Skip to comments.VIRGINIA: Thousands of Episcopalians declare their independence from The Episcopal Church
Posted on 12/18/2006 8:28:49 PM PST by Huber
5000 parishioners, nine parishes, $14 million in plate pledges depart church
They came as Episcopalians. They voted. They sang "The Church's One Foundation". They departed as Anglicans.
For some five thousand Virginia Episcopalians (now Anglicans) in nine parishes, Sunday December 17, 2006 will go down as a day in which church history was made and irrevocably changed their lives. These Episcopalians, many with deeply held roots, made the decision to leave the comfort and security of The Episcopal Church USA and join with an as yet untried, untested new Anglican Church in far off Nigeria, all because their beloved church had abandoned the faith, discarded biblical morality, and had elevated an openly homoerotic man living in sexual sin, to the office of bishop.
It was a day of mixed emotions and personal reflection. There was gladness that a decision had been made and finality had been reached. There was sadness too, that four hundred years of history had ended, with many families tracing their lineage and genealogy through numerous generations of Episcopal Church membership. The graveyards are full of illustrious Episcopalians, military, ecclesiastical and political, figures remembered and revered. Now, centuries later, many of their relatives are now leaving these historic churches.
Forty Days of Prayerful Discernment and a week of voting brought closure to nine parishes with three more considered "in progress". At least 10 more may well join them. When all the numbers are in, the departing figure will be well over 5,000 Episcopalians - making it the largest single one-day exodus in Episcopal Church history. Combined, their plate pledge is nearly $14 million dollars!
I sat in the unusually architecturally designed Falls Church, in Falls Church, VA, a sort of half circle structure that could easily pass for a modern cinema, reflecting more the homogenous landscape of a new generation of Episcopalians washing across the Potomac for Sunday morning services. The church has been on the site for nearly 300 years, however.
When the announcement was made at the end of the 9.00am service at Falls Church it was done with dignity and restraint. The Rev. John Yates, an exceedingly humble pastor, simply announced the numbers at the end of the service. Wisely he did not make it the subject of the sermon and he deliberately refrained from any overt histrionic displays of emotion. He was dignified and restrained, a model Episcopalian to the end.
The voting results were, of course, predictable. The only question was how big the margin would be. We were told that most of the voting had been completed the previous Sunday, but a full week allowed everyone - the lame, the halt and the blind - to be heard, seen and their votes recorded.
Of the 1,348 eligible members casting ballots at The Falls Church, 1,228, or 90 percent, voted in favor of the first resolution to sever ties with The Episcopal Church. On the second resolution, 1,279 of 1,350 ballots, or 94 percent, were in favor of retaining the church's real and personal property.
After the news was announced, a hymn was sung and people quietly filed out of the sanctuary. There was a gasp at the high numbers voting both in favor of leaving and keeping the property, but there was no cheering or clapping. Episcopalians have far too much class to do that. Restrained dignity was the order of the day.
But there is no question that the vote can only be construed as overwhelming. Dr. Os Guinness, a parishioner, sociologist, scholar and author called it "a tsunami of a mandate". Indeed it was.
After the service was over, I drove over to Truro Episcopal Church where a lively service was in progress led by the Rev. Martyn Minns, now a Bishop of the Convocation of North American Churches (CANA) based in Nigeria and under whose ecclesiastical care the newly emergent churches would seek refuge. He was dressed in a simple white robe with a purple sash befitting his new status as a bishop.
Like the Falls Church service, the sermon was not consumed with details of leaving; with Minns making it clear during the service that he did not have the numbers and would not have them till the service concluded. The media cooled its heels in the balcony area of the church.
At the conclusion of the service, Minns asked his senior warden Jim Oakes to come forward to announce the findings. With a voice that seemed on the verge of breaking, Mr. Oakes reported that of the 1,095 eligible voting members casting ballots at Truro Church, 1,010, or 92 percent voted in favor of severing ties. On the second resolution, 1,034 of 1,095 eligible members, or 94 percent, voted in favor of retaining Truro's real and personal property. Both churches used essentially identical ballots. He concluded his remarks by saying, "A new day has begun."
There was no applause, but sighs of relief could be heard. People filed respectfully and quietly out of the sanctuary where the various ecclesiastical players lined up for media photo ops outside the church. A press conference followed at 2pm.
It was here that Minns skills shined. He introduced about a dozen clergy from smaller neighboring parishes, all of whom had either voted to leave the diocese and national Episcopal Church or were "in progress" of leaving, as well as a Nigerian businessman from Chicago Gboyega Delano - an Oxford trained theologian - who was there on behalf of Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola and an active member of CANA.
Minns showed himself to be adroit and unintimidated, erudite, aware of the issues, refusing to bad mouth his former boss Bishop Peter James Lee and media-savvy. He is British born, which gives him an edge in the South, and he can articulate the gospel with ease. When he viewed which way the wind was blowing in The Episcopal Church, he saw in Archbishop Akinola, (the biggest international orthodox Anglican player he could ally himself with) as a way to move himself and his people forward. In many ways he became Akinola's North American chaplain and spokesman before aligning himself completely with the Nigerian leaders' vision for North American Evangelical Episcopalians who were quickly becoming disaffected by The Episcopal Church's apostasy. He was instrumental in the formation of CANA.
Like the emergence of the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) six years before, he and CANA are now forces to be reckoned with. Time will tell if CANA becomes a serious counter Anglican movement capable of great growth or just another Continuing Anglican body. The jury will be out for some time.
His own statement on the days' events was masterful and to the point. You can read it here http://tinyurl.com/y7k37u. In essence what he said was that "this is a day to give thanks."
He said this was a day of very mixed emotions for him and he recounted the story of an elderly lady Sadie Eller who had cancer of the mouth and in hospice care who came to cast her vote. Sadie, he said, was so weak that she could hardly stand but she was determined to come and take part in this historic occasion.
Minns said he had been a member of the Episcopal Church for almost forty years that this had been he and his family's spiritual home and separating from it was very hard. "But there is also the promise of a new day. A burden is being lifted. There are new possibilities breaking through. I am getting excited about all of the new ways in which we can do mission and ministry. So there are these two conflicting emotions."
Minns made the case for CANA saying it was birthed as a pastoral response to the crisis in The Episcopal Church. "It was designed to provide safe harbor for those who could no longer find their spiritual home there. But now it is much more." CANA, he said, allows us to get on with the work of mission without apology. "CANA is not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ and the unchanging truth of the Scriptures. CANA is a gift for all orthodox Anglicans in America and it comes with no strings attached. It is a gift that allows us to stay firmly connected to the rest of the Anglican Communion, and the heritage that we treasure, while responding to the particular challenges of mission and ministry in our own context."
During a question and answer period, Minns was quizzed by the media about Archbishop Akinola's statements about jailing gays in Nigeria.
Minns adroitly handled the question by saying that he didn't support the criminalization of homosexuals, but he also said that he and we should be aware of the many challenges in Nigeria; "It is a very complex society," he said. He said that Archbishop Akinola was not advocating the jailing of gays, and that a recent bill before their parliament was designed to strengthen traditional morality.
When asked if homosexuals were welcome into his churches, Minns said yes. "We are an inclusive church. The focus of mission is rooted in sharing the transforming love of God for all people." Minns said a new day is dawning for Anglicans in America.
When asked how CANA differed from the AMIA, Minns said CANA was a new recognizable structure, (approved in Kigali recently by the Primates) different in kind and with a different kind of DNA. "We have not got some of the same ties, there is no financial obligation. CANA was established in a very pubic way. We waited long enough to see if ECUSA would change and repent. It didn't."
Asked by VOL about relationships with Common Cause where many of the partners like the Anglican Communion Network were still in The Episcopal Church, Minns replied that CANA would see "friendships strengthened" because of today's actions.
When VOL raised the issue of a possible new 39th Province to meet the needs of North American orthodox Anglicans, Minns replied, "This is above my pay grade to respond."
Asked if Bishop Lee had responded to the days' decisions by these two churches, Minns said he had not heard from Bishop Lee. (Lee later issued a statement which you can view here): http://tinyurl.com/y7df4s
Lee said he will convene a joint meeting of the diocese's Executive Board and Standing Committee of the Diocese, with legal representation, on December 18 "to consider the full range of pastoral, canonical and legal obligations of the Church and our responsibilities to those faithful Episcopalians in these congregations who do not choose to associate with the Church of Nigeria."
In the meantime, Lee said, he has asked the leaders of "these now Nigerian and Ugandan congregations occupying Episcopal churches to keep the spiritual needs of all concerned uppermost in their minds at this difficult moment in our Church history, especially continuing Episcopalians."
Minns said he and the Rev. Yates had every intention of taking care of those spiritually who disagreed with the decision to leave the diocese and TEC.
Interestingly, Lee had shown a great deal of interest in settling the matter by signing a protocol for departing parishes, but now seems to be reneging on that promise by seeking legal advice. The fleeing parishes have retained the services of the law firm of Chicago-based Winston and Strawn.
An interesting observation from the headquarters of the Episcopal Church in New York City seemed to indicate that the national church could do little to prevent the parishes from leaving with their properties, an opinion first offered up by the former Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold.
As far as Bishop Lee and the disposition of properties is concerned negotiations will be done behind closed doors not in front of microphones, said Minns. "We want to try and avoid a courtroom, but we are willing to go to court."
"We have a protocol on the table, we hope to avoid courtrooms and separate amicably. A process is in place. We do not want this to be done in a court room setting." When asked about a timetable, he drew laughter when he replied "not before Christmas." These historic properties predate the diocese, he said.
"I am also very thankful for Peter Lee, Episcopal Bishop of Virginia. This has been a very difficult time for him. I know that these past three and a half years have been very costly. Until some of the more recent exchanges Bishop Lee has always been gracious and has left space for those who can no longer follow his lead. I am especially thankful that he found a creative way for me to continue to provide pastoral leadership here at Truro during this transition time after I was consecrated as a Bishop of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). I am hopeful that this attitude of civility and creativity will be present as we enter into more detailed negotiations for a way forward," said Minns.
The Rev. Kathleen Christopher, Interim rector at Christ Redeemer told VOL that CANA will welcome orthodox ordained women. Her parish voted 81 to nothing (unanimously) to leave the TEC and join CANA.
The nine parishes represent over 5,000 parishioners (Average Sunday Attendance) with a plate/pledge of nearly $14 million, no small change, and all of it is now lost to the diocese and the national church.
In response to a number of inquiries, and following consultation with the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion issued the following statement of clarification: "The Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) is, to my knowledge, a 'mission' of the Church of Nigeria. It is not a branch of the Anglican Communion as such but an organisation which relates to a single province of the Anglican Communion.
CANA has not petitioned the Anglican Consultative Council for any official status within the Communion's structures, nor has the Archbishop of Canterbury indicated any support for its establishment, he said.
Canon Kearon did not say if his views actually represented those of the Archbishop. The ACC is a separate instrument of unity. The ABC has issued no personal statement as at this time.
Fr. Yates told the press conference that what was happening now was not the easiest story to tell or explain. "It is not an easy decision. It is not something envisioned long ago, it is something we feel we have gradually realized we were meant to do. It is great to have nearly 100% on board."
It seems to me that at some point, a critical mass of folks could leave, making it all but impossible for the remaining "church" to do much about it.
It's easy to sue and legally pick on one, two, three congregations, but if the Episcopal church has dozens of parishes leaving across the country, it will get exceedingly expensive to sue each one of them.
Those 5,000 parishioners are more than 1% of the total Episcopalian Sunday congregation, nationwide. Another week, another 1% leaves...
This has all been carefully planned, here, and in England, too. It will come to a head by February. The mill grinds slowly but exceedingly fine, etc. etc.
And, it is Goe. Washington's church. The Falls Church.
Expect a major break-up in 2007.
Fred Barnes mentioned last night that his church broke from the US church too. He said he and his wife both voted to leave the US church.
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