Skip to comments.Diocese Of Florida: Orthodox rolled over at Annual Convention
Posted on 05/24/2005 5:30:54 PM PDT by sionnsar
JACKSONVILLE, FL (5/23/2005)--The 162nd annual diocesan convention of the Diocese of Florida was closed to the press. This reporter was planning on attending but was told by Communications Director Paul Van Brunt that all outside media were being banned from the event. The word had come down from Bishop John Howard that only the diocesan news person would be present presumably to keep a tight rein on what was said and to spin it [to] the diocese, ECUSA and the world. A reporter with The Times-Union did manage to get inside the Cerveny Conference Center in Live Oak, and watched it on television from an overflow sitting where the one-day conference was being held and he reported on what took place as people left the floor of convention.
VirtueOnline called several orthodox priests in the diocese and this report is what follows.
The set up of the whole event was intimidating to begin with. Seated on the platform looking out over the convention facing 500 hundred Episcopalians sat the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Bishop, John Howard; his chancellor; the Canon to the Ordinary and a circuit court judge who was head of the resolutions committee. These four men had one thing in common, all were trained and experienced lawyers. That training came in handy as they steered the program into arcane recesses of canon law - a tactic that is very intimidating to most delegates. The lesson: Intimidate early and intimidate fast.
One of the attorney's on the dais, The Canon to the Ordinary, Kurt Dunkle, had been selected as the bishop's canon right out seminary, having never served one day as an ordained person, never. He was a wealthy attorney before then and was selected canon when he was ordained a deacon. He has had no pastoral experience but he is connected to a wealthy family and a prestigious church in the diocese.
All this gives evidence that the Episcopal Church will not be destroyed by ecclesiastical lightning but lawyers in $1,000 suits. The hard-faced canon enforcers were decked out in full array.
And so the convention began.
It quickly became evident that the orthodox were outnumbered and outgunned. The resolutions and people speaking to them were packed with the bishops' people. They watched with dismay and some anger as their candidates were defeated in one vote after another.
"We got slaughtered. They had the votes and they stepped on our throats," said the Rev. Dr. Sam Pascoe, rector of Grace Church in Orange Park, Florida. "When I got back from Convention it seemed somehow appropriate that my first task was to plan a funeral. Bottom line, we got smoked. We lost every election and every vote. The 'other side' was well-prepared to implement the old adage, 'If you've got the votes, step on their throats.' There was a lot of throat stepping going on."
"The bishop gave us the image of steering a car right of center but staying out of the ditch. What he fails to realize or acknowledge is that the car is already in the ditch and that the rest of the communion has realized that and has sent us a tow truck in the form of the Primates Communique. But Bishop Howard seems determined to wait for them to move the road instead acknowledging that we need to change our direction," Pascoe told VirtueOnline.
Bishop Howard began with a sermon address based on St. Paul's letter to the Galatians, chapter 5:22 speaking on the gifts of the Spirit. "He talked about love, but rather than connecting love with the revelation of Jesus Christ in Scripture, he took the abstract concept of love, and being guided by love, that had more to do with the common culture of not causing division and strife, rather than the hard word of Jesus that He came to bring a sword of truth that would and could divide families," said the Rev. Dr. Robert Sanders, a priest in the diocese.
"He talked about being put in a false place of making an alternative between Jesus and the Episcopal Church. He thinks the two; Jesus and the Episcopal Church are synonymous," said Sanders. Howard said he would not give up on the ECUSA putting Jesus and the [Episcopal] Church on the same equal footing. "We are going to love and tolerate and accept each other and do nothing divisive, and we are going to love and honor the church and be reconciled with one another," he said.
"If you want to leave and follow your conscience then go ahead and leave, but I am not going to follow," boomed Howard to his adoring delegates which included 350 lay and clergy delegates from 77 parishes in 25 Northeast Florida counties. "I cannot follow you because I am charged with guarding the unity of this church." His statement was greeted with strong applause.
But on p.518 of the '79 Book of Common Prayer, the Presiding Bishop asks the Bishop elect, in the service for the Consecration of a Bishop, "Will you guard the faith, unity and discipline of the Church?" The answer is: "I will, for the love of God."
Howard got it only half right. Therein lies the problem.
The bishop referenced the recent House of Bishops meeting in Texas where he said the bishops were completely divided and then came together over Eucharist and said this was the wonderful work of the Holy Spirit. Howard then said he was invited to the Vatican where they learned of the covenant that came of out of the Texas meeting. He said Vatican officials were pleased with the Covenant.
Howard told the assembled that he was through talking about the divisive gay issue in ECUSA and wanted the church to move onto mission. "The diocese will focus on its ministry programs, not recent divisive issues," he said.
But when the hot button resolutions rolled around it became apparent that Howard had won the day.
"The orthodox were rolled over at convention. We got taken to the cleaners," said Sanders, echoing the words of Dr. Pascoe. Both men have doctorates and are among the brightest and best that ECUSA has to offer.
When resolution time rolled around, it became evident that the orthodox had neither the votes nor the will to fight, realizing perhaps that it was a lost cause.
The Rev. Neil Lebhar, Redeemer, Jacksonville withdrew a resolution requesting that the bishop not take communion with Bishop V. Gene Robinson and those who consecrated him, including Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. The whole diocese was in impaired communion as were many provinces in the Anglican Communion, he said. Lebhar argued that Bishop Howard should not take Holy Communion with Robinson who as an immoral person (1 Cor. 5) and a scandal to other members from grossly immoral persons and Robinson was one such person. (BCP.,DISCIPLIANRY RUBRICS, P. 409.0 "It was generally misunderstood and was being spun by those close to the bishop that this as a personal attack on his person rather than a statement about the nature of communion in the ECUSA," said Lebhar. He withdrew the resolution because the need for alternative oversight was covered in the approval of the Windsor report, and because Howard had already made it clear that he was going to stay "at the table" with the rest of the ECUSA bishops.
Lebhar was briefly applauded for withdrawing the resolution.
Bishop Howard then spoke briefly, saying that he believed the "invitation to Holy Communion is open to all." A teenager who later heard this story responded, "Yes - open to all if they repent. In an earlier interview he had said, "I don't believe Holy Communion should be made a pawn in a political dispute in the church, it's much too sacred for us to use it in that way."
The bishop argued that Holy Communion does not create boundaries between us but is an invitation to us. "I don't believe Holy Communion should be made a pawn in a political dispute in the church, it's much too sacred for us to use it in that way."
A second resolution saying that money should be re-routed away from the national church was also defeated, with the retired Bishop of the Armed Forces Charles Keyser, (he is also interim rector at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Ortega,) countering that the resolution would marginalize Howard's effectiveness as an orthodox bishop at the denominational level. "It would defeat the purpose. It would tie the hands of the bishop who is on the Ways and Means committee and would hamper his work of bringing reconciliation and unity in The Episcopal Church," he said.
Those putting forward the resolution to withhold money to the national church asked only that all parish giving stay in the diocese, with parishes having the freedom to give directly to national church programs. It was defeated.
A third resolution on trying to resolve property issues, urged the bishop, the Standing Committee and the ECUSA to enter into negotiations with those who wanted to leave the Episcopal Church. "All we wanted was a resolution to ask that the diocese be willing to negotiate on property for an equitable settlement was that was agreeable to both parties," said Lebhar. It was overwhelmingly defeated 75 percent to 25 percent.
Jim McCaslin rector of All Souls Church in Mandarin, Florida said Howard spoke well, like a prosecuting attorney giving his closing argument. "He convinced the majority that it would be possible to vote to be both Episcopalian and Anglican. He said he had been instrumental in the last HOB meeting moving the left and right towards the center. He said he had gone to Rome and spoken with various representatives over there about the ECUSA's ecumenical development. "They almost broke out the champagne bottles they were so pleased with the work of HOB," said McCaslin.
"Ultimately we are convinced there is now a clear choice that came out of Belfast and ECUSA - they must repent if they want to be welcomed back into the fold. Howard is convinced they can still do both. People at the convention were relieved they didn't have to do anything," said McCaslin.
Another resolution affirming the Windsor Report passed.
"All those candidates nominated to various diocesan and General Convention positions went to liberals," said Sanders. There were no conservatives elected. "Howard and his crew are master politicians," said Pascoe.
Howard urged the delegates to be positive. "We are going to grow the church and put all the nastiness behind us, take care of the poor and press for the expansion of the gospel."
Perhaps Bishop Howard could start the ball rolling by selling his $1,000,000 home and buying something more appropriate - more in line say with the teachings of the carpenter of Nazareth - and then giving a chunk of the profit to the poor, said a cynical observer.
"It was a triumphant day for Bishop Howard and the diocese' so-called moderates and outright revisionists, said another priest.
"The Bishop made it very clear in his address and in how he dismissed those who dared challenge him that he is going to use the full weight of his office to crush anyone who disagrees with him and who expresses anything other than unqualified loyalty to ECUSA," said Pascoe.
The Rev. Lebhar said that what Bishop Howard promised in saying he was committed to staying both in ECUSA and in the Anglican Communion won't wash. "My response is that I am not sure it is a promise he can keep. If there is a division I will be proved right. If the ECUSA truly repents it will be possible to be in both, but I see no signs of that."
Lebhar told VirtueOnline that this convention was the last straw. "A number of conservative rectors will gather this week to think their way through the options."
Said Pascoe: "Howard now has the mandate I believe he was seeking to come after the orthodox with both barrels. While I used to think he would wait until after GC 2006, now I believe he is feeling his oats and will move sooner rather than later."
This diocese includes the entire state of FL, correct? I don't completely understand the structure of the ECUSA...could you tell me how this diocese relates to the Orlando area diocese?
Flaorida appears to be split into 4 dioceses.
Thank you, I was wondering because I know that the Central Florida diocese is quite conservative. I guess they were not at this event.
No, this was a convention of the Diocese of Florida only. Others may have been there, but only as observers.
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