of them, to show up on Sunday, come inside, refuse to leave, and take over the building. The vestrymen formally have custody, right?
Well, if all 200 people are IN THE BUILDING, and the vestrymen are IN THE BUILDING, they will have taken control BACK, won't they? And they will be able to go right in and GET THE KEYS, won't they?
THEN what will the "bishop" or the priestess do, hmmmm?
She'll flee the building.
And the building will be BACK in control of the parish. Possession is 9/10ths of the law.
THAT would be the sort of "BIG THING" that Sionnsar was speaking of elsewhere.
Play the "bishop's" game by emulating his tactics. The sherriffs are not going to intervene and take sides here. It will have to be litigated, and litigation with the parish in possession of the Church (and calling on Canterbury and elsewhere) is a position that can win. Standing in the parking lot and being offended means defeat.
It is time for criminal and probably more important, civil court action against this bishop and his SS troops.
If the vestry takes action that makes them no better than this storm-trooper bishop, then the judge will wash his hands of the lot of them.
While courts will not intervene in religious disputes, they WILL intervene in property matters.
Time for the vestry's lawyer to get off his behind and file an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order. That should have been written yesterday and served on the bishop this morning.
Of course, if the bishop took over the building and their papers, they may not have any money to pay a lawyer -- but the individual vestry members are just going to have to come up with it.
I would also be contemplating a suit against the bishop personally as well as the diocese . . . pleading for hefty damages for breach of contract, trespassing, RICO, and anything else that seemed colorable.
The vestry's lawyer needs to move in. NOW. Yesterday. I don't know what's keeping him.
Probably afraid of being called on the carpet for filing a frivolous lawsuit.
Who holds the mortgage? The "bishop".
Has it been paid? No.
Who formally, legally, holds title? The "bishop".
Is it an eviction to assert your own title? No.
Back when the Russian Orthodox Church was litigating who controlled Russian Orthodox properties in America: the church leadership in Soviet-controlled Moscow, or the church leadership that had constituted itself in America, the Supreme Court didn't work too hard to award ownership to the Soviet-controlled Russian Church.
They went for form, and did not move past it.
The lawyer is trying to find a legal grounds on which to move, and he's coming up empty-handed.
That the "bishop" violated the churches own internal canons, maybe, is something the courts will defer to the court to decide. They won't wade into the religious disputes. They'll look at who has title, formally, and who has authority, formally, and rule that way. That's the problem the lawyer has.
Now, take over the church and you've reversed the situation. You've got a bishop outside claiming possession, but a congregation inside with possession. Those in possession will only be displaced after exhaustive litigation and appeals. They will lose, eventually, but the luck may turn in the wider world and the sodomite conclave of "bishops" might have other defeats dealt unto them before the final unappealable judgment is reached.
I will be stunned if a TRO is obtained, in either direction.
Which is why the parish should take back the building.
There is at least a hint of that in the story in comment 1: " The group consisted mostly of church members, but also included some people from the diocese as well as other area churches."
Since these were just the ones who stayed around after the service, one would think that most of the 'rent-a-congregation' slunk out to their cars and beat a hasty retreat after they were counted.
I don't know how the "frivolity" rules in Connecticut work, but even if you hold mortgage AND the title (or a deed to secure debt), you cannot just walk in and change the locks on a tenant in possession. At a bare minimum, the bishop should have filed a dispossessory, and the parish was certainly entitled to a hearing. Contesting that is NOT frivolous by any stretch of the imagination.
In fact, I think a claim for wrongful eviction would be in order. I can't imagine that a liberal state like Connecticut doesn't have landlord-tenant laws slanted in favor of the tenant.
All true, IF the vestrymen are a "tenant in possession".
Legally, though, the tenant may very well be the bishop and the diocese, and the congregation could be invitees, who can be excluded.
I have to expect that Episcopalians in Connecticut can get good legal counsel. So, if they haven't filed a TRO yet, I'd expect there's a reason. Maybe it's lacakdaisical lawyering, but I suspect it's that the case is not strong.
All of this vengefulness and hatred is why we threw in the towel and became Catholics. I can't raise my kids in an environment where the fellow who's supposed to be the shepherd is shearing and slaughtering the sheep.
The bishop in our diocese has undertaken similar heavy-handed actions -- not as much publicity though.
The Catholic option does seem the most sensible to me.
After all, the original reason for the separation in the first place was abuses of the clergy. The Catholics have corrected official abuse (yes, of course there are pedophile priests and worse, but this is not OPEN, or tolerated anymore) for the most part.
But the Episcopalian hierarchy in North America just seems hellbent (I use the word intentionally) to be as abusive as possible.
Given that, and given the fact that the days where the Catholics dragged people back by force of arms are long past, seeking refuge in the Roman harbor makes sense to me. Why not? If Rome becomes abusive, leave. It's been done before. Same logic ought to apply to Canterbury and its American homonculi, it would seem to me.
It was never a top-down problem. The chickenhawk priests (they mostly weren't pedophiles, rather homosexuals who fancied adolescent boys) were allowed to flourish because Rome allowed certain archbishops WAY too much rope. Now that Rome has taken the reins again (and begun severe discipline of the offenders AND their supervisors, courtesy of Benedict XVI's former office) most of the problem should be rooted out.
In contrast, the problem with ECUSA is strictly top-down. The leadership and the House of Bishops are forcing ultra-liberal sexual policies (and ultra-liberal theological policies) on a far more conservative laity and clergy.
My husband says that the Catholics have adult leadership. It won't work for the "low church" end of the ECUSA continuum, but for any Episcopalian who is "high church" it seems like the logical place to go. I was surprised how familiar everything seemed once we got here -- should have made the change a long time ago, the handwriting's been on the wall for some time.
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