Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Truro and Falls Church

Joan Gundersen Offers a Historical Review

In all the other news around the Episcopal Church in the last few days, we have neglected to note a significant piece of research written by Dr. Joan R. Gundersen, exploring the history of the Truro and Falls Church parishes that voted earlier this month to secede from the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican Church of Nigeria.

As Father Jake observes, "It appears both of these parishes are insinuating, if not directly claiming, that their roots go back to before the Revolutionary War, and both seem to be suggesting in their 'histories' that George Washington was a member. In recent weeks, some of the articles in the secular press have affirmed this rendition of their history."

One might surmise that the two parishes wish to claim they predate the formation of the Episcopal Church – and this could surely be a useful claim in litigation against the Diocese of Virginia.

Joan R. Gunderson has published her research, How "Historic" Are Truro Church and The Falls Church? on her website. Dr. Gundersen has a Ph.D. in American history from the University of Notre Dame. She has published extensively on the history of the church in Virginia, and is currently collaborating with Edward Bond on a new history of the Diocese of Virginia to be published by the Diocese of Virginia and the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Dr. Gundersen is also President of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh and a founding member of Via Media USA.

Here is the beginning of the article.

In the last few weeks, we have heard a lot about the two “historic” churches in Virginia whose congregations are among those that have recently decided to withdraw from The Episcopal Church. Both Truro Church and The Falls Church have been characterized as being older than The Episcopal Church. The Falls Church web site suggests that George Washington was once a vestry member of the church. The history on the Truro web site makes the same claim for Truro Church. Somehow, these historical assertions are supposed to make us feel that the decision to leave The Episcopal Church is especially poignant and important.

Let me be clear: I believe that any decision to leave The Episcopal Church, by an individual or a group, is a sad occasion. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation being distributed concerning the actual history of these parishes, however. Neither is the direct descendant of a colonial parish. Neither can claim George Washington as a past member of its vestry or its congregation. Both are “new” church plants from the 1830s and 1840s. In most places in the United States, founding dates in the antebellum period would be quite old enough to justify a claim of being “historic,” but these two parishes have sought the additional aura associated with George Washington and our colonial past. How “historic” are they?

Click here to read the entire essay.

When Will the Archbishop of Canterbury Figure It Out?

by Bryan Taylor (Diocese of Fort Worth)

Mr. Taylor wrote this piece in response to the recent letter from the Archbishop of Canterbury. He raises several issues here that warrant further dialogue. The Episcopal Majority invites others to voice their opinions on the many issues now at play in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.

When will the Archbishop of Canterbury figure out that what the Network types want more than anything is recognition by him as having equal standing with the legitimate structures and duly chosen Primate of The Episcopal Church, and that every time he does something like this he both insults our church and undermines our polity? Inviting other representatives besides the Presiding Bishop to Tanzania just feeds their resistance to resolving their conflict with the legitimate authority of this Province. It does not encourage them to seek compromise; rather, it encourages them to believe they will eventually get what they want: full recognition of an Anglican body, either parallel to The Episcopal Church or replacing it. It inflates their egos and their appetite for status far beyond the small minority they actually represent in our church.

True, he hasn't yet said who will be invited, although one of the Network's bloggermouths says it will be one or more of Bishops Duncan, Iker, or Schofield. Someone else has said it might be Don Wimberly of Texas, who organized the Camp Allen meeting, by invitation only, of others he thought of as "Windsor-compliant." It's also true that they aren't being invited to the Primates' Meeting itself. But none of those particulars really matters much. While Bishop Wimberly is at least in good standing in TEC, his actions mirror Canterbury's fallacious "consensus by subtraction" (I am indebted to Tobias Haller, BSG, for that apt phrasing) and foster factionalism rather than unity. It is just as inappropriate for Rowan Williams to endorse a party leader like Wimberly within the House of Bishops as it is for him to grant status to the others who are in open rebellion against the church who made them bishops. And it is still an insult to imply that they have a right to such access to the Primates while he is being generous in "not withholding an invitation" to our duly chosen Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori!

Moreover, the Archbishop's approach is fostering the same kind of rebellion in his own back yard as we have had brewing in the U.S. far longer than the stated provocation of General Convention 2003. The Church of England can now look forward to the same kind of divisive wedge politics, and rival pre-schismatic structures like the Network in the U.S., since a group there has made demands for circumventing bishops they deem too liberal. Her Majesty's Government had better wake up to the fact that Rowan Williams is leading the Church of England right over a cliff, emboldening reactionaries at home with his meddling in the affairs of provinces abroad. If he keeps this up there won't be a single Anglican Communion for him to play with very much longer.

His position from the beginning should have been: "You Yanks sort this out among yourselves; it's none of my business. All the rest of you Anglicans around the world, mind your own business. See you all at Lambeth." Instead he continues to inflate the importance of the Windsor Report and repeat the fantasy that he or anyone else has the right to judge the Episcopal Church's "compliance" with it. He won't give a clear "no" on the ridiculous "alternative primatial oversight" innovation being proposed, at least not in a way that the Network folk can hear it. His notion of a two-tier Communion of "constituent" and "associate" provinces has fed the flames of faction and schism. He's encouraging factionalism among our bishops with his support of the Camp Allen "Windsor-compliant" foolishness. Now he seems to think he's being gracious by inviting our Primate and Presiding Bishop to Tanzania, as if the Dromantine Primates' request that TEC voluntarily refrain from attending meetings of Anglican consultative bodies applies, and is within his gift to choose to apply or waive. Let's ask Frank Griswold if he thought that was going to apply to him or his successor, and whether this is what he thought "voluntary" meant!

Voluntary has become mandatory. Windsor process has become Windsor requirements. Dialogue has become a steady diatribe of one-way shaming and judging. None of our attempts at conciliation and cooperation are being credited. Our polity is being trampled on, ignored, and wantonly insulted from every side. Our Presiding Bishop, elected by the whole church to serve and represent the whole church, is discounted, mocked, and insulted. Men who won't even receive communion from her are being treated as her equals or worse, as having the moral high ground of their self-chosen victimhood.

This is bullying. This is abuse. This is tyranny. It is time for our Executive Council to tell the Archbishop of Canterbury and the rest of the Anglican Communion, as the American colonists once did: Don't tread on me! What is going on is a complete distortion of the Windsor Report. We cannot possibly begin discussing an Anglican Covenant under such conditions of duress--indeed that whole idea is about conformity and control, pure and simple, and ought to be rejected now. We can no longer agree to meetings about us that don't include us. We cannot tolerate intrusions by foreign bishops in our jurisdictions any longer. All these things have proceeded despite our efforts to be conciliatory, our willingness to accept criticism, our efforts to remain open to peaceful resolutions and compromises.

In all this Rowan Williams has not been nearly impartial or objective enough to serve as mediator. Although he hasn't given the reactionaries all they want either, that's not the same as neutrality, and that is what's required to broker a fair compromise. He's no longer in a position to do that.

For all the holy talk, our efforts have been interpreted as weakness, and that perceived weakness is being exploited in the rawest, crudest political struggle for power. TEC is held to an ever-narrowing interpretation of the Windsor Report, while continuing and worsening jurisdictional violations--such as the recent consecration of an American by Nigeria for operations within our Province--by other Anglican provinces are essentially ignored, no worse than "unhelpful." I do not say we should respond in kind, but we must wake up to the nature of the threat and defend our autonomy and independence. Other churches in the Communion would do well to think long and hard about what's going on, too, because Canada? Scotland? New Zealand? I don't know, Brazil or South Africa? You're next!

Tony Blair, Queen Elizabeth? Lord Carey could use some company in the House of Lords. If Rowan Williams remains Archbishop of Canterbury much longer the Church of England can look forward to the same kind of mess we have over here, and there won't be an Anglican Communion past Lambeth 2008.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Breuer on the Archbishop's Letter

In the "Anglicana" section of her blog, Sarah Dylan Breuer has posted thoughts on Archbishop Williams' recent letter, in which (among other points) he announces he has decided "not to withhold" an invitation to our Presiding Bishop to attend the upcoming Primates meeting. To some extent, her reflections are in response to comments of Tobias Haller, already noted by The Episcopal Majority.

She also served on the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, which struggled mightily to shape resolutions that would help the Episcopal Church respond officially to the Windsor Report during the General Convention of 2006.

Her thoughts are sufficiently nuanced that it would be difficult to pull out excerpts that fairly represent her thoughts. So her blog-posting is copied here in full. Do pay a visit to Dylan's "Anglicana" blog and offer comments there.
[The ABC, in his letter to the Primates] says that we're in a period of discernment regarding our relationships with one another as Provinces in the Anglican Communion, and that precipitous action that would compromise that process is, to put it mildly, extremely unhelpful. He will not exclude our Primate from the Primates' Meeting, and he says nothing (that I see, anyway) to the effect that he plans to exclude any duly consecrated bishops in the Anglican Communion from the Lambeth Conference -- just that he will be seeking advice from the Primates' Meeting, which is appropriate enough. We should all be listening to and seeking advice from one another as sisters and brothers in communion who seek to cooperate in God's mission. I note also that the ABC says he is seeking advice from the Primates' Meeting on the matter of Lambeth invitations, which is a far cry from saying that he will be proposing a vote, or feels bound by one on the subject. As for inviting others from TEC to make a presentation to the Primates prior to the usual business of the meeting, I'm generally in favor of people listening to one another in face-to-face encounters, and the terms we've heard thus far about this proposed listening session (and the letter did say that the idea is still being worked out, so the terms are far from final) suggest that it in no way implies that our Primate is anything other than a full and equal member of the Meeting, much as TEC is a full member (and given the metaphor of the body implicit here, I don't know what a "partial" or "associate" member would be, and I'm guessing that the ABC, with his catholic sensibilities, doesn't either) of the Anglican Communion and the Body of Christ. Furthermore, if representatives who have repeatedly appealed to the Primates' Meeting or some subset of its members are allowed to make their case in person before the meeting, they will not be able afterward to say that the process lacked the integrity for wont of that opportunity.

I do, of course, think that inviting only TEC bishops who do not wish to recognize their Presiding Bishop to contribute to that proposed listening session in Tanzania would give a very incomplete picture of what's going on in TEC. The Primates would do well to make sure others, like laity and clergy distressed by their diocesan bishop's insistence on the polarizing and costly (in all kinds of ways, but certainly financially) course of secession from TEC and its structures (structures, by the way, in which these bishops have had every opportunity to make their case in person to their colleagues, as well as to the laity and clergy in their diocese, and which they ought to have been using to ensure that they have listened deeply and respectfully to those who disagree with them). They would also do well to listen deeply and directly to the Bishop of New Hampshire, whom so many talk about without talking -- let alone listening -- to. I am encouraged to note that the ABC does not in his letter imply that the "other contributors" would all be secessionist bishops, but the number of "two or three" invitees does suggest that a great many of us of differing perspectives will have to rely on ++Katharine to speak for us.

Fortunately, our Presiding Bishop is not only a gifted communicator, but outstanding at deep listening even or especially in difficult perspectives and to those of perspectives very different from her own. My prayers will most certainly be with her, and with all gathering in Tanzania this February.

The Archbishop's Letter

The Rev. Bill Coats offers his thoughts on the recent, widely circulated letter from Archbishop Williams.

The latest missive from the Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, could be seen for something other than what it appears to be – an art at which the English are especially adept.

Recounting that a process is now in place to determine the adequacy of the Episcopal Church’s response to the Windsor Report and noting that our Church has volunteered to absent itself from certain international gatherings until Lambeth, the Archbishop gives the strong impression of his doubts about our Church. While the invitation of our Presiding Bishop to the meeting in Dar es Salaam (after some deliberation) was a good sign, it was immediately followed by the announcement that others from our province will be invited to a pre-meeting occasion. We remember that many from the Global South had recently demanded that another bishop be sent from the Episcopal Church, for they indicated if our Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, were to attend, they would not.

Altogether the Archbishop has continued his barely concealed chiding of the Episcopal Church, while remaining utterly silent as to the illegal actions of a number of African bishops and our own secessionists. His one-sidedness has one virtue: it has been consistent for over three years now.

A number of objections can be made, of course, against the Archbishop's assumptions:

  • that the Windsor Report is a perfect instrument for advancing the Communion’s interest;
  • that the Episcopal Church must somehow come up with a better response than that offered at the General Convention of 2006;
  • that our limited participation in Anglican affairs is a good thing;
  • that somehow, as the Rev. Tobias Haller notes, the logic here seems to be: by eliminating certain American voices, the Communion can reach a better agreement.
All of these assumptions on William’s part are indeed flawed, as is his apparently consistent bowing to the wishes of certain actors in the Global South.

In an ideal – that is to say, non-political – world where justice is served straight up, we want absolute vindication. We want the Archbishop on our side, the side of the good and the just. (And surely all of us define "our" side as the side of the good and the just.) That would be best. Alas! we live in a fallen world where choices are almost always among lesser evils.

Is there another possibility? We assume the Archbishop would like to keep the Communion together. Exactly how would that be done – especially in this climate? Certainly, attacking the Africans or the "Global South" – as much as that might please The Episcopal Majority – would not help. Nor would an out-and-out approval of the Episcopal Church serve that purpose. For now, the Communion is too divided. For now, the power resides with that third of the Communion allied with Archbishop Akinola and his minions; another third is somewhat anti-American and/or anti-Episcopalian but not yet ready to join Akinola.

In this climate and at this time, there is no way to keep the Communion together. All you can do is to try to keep it from splitting apart. How do you do that? You beat up on the Americans. We Episcopalians have been the "bad boys" since 2003, so having a go at us has the advantage of keeping the Communion together. Those who side with us may be angry, but they are of little import because none of our allies or supporters are going to leave the Communion willingly. Those opposed to us are gratified.

But over time will the same constellation of forces now present be in force? (And remember: the formation of the Anglican Covenant will take years.) Will the white heat of Akinola be maintained? Will that other third of the Communion really want to expel us, with the risk of having others go as well? Is time really on the side of the firebrands?

If you want to save the Communion, you simply stall. All these intermediate steps with their body of insult really mean very little. Politics always involve insult; but insults are not the final matter. And it is by no means clear that the uneasy alliance of Peter Akinola and some Africans, a few Asians, some Latin Americans, plus some rump Americans can carry the day in the long term. So you wait and stall.

NY Times on Akinola

The New York Times today published a profile on Nigerian Archbishop Akinola and his role in the schismatic actions within the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion. A few excerpts are posted here, with ellipses indicating where text or entire paragraphs have been omitted. The entire article appears at the Times website.

At Axis of Episcopal Split, an Anti-Gay Nigerian

ABUJA, Nigeria, Dec. 20 — The way he tells the story, the first and only time Archbishop Peter J. Akinola knowingly shook a gay person’s hand, he sprang backward the moment he realized what he had done.

Archbishop Akinola, the conservative leader of Nigeria’s Anglican Church who has emerged at the center of a schism over homosexuality in the global Anglican Communion, re-enacted the scene from behind his desk Tuesday, shaking his head in wonder and horror.

“This man came up to me after a service, in New York I think, and said, ‘Oh, good to see you bishop, this is my partner of many years,’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘Oh!’ I jumped back.”

. . . .

“He sees himself as the spokesperson for a new Anglicanism, and thus is a direct challenge to the historic authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury,” said the Rev. Dr. Ian T. Douglas of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass.

. . . .

He has also become the most visible advocate for a literal interpretation of Scripture, challenging the traditional Anglican approach of embracing diverse theological viewpoints.

“Why didn’t God make a lion to be a man’s companion?” Archbishop Akinola said at his office here in Abuja. “Why didn’t he make a tree to be a man’s companion? Or better still, why didn’t he make another man to be man’s companion? So even from the creation story, you can see that the mind of God, God’s intention, is for man and woman to be together.”

. . . .

Even among Anglican conservatives, Archbishop Akinola is not universally beloved. . . .

He has been chastised more recently for creating a missionary branch of the Nigerian church in the United States, called the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, despite Anglican rules and traditions prohibiting bishops from taking control of churches or priests not in their territory.

“There are primates who are very, very concerned about it,” said Archbishop Drexel Gomez, the primate of the West Indies, because “it introduces more fragmentation.”

. . . .

He [Akinola] supports a bill in Nigeria’s legislature that would make homosexual sex and any public expression of homosexual identity a crime punishable by five years in prison.

The bill ostensibly aims to ban gay marriage, but it includes measures so extreme that the State Department warned that they would violate basic human rights. Strictly interpreted, the bill would ban two gay people from going out to dinner or seeing a movie together.

It could also lead to the arrest and imprisonment of members of organizations providing all manner of services, particularly those helping people with AIDS.

“They are very loose, those provisions,” said Dorothy Aken ’Ova of the International Center for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, a charity that works with rape victims, AIDS patients and gay rights groups. “It could target just about anyone, based on any form of perception from anybody.”

Archbishop Akinola said he supported any law that limited marriage to heterosexuals, but declined to say whether he supported the specific provisions criminalizing gay associations. “No bishop in this church will go out and say, ‘This man is gay, put him in jail,’ ” the archbishop said. But, he added, Nigeria has the right to pass such a law if it reflects the country’s values.

. . . .

Though he insisted that he was not seeking power or influence, he is clearly relishing the curious role reversal of African archbishops sending missionaries to a Western society he sees as increasingly godless.

. . . .

“Self-seeking, self-glory, that is not me,” he said. “No. Many people say I embarrass them with my humility.”

Anyone who criticizes him as power-seeking is simply trying to undermine his message, he said. "The more they demonize, the stronger the works of God,"he said.

Read the entire article at the Times website.

Lisa Fox, a member of The Episcopal Majority's steering committee, has published a few comments on her personal blog.

Update 12/26: Mark Harris offers his typically fine analysis, and observes that the reporters "have given us a remarkable and devastating view of the Archbishop."

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Archbishop Williams: ++Jefferts Schori Will be Invited to Primates Meeting

An item was posted yesterday on a website of questionable veracity but indisputable venom, claiming that Archbishop Rowan Williams has decided he will invite our Presiding Bishop to the Primates meeting in Tanzania in February. Not surprisingly (given the source), there were many who questioned the factual basis of the report. But the indisputably reliable Jim Naughton (of the Daily Episcopalian) has confirmed the authenticity of the letter, dated December 18 and addressed to The Most Revd Dr Phillip J Aspinall, Primate of Australia & Archbishop of Brisbane.

Archbishop Williams writes in part:

As Christmas approaches, preparations continue to be made for the Primates’ Meeting in February in Tanzania. A provisional outline of the programme is almost ready – but I am particularly glad that we shall have opportunity to celebrate in the cathedral in Zanzibar the anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in 1806, another great sign of God’s faithfulness and of what can be achieved by Christ’s disciples when they resist the powers of this world.

This meeting will be, of course, an important and difficult and important encounter, with several moments of discernment and decision to be faced, and a good deal of work to be done on our hopes for the Lambeth Conference, and on the nature and shape of the Covenant that we hope will assist us in strengthening our unity as a Communion.

There are two points I wish to touch on briefly. The first is a reminder of what our current position actually is in relation to the Episcopal Church. This Province has agreed to withdraw its representation from certain bodies in the Communion until Lambeth 08; and the Joint Standing Committee has appointed a sub-group which has been working on a report to develop our thinking as to how we should as a meeting interpret the Episcopal Church’s response so far to the Windsor recommendations. In other words, questions remain to be considered about the Episcopal Church’s relations with other Provinces (though some Provinces have already made their position clear). I do not think it wise or just to take any action that will appear to bring that consideration and the whole process of our shared discernment to a premature end.

This is why I have decided not to withhold an invitation to Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori as the elected Primate of the Episcopal Church to attend the forthcoming meeting. I believe it is important that she be given a chance both to hear and to speak and to discuss face to face the problems we are confronting together. We are far too prone to talk about these matters from a distance, without ever having to face the human reality of those from whom we differ. However, given the acute dissension in the Episcopal Church at this point, and the very widespread effects of this in the Communion, I am also proposing to invite two or three other contributors from that Province for a session to take place before the rest of our formal business, in which the situation may be reviewed, and I am currently consulting as to how this is best organised.

The Episcopal Church is not in any way a monochrome body and we need to be aware of the full range of conviction within it. I am sure that other Primates, like myself, will welcome the clear declarations by several bishops and diocesan conventions (including those dioceses represented at the Camp Allen meeting earlier this year) of their unequivocal support for the process and recommendations of the Windsor Report. There is much to build upon here. There are many in TEC who are deeply concerned as to how they should secure their relationships with the rest of the Communion; I hope we can listen patiently to these anxieties.

My second point is to underline the importance of planning constructively for Lambeth 08. If we become entirely paralysed by our continuing struggles to resolve the challenges posed by decisions in North America, we shall lose a major opportunity for strengthening our common life. . . .

Visit the Daily Episcopalian to read the entire letter.

Also see Father Jake's comments, including this observation: "Those Primates who have vowed not to sit with Bp. Katharine now have a decision to make."

At In a Godward Direction: Unity By Division, Tobias Haller offers his typically thoughtful analysis.

At Preludium, Mark Harris asks, "What in the world is going on here?"

Christmas Sermon

Christmas, 2006
(The Rev. David K. Fly)

Here's one of the things I love most about Christmas: Watching the 1951 version of Alastair Sim in Dickens' A Christmas Carol. I like it so much that I own a copy of it, and Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without curling up next to the fire and watching old Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit and Tiny Tim and the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet To Come as they conspire to change Scrooge's life forever.

First comes the long, dark, night when Ebenezer is led to confront his past—his hopes and dreams and how he left them behind as he grew ever more cynical and alone. Christmas Present opens his eyes to see the sadness his miserliness has created, but also shows the goodness that lives in the hearts of others, a goodness he once knew in his own heart. And, then, of course, there is Christmas Yet To Come, when he sees the end of his life—the inevitable outcome of a life without a heart.

And here's my favorite scene: when Scrooge wakes up from his dream—or is it a dream? There is a knock on his bedroom door, and he runs to open it. There stands his housekeeper with his breakfast tea. And Scrooge asks her: "Tell me, what day is it?"

"Why, it's Christmas Day, sir," says the housekeeper, looking at him warily.

And Scrooge mumbles to himself, "Christmas Day. Christmas Day. Then, I haven't missed it!" And he begins to dance with his housekeeper, who thinks that he must be mad. And it's obvious that a change has come over Ebenezer Scrooge—that the person he was yesterday is no longer the person he is today.

On Christmas mornings for many years, as I awoke from the fog of the midnight service, wanting only to roll back over and snooze some more, but knowing I had to get up and do another service, I thought of that scene in A Christmas Carol. And I sometimes thought to myself, "What day is it? It's Christmas Day." And I remembered those words of Scrooge and the joy in his voice and in his face when he said, "Then I haven't missed it!" And I knew that my role was to hurry to the church, get up in the pulpit and tell everyone there, "And you haven't missed it either!"

For to us a child has been born. To us a gift has been given. Because of Jesus, we no longer see God at a distance. God has invaded our reality with a purpose—a purpose to change us and redeem us from the ghosts of our past. God has worked his way into the fabric of this world to let us know that dreams can come true—to put flesh on such abstractions as hope and faith and love and mercy. God, in Jesus, has chosen to be with us, to share our flesh, to shoulder our burdens, to be born in us and to die for us. God's purpose from the beginning of the world has been to love us and to teach us to love others and we haven't missed the opportunity to know God. If God can be born into this world once, he can be born again and again in the hearts of his children.

Again on this Christmas morning I am aware that we still live with many of the nightmares of Ebenezer Scrooge. You may remember from the film that at the end of the visit of the Ghost of Christmas Present, the Spirit opens his coat and sitting at his feet are two pretty sorry-looking children. Scrooge asks who they are and the Spirit replies, "The boy is ignorance and the girl is want." Dickens may have written his story in 1843, but the darkness of greed, violence, and prejudice still threaten to overcome the light. But we are called to be sons and daughters of that light and to keep it shining in the midst of darkness. Each of us has the capacity to heal the sick, to feed the hungry, to make peace, to house the homeless, to bring joy and happiness to the hearts of others. It's Christmas Day, and we haven't missed it!

Remember what the housekeeper says to Scrooge as he attempts to dance with her? "Are you quite yourself, sir?" And Scrooge considers her question for a moment and says, "I don't know. I don't think so. I hope not!"

I'd love for that to be our response to Christmas morning. Are you quite yourself this morning? I hope not! I hope you've heard the word from the manger. The poet Abner Dean put it this way:

Hear the Word
the one from the manger
it means just this:
you can dance with a stranger!

So may we be a little mad this morning. May we run out and buy the fattest turkey in the store and feed the hungry. May we love our enemies. May we forgive those who have wronged us. May we laugh and be a little silly with one another about the good news we've received. Because it is good news and Christ continues to be born in us and in our world 'til the end of time. We haven't missed it!


Friday, December 22, 2006

Good Riddance

Editor's note: The articles just keep coming and coming, lambasting the Virginia parishes that have decided to secede from the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican Church of Nigeria. Here is the latest – posted on Slate.

Please note: This title, "Good Riddance," is the author's alone, and does not reflect the view of The Episcopal Majority.

Good Riddance
The Episcopal split promises a stronger church
By Astrid Storm
Posted Friday, Dec. 22, 2006, at 11:55 AM ET

As a theological liberal, I take a rather dim view of the doctrine of providence. Still, I have to say that there was something vaguely providential about the way events unfolded in the Episcopal Church this past week.

Last Sunday, eight Episcopal churches in the Diocese of Virginia voted to break away from the U.S. Episcopal Church. Many of them are now affiliated with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a network of churches in the global Anglican Communion under the oversight of the archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola. The vote was the result of increasing frustration with the liberal direction the Episcopal Church has taken over the past 30 years, starting for many with the ordination of women in 1976 and culminating in the consecration of the first openly gay bishop in 2003.

The possibility of a breakaway, particularly one involving foreign bishops, has been taking up a lot of the Episcopal Church's energy over the last three years, because it could have significant consequences for its polity, finances, and even day-to-day parish life. Yet some Episcopalians, like me, are relieved that it has finally happened—and are especially relieved at how it happened. In fact, it seems to me that this couldn't have happened at a better time, with better people, or in a better way. The Episcopal Church may even be stronger for it in the long run.

Most significant, perhaps, is these churches' decision to align with controversial Archbishop Akinola—someone whom even many conservatives in the church have serious qualms about. He's called homosexuality a "satanic attack" on the church and considers gay-affirming churches to be a "cancerous lump" in the body of Christ. He has endorsed the implementation of anti-gay legislation in his country that would ban homosexuals from having relationships and practically eliminate their right to free speech, all at risk of imprisonment—proposals that the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association considers among the most oppressive in the world. Also noteworthy is his propensity for making stupendously insensitive statements—like, "I cannot think of how a man in his senses would be having a sexual relationship with another man. Even in the world of animals, dogs, cows, lions, we don't hear of such things." Elsewhere, he compared homosexuality and lesbianism to bestiality. He also made an earlier statement this year that was tied to ensuing violence against Muslims in his community; while American mega-pastor Rick Warren was deftly defending Akinola, people in Nigeria, including another bishop, were decrying it.

Try as some have, no excuse—cultural factors, tribal politics—mitigates his venomous statements, and aligning with what basically amounts to the Jerry Falwell of the Anglican Communion exposes just how visceral and unexamined these anti-gay feelings must be for many of these people in these Virginia parishes. Even before they departed, these parishes were very much on the fringe of the wider Episcopal Church.

The timing of this decision is also important. It came at a time of relative calm and good will in the Episcopal Church, and many people have questioned the reasons—or lack thereof—behind it. The Rev. William L. Sachs, director of the Center for Reconciliation and Mission at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Va., told me that "since 2003 the Episcopal Church has worked very hard at listening to the Anglican Communion and trying to honor the Windsor Report and, in fact, there has been a moratorium on the consecration of gay bishops. So, what have they got to complain about?" The election of a female presiding bishop with liberal views on gays and lesbians is the closest he could think of to a proximate cause for last Sunday's decision, but considering Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's recent efforts to accommodate those who don't share her more liberal viewpoint on homosexuality, and considering many people's support for women clergy in these breakaway churches, even that seems an unconvincing provocation.

It's also worth pointing out that this decision came on the tail end of a bad week for conservatives in England. A few members of an influential conservative organization unilaterally presented a very un-Anglican proposal to the archbishop of Canterbury in which they brazenly petitioned to bypass bishops they don't agree with and to choose where their money goes—not acceptable practices in Anglicanism. A number of confused and angry replies—some of them from people who belonged to the group that presented the proposal but hadn't even seen it—poured in. Closer to home, that debacle in England may have prompted Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, to issue a statement clarifying that the Archbishop of Canterbury had not indicated any support for the establishment of CANA, the organization to which these Virginia churches now belong.

The way these churches went about severing themselves from the U.S. Episcopal Church is also interesting. A church voting to secede from the larger church is not accepted practice in the Episcopal Church, and neither is seeking out another bishop. Elaborating on one of Schori's earlier statements, Bob Williams, the director of communication at the Episcopal Church Center in New York, said, "Parishioners and clergy leave the church; churches don't. … One bishop is not supposed to intrude upon another's jurisdiction. This has been true since the Council of Nicaea." Strangely enough, Akinola himself said the same to the Church of Nigeria News back in 2001: "You don't just jump from your diocese to begin to do whatever you like in another man's diocese. That is not done in our Anglican tradition."

Which is all to say that, in doing what they did, when they did it, and with whom, these churches appear disorganized, impatient, and uncouth. To quote William James, the ideal pairings of "fervor with measure, passion with correctness" seemed distinctly lacking in their actions, and it's very hard to imagine many other churches following their lead. In fact, Bill Sachs assured me that Virginia Episcopalians are distancing themselves, and he surmises that splinter parishes will amount to "not more than five percent" of the U.S. church—probably far less. If I had to bet on it, I'd even say Archbishop Akinola's power among Episcopalians in this country is quickly waning as of last Sunday.

It has been said that measure and manners are the glue that binds the Anglican Communion together. If so, then it seems these churches are coming unglued; as for the rest of us, I think we'll be sticking around just fine, thank you very much.

Astrid Storm, an Episcopal priest, is the vicar of St. Nicholas-on-the-Hudson. She lives in New York City.

Copyright 2006 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive Co. LLC

Anderson Speaks to the AAC Faithful

The following message was distributed to members of the American Anglican Council on Friday, December 22, 2006. The message is reprinted in full here, followed by some comments from The Episcopal Majority.

A Message from the AAC President, the Rev. Canon David C. Anderson

December 22, 2006

Beloved in Christ,

Let me begin by wishing you, each one of you, a very blessed Christmas.When Christian soldiers have been in foxholes during battle, they have paused for a moment at Christmas and remembered that this is their Savior's birthday. Many of our priests and bishops feel very much "in a foxhole" this Christmas, but in the midst of it all, they and we re-think - maybe the word anamnesis is better - vividly relive - the great gift that God our Father has given us in his Son, Jesus the Christ.

Our God seems to prefer the incarnation model - first his own Son, but then through saints, well known and unknown, and on to us, you and me - to accomplish his purpose. Jesus was God incarnate in a unique and singular way, and we continue the incarnation action in a much less profound way. My prayer is that we all may be faithful to the high calling that our Lord gives us.

Back on the battle front, things are jumping in Virginia. Charlotte Allen, in a column in The Guardian, says, "Jefferts Schori pooh-poohedthe mass departure of the Virginians, declaring that they were asplinter collection of malcontents..." It is interesting that the former bishop of Nevada, whose elevation from parish cleric to backwater bishop to Presiding Bishop makes the term "fast track" seem inadequate, has demeaned the northern Virginia people who left the Episcopal Church for safety under an orthodox Anglican bishop by calling them a splinter of malcontents.

When she was bishop of Nevada, her baptized membership was appoximately6,000, with an average Sunday attendance of just over 2,300, for an entire diocese! The group she lightly dismisses as a "splinter"constitutes nearly 7,600 baptized members who have an average Sunday attendance of 4,300. She has dismissed and demeaned a group of departing Anglicans that is considerably larger than her entire former diocese. The numbers would also seem to indicate that the Virginia Anglicans go to church on Sunday a good deal more often that the ones in Nevada. The former bishop of Las Vegas becomes the "take a chance" Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (TEC), and she demeans those whose faith is firmly rooted and their actions godly.

As new orthodox congregations are starting up all over North America in response to the realignment in Anglicanism, one of the pressing needs is an inexpensive or free (free is always better) supply of basic necessities such as processional crosses, candlesticks, altar linens, chalices, patens, etc. The Lord has put it on my heart to do something about this, and the American Anglican Council could act as a redistribution center for such basic necessities. If your church has more of any of these, and if they are in decent condition (no junk please!), would you consider it a mission to the larger church to send them to us; we will store them; and when a church is in need, we will redeploy them to those who will gratefully receive the items and use them for the furtherance of the kingdom of God? Most churches I have known have extras, and if you could share your abundance with those who are struggling to restart the church, it would be a great blessing. I pose this request at a time when we celebrate the greatest gift of all, the gift of our Lord Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas.

Blessings and Peace in Christ Jesus,

The Rev. Canon David C. Anderson

CEO & President of the AAC

Lisa Fox responds for The Episcopal Majority:

Upon first reading, I am struck by the fact that the Rev. Canon Anderson persists in using the language of war in his comments. We have heard this language for over three years now. It has nothing to do with the mission of reconciliation to which our Lord has called us. But it should not surprise us. After all, he is the one who – when asked by Larry King on CNN in June 2006, "Why do you stay [in the Episcopal Church]"? – replied, "Well, I like a good fight."

It is pretty funny that the Rev. Canon Anderson appeals to Charlotte Allen as an authority! She is one of those adherents of the Institute of Religion and Democracy who have been working for quite some time to destroy the Episcopal Church. [For those who have not been tracking, the IRD has a branch devoted to destroying the Episcopal Church as it now exists. The Political Spaghetti blog does the best job of tracking the interactions between IRD and other movements.]

Anderson enjoys pointing to Charlotte Allen as a supporter and journalist. It appears he is referencing her recent piece in The Guardian. In fact, she is one of those Roman Catholics (along with Deal Hudson, Michael Novak, and R.J. Neuhaus) working with the IRD and other organizations to take down the the mainline churches in the U.S. -- all in the service of Christ.

Canon Anderson's disdain for Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori is palpable. I should not have been surprised by this, but I was. Perhaps he needs to read his Bible again. There he may recall how God has repeatedly called the meek and lowly to do God's will. I don't think God cared how large the Diocese of Nevada was when God called Bishop Jefferts Schori to lead the Episcopal Church.

What I find most interesting, though, is Canon Anderson's final paragraph. Perhaps he is finally realizing that the secessionist parishes really are not going to be able to walk away with the goods of the Episcopal Church.

Canon Anderson says God has "put it on his heart" to be something like the Anglican Ebay of surplus property. Here's what it looks like to me. The faux Anglican movement has bypassed the AAC. Diane Knippers up and died on them. The Brusts left, as soon as Ellis Brust was not elected Bishop of South Carolina. And now Canon Anderson is reduced to being a clearinghouse for second-hand religious goods. It must be quite sad for him, when he thought he and the AAC could rule the Anglican roost in the U.S. ... and now sees it has slipped through his hand.

I do have one pragmatic concern about Canon Anderson's proposed Anglican Swap 'n' Shop. Let us suppose that St. Swithen's on the Mound plans to vote to leave TEC. But first, they send all their worldly goods to the AAC, as suggested in Canon Anderson's last paragraph. Then they hold their vote and leave to form a "new" parish, then -- voila! -- the AAC has some spares they can ship to the "new" church plant, St. Swithens in the Cesspool Anglican Church. Is there anything in law or polity to prevent this?

Those are my thoughts in response to Canon Anderson's letter. What are yours?

Holy Homophobia

"Holy Homophobia." The title (printed in red on The Nation's website) well captures what the secular press seems to be perceiving about the votes of Episcopal parishes fleeing the Episcopal Church to align themselves with overtly gay-hating clerics abroad. The following article was written by Richard Kim for The Nation, posted on December 21.

Holy Homophobia
Richard Kim
The Nation

For religion-watchers, the decision by several northern Virginia parishes to split with the Episcopal Church and join Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola's crusade against Anglican liberalism came as no surprise. Akinola, the most powerful figure in the Anglican Communion, directly leads at least 17 million Christians and has been fomenting this schism since at least the consecration of openly-gay Bishop Gene Robinson in 2003. It became inevitable, however, once Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church earlier this year. Schori, a supporter of Robinson and same-sex unions, is the first woman to lead a division of the Anglican Church.

For the most part, the mainstream press has done a decent job of reporting the nuts and bolts of the split. The Washington Post noted Akinola's support for legislation in Nigeria that would make it a crime for gays and lesbians to dine together in restaurants and identified him as "an advocate for jailing gays." In a subsequent op-ed, Harold Meyerson dubbed the breakaway faction "Episcopalians Against Equality," and linked them to other orthodox fundamentalists of Catholic and Jewish persuasions who've made anti-gay politics a focal point of their scriptural literalism.

Akinola's supporters quickly denied these allegations. In a post on the website of Truro Church (Fairfax, Virginia), Marytn Minns, a leader of the schism and a friend of Akinola's since their days at the Virginia Theological Seminary in the early '80s, said "That is not true. Archbishop Akinola believes that all people -- whatever their manner of life or sexual orientation -- are made in the image of God and deserve to be treated with respect." Subsequently, the Post and other outlets repeated Minns' claim, cryptically writing, "His advocates say he is trying to navigate an explosive cultural situation in Nigeria and appease Muslim leaders."

While it's certainly true that parts of northern Nigeria submit to Sharia law, under which homosexual sex is punishable by death by stoning, holding Muslim leaders solely responsible for the bill doesn't quite wash with an examination of Akinola's published declarations. The legislation under question is known as the "Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act." Under the guise of banning gay marriage, the bill would prohibit almost any association of gays and lesbians, restrict their freedom of speech and movement. Section 7 prohibits any "publicity, procession and public show of same sex amorous relationships through the electronic or print media" (for example, a screening of Brokeback Mountain). It would also imprison for five years anyone "involved in the registration of gay clubs, societies and organizations, sustenance, procession or meetings, publicity and public showing of same sex amorous relationships directly or indirectly in public and in private" (for example, any lesbians or gays meeting in a restaurant or even in their own homes).

This bill was introduced by Nigeria's Minister of Justice, Bayo Ojo, on January 19, 2006. In a "message to the nation" issued in February, Akinola endorsed the legislation saying, "The Church commends the law-makers for their prompt reaction to outlaw same-sex relationships in Nigeria and calls for the bill to be passed since the idea expressed in the bill is the moral position of Nigerians regarding human sexuality." In another declaration made in September, Akinola said, "The Church affirms our commitment to the total rejection of the evil of homosexuality which is a perversion of human dignity and encourages the National Assembly to ratify the Bill prohibiting the legality of homosexuality since it is incongruent with the teachings of the Bible, Quran and the basic African traditional values."

Given these statements, the attempts by Akinola's supporters to distance themselves (and him) from his previous support of this draconian legislation ring false. Is this crusade what the parishioners of Truro Church and Falls Church in Virginia, who according to World magazine include "leaders of government agencies, members of Congress, Washington journalists, and think-tank presidents," meant to endorse by siding with Akinola?

In the next few days, I'll report more on the Anglican schism, including posts on their right-wing US backers (Scaife, Olin, Coors), their interpretation of scripture and their narrative of reverse imperialism (Africa to the US), so stay tuned.

From Falls Church: No Surprise to Us Locals

Editor's Note: The secular press continues to decry the blatant anti-gay bigotry of the Virginia parishes who voted to secede from the Episcopal Church and align with Nigeria's Archbishop Peter Akinola. A news story ran in the local paper on December 21. This editorial published the same day, " No Surprise To Us Locals," provides another and closer look at the role the Falls Church has played in its local community. The editorial below is reprinted from the Falls Church (Virginia) News-Press newspaper.

Editorial: No Surprise To Us Locals

By Nicholas F. Benton

Thursday, 21 December 2006

The Falls Church Episcopal Church is now front page news all over the world for its vote, announced Sunday, to formally defect from the Episcopal denomination. But the 10,500 folks in the tiny City of Falls Church have had the Falls Church Episcopal -- with its membership drawn from the wider region almost a third the size of their whole town -- not only in their midst, but "in their faces" for much of the last 20 years since the church took a decidedly right-wing turn.

Many in the Falls Church school system recall its influence beginning almost that long ago, churning evangelical zeal among young people, in particular. An aggressive youth program in the 1990s preached to high schoolers that their parents had made too many compromises with the world and were hardly role models for the kind of holy warriors they could become. We listened to some of these sermons, ourselves, throwbacks to notions from the 1960s counterculture era when the mantra was, "Don't trust anyone over 30."Parents of Jewish students were alarmed that their youngsters were being drawn into a church where it is claimed that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation.

Still, the countless high school essays that eschewed personal introspection to gush explicitly of personal relations with Christ, along with not infrequent claims on high school fields and courts that God was responsible-for one team (our team!) winning and another suffering ignominious defeat, could be construed as mere nuisances. On the other hand, the stacking of family life education committees in the school system to block modern sex ed curricula, and a campaign to vilify a high school advisor for allowing his student newspaper editorial board to publish a free ad for a non-profit group offering counseling to young gays were more serious intrusions in the City's daily life.

Nonetheless, it wasn't until the Republican neo-conservatives who'd taken over nearby Washington in the mid-1990s and began flocking, along with their well-heeled patrons, from considerable distances to assemble at the church to hear the likes of Ken Starr and hob-knob with board members of the Bush White House's personal favorite Weekly Standard magazine, that the church's leaders started making pushier demands on its neighborhood. They bought a next-door shopping center, booted everyone out, and tried to bully the little Falls Church City Council into closing a busy public street and giving it to them.

That led to years of acrimony that included a successful push-back from the local community. Meanwhile, many in the community who's [sic] families were members of the church for a half-century and longer, became caught up in the church's recent frenzied crusade to defect. Some now claim the church was less than up front to those folk about its real chances of keeping its current location upon defecting.

All in all, this week's news comes as no surprise for those who've suffered the current church leadership in our midst for this long.

Choose This Day ...

[Editor's note: Reflecting on recent voices from Episcopalian bishops, Judy Mathews (Diocese of Florida and member of The Episcopal Majority Steering Committee) was struck by the sharp contrast in tone and content of Bishop Duncan's recent statement versus those of the leadership of the Episcopal Church. She offered this succinct comment.]

From Judy Mathews:

In contrast to the statement by Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, the loyal Episcopalians in the Diocese of Virginia and in other dioceses hear the voices of bishops, priests, deacons, and laity of our Church. We who will not be part of a federation of groups under bishops in Nigeria and Rwanda hear the voices of support from The Episcopal Majority (TEM) and other support groups in our Church.

Loyal Episcopalians hear the words of The Episcopal Majority, posted on the website on August 19, 2006: "The Episcopal Majority is a grassroots organization committed to the values and vitality of the Episcopal Church and working to neutralize the negative influence of the American Anglican Council (AAC), the Anglican Communion Network (AAN), and those groups abroad who wish to harm this Church and exclude us from Anglicanism. . . ."

On December 18, 2006, responding to the recent actions in Virginia, our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, issued a statement, acknowledging not only the people who say they will leave our Church, but those who are loyal to us. As reported by the Episcopal News Service (ENS):

... Jefferts Schori called on the rest of the Episcopal Church to "remember to pray for everybody involved – those who feel a need to leave and those who remain – to pray that those people and their families can find some peace and remember that communities can reach beyond this kind of division ...."

The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, Bishop of Virginia, as reported by ENS on December 17, 2006, vows to care of remaining Episcopalians, "... 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. ..."

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Breaking News from Pittsburgh


The following statement has appeared on the website of Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh.

In October 2003, following a Special Convention of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Calvary Church, together with its rector and senior warden, brought suit against Bishops Robert Duncan and Henry Scriven, and other officials of the Diocese. St. Stephen's Church, Wilkinsburg, and Mr. Herman S. Harvey, a parishioner of St. Stephen's Church, Sewickley, later joined Calvary in the action as plaintiffs. One of the reasons for the action was the passage of Resolution Six, "Title to Property," at the 2003 Special Convention. Resolution Six denied the rights of the National Church to property held or administered by the Diocese or by parishes within the Diocese. Because Calvary is firmly committed to the National Church, it contested the passage of Resolution Six and other actions which it believed were contrary to the interests of the National Church. Ultimately, Calvary obtained a settlement and Court Order, entered October 14, 2005, which provided for protections of those property interests and also established the nullity of Resolution Six, which had been withdrawn.

In light of occurrences since the date of that October 14, 2005 Court Order, particularly the purported withdrawal of the Diocese from the Third Province of the Episcopal Church and the request that the Diocese not be under the authority of newly elected Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori (both of which were approved by the Standing Committee in June, subject to ratification by the Diocesan Convention, which ratification occurred in November) as well as events since then, Calvary believes that -- despite assertions to the contrary -- persons and property within the Diocese are effectively being removed or have been removed from the Episcopal Church. As we understand it, no funds have been sent by the Diocese to the National Church for some time. Now, withdrawal from the currently established Province structure of the Episcopal Church effectively eliminates participation in the participatory government process of electing representatives to the Executive Council, and, also importantly, removes the process (which resides at the Province level) for review of discipline imposed by a bishop on a priest or deacon. In light of these developments, a Petition has been filed by Calvary to have the Court of Common Pleas enforce what we believe to be the correct reading of the Stipulation and Order entered October 14, 2005. The text of the Petition will ultimately be available on the Prothonotary of Allegheny County's website, by clicking here.

Information about the resolution to the previous lawsuit is available. Click here for the complete story.

Update: We were so eager to post this story as soon as the news was released that we did not see what other Websites had posted it. Other sources will surely begin providing more analysis and further links, and we will be pleased to post other links. To this point, the news seems only to have been noted by the Diocese of Washington. Journalist Jim Naughton has some additional information here.

The Self-Anointed Righteous

[I don't think I'm alone in being a devotee of Barbara Crafton's daily meditations. When she posted this one, I believed it warranted wider distribution. You can read it here. Better yet, go to her site and subscribe for the daily notes.

Barbara is not – as far as I can tell – a partisan in the current Anglican Peyton Place. But she does frequently call me back to my best self as a child of God and as an Episcopalian. -- Lisa Fox, blogmaster, The Episcopal Majority.]


So much un-peace, in the Church and in the world. A peculiar pride in our own stubbornness has infected many of us -- as if reconciliation somehow represented a failure of moral nerve. We are strongly attracted to visions of ourselves as lonely martyrs for a holy truth -- and this is a dangerous self-image to have. It leaves no room to accept criticism we may desperately need.

And so we leave churches that aren't holy enough for us. Assume we know God's will solely through a narrow reading of scripture, and pride ourselves on never changing our minds. We stay the course.

In doing so, we are in danger of ignoring a God who is free. A God who does new things. We won't allow it. We insist on worshipping the ancient record of God's work in the world, instead of the God to which it all attests. We will not allow God to be the unexpected thing God must be in every age.

Here comes Jesus -- a child born into a world of division. In his name, we will exclude and even kill, and we will tell ourselves in that very moment that we are doing the work of the Prince of Peace.

No wonder Jesus wept. Lord, have mercy.

Copyright © 2006 Barbara Crafton

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bishop Powell Speaks

[Editor's Note: The Right Reverend F. Neff Powell, Bishop of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, sent this letter, dated December 19, to the clergy of his diocese. It seems to us that this letter articulates what it means to be an Episcopalian today – holding fast to the orthodox faith while seeking to reach out to the extremes of the diocese. We wish and pray God's blessing on Bishop Powell and all other Episcopalian bishops during this time. We are informed that his letter will be posted on the diocesan website in due course; meanwhile, we post it here with permission. – Lisa Fox, blogmaster, The Episcopal Majority]

Dear Colleagues,

I am sure you have all read in the papers by now that eight congregations in the Diocese of Virginia voted Sunday to leave the Episcopal Church, most notably Truro Parish in Fairfax County and The Falls Church, in Falls Church. It is expected that some other congregations will follow suit.

When I learned last Thursday that these churches would be voting to leave, I called Bishops Lee and Jones to offer my condolences and my full support of them and the Diocese of Virginia in this matter.

I called Bishop Light Monday morning to discuss his experience with a similar situation in this diocese early in his tenure as bishop, in 1979 and 1980. One vestry voted to leave the Episcopal Church over the matter of women in the priesthood. The matter was taken to court and the court decided in favor of this diocese. Bishop Light also recalls that five or six clergy either resigned their orders or were deposed.

Early in my episcopate, Church of the Holy Spirit, Roanoke, voted to leave us and join with the Anglican Church of Rwanda. The congregation had built a new building and had set up a dummy corporation to hold title to the property so that they could leave at any time. We decided not to contest the matter in court. The rector was deposed from the priesthood. This whole event was one of the most painful experiences of my episcopate.

I love the Episcopal Church including our liturgy and our long tradition of tolerance for a wide range of social, political, and theological opinions. I value our place in the Anglican Communion. I rejoice that in this diocese we have the full range of opinions on all sorts of issues facing the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, this country and the world.

Talking to bishops from around the United States who have experienced congregations voting to leave us they report that in every single case the clergy led to the move to leave. Votes to leave typically followed years of preaching and teaching against the Episcopal Church, our polity and our theology.

What distresses me the most about the actions in the Diocese of Virginia is that the priests involved have twice taken public vows to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church. They signed these vows when they were ordained deacons and again when they were ordained priests. Integrity would seem to demand that if they felt that the Episcopal Church was so completely wrong, they would simply renounce their vows, depart, and go with God.

We’ve all been expecting this action for some time now. Bishops Lee and Jones have both “gone the extra mile” and more to accommodate the parties involved. The dispute over the property will continue for a time. The Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church will go on. And I predict the diocese will continue to thrive.

In this diocese, although we may have our disagreements, I do not sense that any congregation is planning to leave. For that I thank God from the bottom of my heart. I am most grateful for the strong and faithful clergy and lay leadership that has led our congregations through some difficult times.

In the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia we will continue to pay attention to mission and carrying out the promises we make at baptism. As I go about the diocese I see those promises being carried out as folk worship, study their Bibles, spread the Good News, and respond to the needs in their communities, in Southwestern Virginia, and throughout the world through mission. I am looking forward to a renewed sense of mission and ministry as we continue our long-range planning.

Please do hold this matter in your prayers and pray especially for those members of these churches who wish to remain loyal to the Episcopal Church.

Finally let me say again that it remains an honor and a privilege to be a bishop in the Episcopal Church and to be your bishop.

Grace and peace,

Midwest Bishops Working on Reconciliation?

Earlier reports have detailed the conflict between St. Andrew's Episcopal Church (Edwardsville, Ill.) and Springfield Bishop Peter Beckwith. According to today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it appears the parish is working with its bishop and neighboring Missouri bishop George Wayne Smith to find a way toward reconciliation. The article is reproduced here in full.

Episcopal church and bishop attempt reconciliation

By Tim Townsend St. Louis Post-Dispatch -- Wednesday, Dec. 20 2006

EDWARDSVILLE — The rector of an Episcopal church in Edwardsville said Tuesday she was "cautiously optimistic" that her church's frayed relationship with its bishop may be on the path to recovery.

In October, the vestry, or lay board, of the 200-member St. Andrew's Episcopal Church accused Bishop Peter H. Beckwith of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield, Ill., of refusing to provide pastoral care over the past year. It asked Beckwith to allow them to seek another bishop to provide them with pastoral oversight, such as George Wayne Smith, bishop of the Diocese of Missouri.

St. Andrew's is at 406 Hillsboro Avenue.

In a letter to the congregation Sunday, St. Andrew's senior warden, Donna Ireland, said Beckwith "expressed his willingness to meet and work with us, to address our concerns for our parish and our rector" during a meeting with the vestry Dec. 11 in Edwardsville.

In 2005, Beckwith, a theological conservative, refused to confirm a lesbian and, later, anyone at all at St. Andrew's. Two of the church's eucharistic ministers — lay people who help the priest during communion — subsequently refused to accept the Eucharist from Beckwith, who then stripped all 15 of St. Andrew's eucharistic ministers of their authority.

The Rev. Virginia L. Bennett, rector of St. Andrew's, said that at two recent meetings between Beckwith and the vestry, the bishop took responsibility for his actions against the eucharistic ministers. "He seemed very, very anxious to reconcile with us," she said.

Beckwith could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

At the Dec. 11 meeting, Beckwith restored the eucharistic licenses he had stripped and on Sunday St. Andrew's worshipped with eucharistic ministers for the first time in nearly a year.

Duncan Applauds Virginia

[Editor's Note: All around the mainstream religious and secular press, reporters and analysts are decrying the action of the Virginia parishes choosing to secede from the Episcopal Church and align with the Anglican Church of Nigeria. A good many observers are wondering what behind-the-scenes drama is playing out as Bishops Robert Duncan and Martyn Minns jockey for position to "supplant" the Episcopal Church and sit at the right hand of the Archbishop of Canterbury at the next Primates' meeting. Good soldier to the end, Bishop Duncan, Moderator of the Network of Anglican Confessing Dioceses and Parishes, was found stalwartly repeating the anathemas and fantasies that he has been repeating since the summer of 2003. We reprint below his latest encomium. The original appeared here on December 18. – Lisa Fox, blogmaster & Steering Committee member, The Episcopal Majority]

Network Moderator Commends Virginia Churches

Bishop Robert Duncan today commended eight Virginia churches which announced the decisions of their congregations to re-affiliate with another branch of the Anglican Communion. He also assured them of the Anglican Communion Network’s prayers and continuing support. All but one of the parishes which announced the results of their congregation-wide votes are affiliates in good standing of the Anglican Communion Network, and will remain so.

"There is no question that the clergy and people of The Falls Church, Truro Church, Church of the Apostles, Christ the Redeemer, St. Stephen’s, Church of the Word, St. Margaret’s and Potomac Falls remain fully and faithfully Anglican,” said Bishop Duncan. “Their deliberate decision-making process and patient efforts over the last two years to chart a peaceful and prayerful course forward should be an example to all those contemplating their future relationship with The Episcopal Church. It is now up to the leadership of the Diocese of Virginia to choose between embracing a charitable parting of ways or pursuing destructive litigation. I pray they can see their way to selecting the first course,” he added.

Led by Bishop Martyn Minns of Truro Church and the Rev. John Yates of The Falls Church, a number of Virginia parishes began a 40–day process of discernment this fall. As that process has concluded, parishes who participated have held congregation-wide referendums to determine whether to remain within the Episcopal Church or to seek Anglican oversight from another source. A number of other parishes are expected to announce the results of their own congregational votes in the coming days.

“This is much more than a vote about property and ecclesiastical lines of authority. This vote is a statement by our parish about our understanding of Holy Scriptures and biblical orthodoxy,” wrote Jim Oakes, Senior Warden of Truro Church.

Following decisions to chart a course away from orthodox Christianity at The Episcopal Church’s 2003 and 2006 General Conventions, many provinces in the world-wide Anglican Communion have declared their ties with The Episcopal Church to be severed or highly impaired. Those provinces have continued in relationship with orthodox North American parishes and dioceses both inside and outside The Episcopal Church. In situations when a parting of ways has occurred between orthodox parishes and their dioceses committed to the new direction of The Episcopal Church, a number of Anglican provinces have responded favorably to those parishes’ requests for episcopal oversight.

Many of the Virginia parishes who have recently announced decisions to sever ties with the Episcopal Church are expected to join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a mission of the Anglican Church of Nigeria. CANA is a member of the Common Cause Partners, an alliance of ten Anglican jurisdictions and ministries with some 200,000 Anglicans under their care committed to a unified orthodox Anglican witness in North America. Common Cause member ministries and jurisdictions are the American Anglican Council, the Anglican Coalition in Canada, the Anglican Communion Network, Anglican Essentials Canada, Anglican Mission in America, Anglican Network in Canada, Anglican Province of America, CANA, Forward in Faith North American and the Reformed Episcopal Church. The alliance is currently drafting articles for the formation of a federation.

Posted 12–18–06

Uganda: Orombi will not sit with Jefferts Schori at Primates Meeting

Drawing upon several sources, Episcopal News Service has posted this story:

The Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Uganda, the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi, has said that he and other Global South Primates have informed the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, that they "cannot sit together with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori at the upcoming Primates Meeting in February," citing her position on the Bible's teachings about "faith and morality."

In a pastoral letter to Christians of the Church of Uganda, Orombi said that some Primates have asked Williams to invite a bishop from the Anglican Communion Network "to attend the Primates Meeting and represent the orthodox believers."

Jefferts Schori will be the first woman among the leaders, or Primates, of the Anglican Communion when they next convene in Dar Es Salaam in Tanzania in February, but in his pastoral letter Orombi insisted that his "problem" with the Episcopal Church is "not that they have enthroned a woman as their Presiding Bishop."

The Kigali communiqué, issued after a meeting of Global South leaders in Rwanda in September, noted that "some of us will not be able to recognize Katharine Jefferts Schori as a Primate at the table with us."

Although the communiqué cited 20 signatories, a number of Anglican leaders later disavowed the statement. It is unclear to which Primates Orombi refers in his letter . . . .
Go to the Episcopal News Service for the full story and the complete text of Archbishop Orombi's letter.

Jamaica Speaks

[Editor's Note: There is a tendency throughout the Anglican blogosphere to characterize the "Global South" as if all the primates, clergy, and laity speak in one voice. Occasionally we remember that they do not. Occasionally we recall, or hear statements, that remind us there are divergent voices in the "Global South" just as there are in the churches of the Americas, UK, and throughout the Anglican Communion. It is a pleasure to reprint this story issued by Episcopal News Service. Bishop Alfred Reid of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands serves under the Most Rev. Drexel Gomez, Archbishop of the Province of the West Indies. -- Lisa Fox]

JAMAICA: Bishop chides Nigerian primate, Virginia parishes
Tuesday, December 19, 2006

[Episcopal News Service] A Jamaican newspaper reports that Bishop Alfred Reid of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands has said his diocese does not support the decision of the members of two prominent Virginia parishes to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Church of Nigeria.

"The Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands wishes to state that it is not a party to, nor does it support the action of the two congregations in the Diocese of Virginia, USA, which have voted to secede from the Episcopal Church of the USA over the issue of the ordination of Gene Robinson, a self-confessed homosexual, as bishop of New Hampshire," Bishop Reid said in a statement issued late December 18, according to the Jamaica Observer.

"The Church does not agree with the action of the Archbishop of Nigeria - Peter Akinola - in seeking to create a schism within the global Anglican Communion by facilitating the two Virginia churches in their break away," Reid said.

"Archbishop Akinola knows full well that the leadership of the worldwide Anglican Communion has been at pains to seek to deal in a holistic and timely manner with the issues raised ever since Robinson's ordination," he added.

Reid said that immediately following Robinson's consecration, "the Church in the Province of the West Indies took a clear position, in which we emphatically disagreed with that ordination and took our stand on the agreement reached by the bishops at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 - (Resolution 1:10) which states that homosexual behaviour is contrary to Scripture and therefore is inappropriate as a lifestyle to those who aspire to leadership in the Church."

Reid pointed to the appointment of the Archbishop of the West Indies, the Most Rev. Drexel Gomez, by the Archbishop of Canterbury to chair a committee for the establishment of a covenant to guide the entire Communion in the way forward.

"It should be emphasised that the Church in Jamaica, in collegiality with others in the Province of the West Indies and the rest of the worldwide Communion, seeks to work for consensus, not divisiveness, and to maintain the fellowship of the Communion without compromising its integrity," Reid said. "It is in that spirit that ongoing discussions on the most contentious and often painful matter will be conducted."

CANA: Merely a Nigerian Mission

[Written and posted by Lisa Fox, a member of Grace Episcopal Church in Jefferson City, Missouri, and a member of The Episcopal Majority's Steering Committee.]

The Virginia secessionists led by Martyn Minns, consecrated by Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola as bishop of CANA (the Convocation of Anglicans in North America), continue to aver that they are in direct communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury and are positioning themselves to set up an "Anglican" structure in the U.S., parallel to and, they seem to hope, eventually supplanting the Episcopal Church. It was therefore interesting to see this statement issued from Canterbury just days after the Virginia votes.

The Anglican Communion Office issued this statement by the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, on December 15:

In response to a number of queries, and following consultation with The Archbishop of Canterbury, [emphasis added] the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion has issued the following statement:

"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 organsation 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."

With now-Bishop Martyn Minns acting as bishop of CANA, one wonders what this bodes for his dreams of a "parallel structure" in the U.S.

It has appeared that at least two of the purple-shirted ones [+Duncan and now +Minns] yearn to supplant our Presiding Bishop at the Primates' meeting and at Lambeth. So far, the Archbishop of Canterbury does not seem to be offering them much encouragement.

Episcopalians Against Equality

[Editor's note: The op-ed column, Episcopalians Against Equality, was published by the Washington Post regarding several Virginia parishes' votes this month to secede from the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican Church of Nigeria. It has been interesting to note how many commentators in the secular press have picked up on this story. Thinking Anglicans is probably the single best source for compilations of these stories and their background – most recently in today's digest. – Lisa Fox for The Episcopal Majority]

Episcopalians Against Equality
By Harold Meyerson (
Wednesday, December 20, 2006; page A23)

Don't look now, but Virginia is seceding again.

On Sunday nine Episcopal parishes in Virginia, including the one where George Washington served as a vestryman, announced that they had voted to up and leave the U.S. Episcopal Church to protest its increasingly equal treatment of homosexuals.

In 2003 an overwhelming majority of the nation's Episcopal bishops ratified the selection of a gay bishop by the New Hampshire diocese. This past June the church's general convention elevated Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to the post of presiding U.S. bishop. Jefferts Schori is the first woman to head a national branch of the Anglican Church. Worse yet, she has allowed the blessing of same-sex couples within her diocese (which includes the ever theologically innovative Las Vegas).

Whether it was the thought of a woman presiding over God's own country club or of gays snuggling under its eaves, it was all too much for a distinct minority of Episcopalians. The dissident parishes in the Virginia diocese contain only about 5 percent of the state's parishioners. But it's the church the defectors have latched on to that makes this schism news.

In slamming the door on their American co-religionists, the two largest parishes, which are in Fairfax City and Falls Church, also announced their affiliation with the Episcopal Church of Nigeria. The presiding Nigerian archbishop, Peter Akinola, promotes legislation in his country that would forbid gays and lesbians to form organizations or to eat together in restaurants and that would send them to jail for indulging in same-gender sexual activity. Akinola's agenda so touched the hearts of the Northern Virginia faithful that they anointed him, rather than Jefferts Schori, as their bishop.

Peer pressure played a role, too. Explaining the decision to leave the American church, Vicki Robb, a Fairfax parishioner and Alexandria public relations exec, told The Post's Bill Turque and Michelle Boorstein that the church's leftward drift has made it "kind of embarrassing when you tell people that you're Episcopal." It must be a relief to finally have an archbishop who doesn't pussyfoot around when gays threaten to dine in public.

The alliance of the Fairfax Phobics with Archbishop Restaurant Monitor is just the latest chapter in the global revolt against modernity and equality and, more specifically, in the formation of the Orthodox International. The OI unites frequently fundamentalist believers of often opposed faiths in common fear and loathing of challenges to ancient tribal norms. It has featured such moving tableaus as the coming together in the spring of 2005 of Israel's chief rabbis, the deputy mufti of Jerusalem, and leaders of Catholic and Armenian churches, burying ancient enmities to jointly condemn a gay pride festival. The OI's founding father was none other than Pope John Paul II, who spent much time and energy endeavoring to reconcile various orthodox Christian religions and whose ecumenism prompted him to warn the Anglicans not to ordain gay priests.

John Paul also sought to build his church in nations of the developing world where traditional morality and bigotry, most especially on matters sexual, were in greater supply than in secular Europe and the increasingly egalitarian United States, and more in sync with the Catholic Church's inimitable backwardness. Now America's schismatic Episcopalians are following in his footsteps – traditionalists of the two great Western hierarchical Christian churches searching the globe for sufficiently benighted bishops.

In recent years Anglican churches have experienced their greatest growth in the developing world, which could tilt the entire global Anglican Communion toward more traditionalist norms. Only 13 of the 38 national churches within the communion ordain women as priests; only three – the United States, New Zealand and Canada – ordain women as bishops.

The American church, by contrast, has largely paralleled the transformation of Rockefeller Republicans into liberal, Democratic secularists. The old joke of New York politicos was that Jews had the incomes of Episcopalians but voted like Puerto Ricans. Now it's the Episcopal prelates who are voting like Puerto Ricans, or, more precisely, like liberal Jews. Some traditionalists fear the church isn't really theistic anymore. The comforting middle ground of the church of yore – affirming the equality of some, not discussing the equality of others – has eroded as the demands of women and gays and lesbians could no longer be dismissed.

The irony is that the Episcopal Church owes its existence directly to the American Revolution; it broke away from the Church of England during the war and was reborn as a distinctly American entity between 1784 and 1789. Fully two-thirds of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were active or (like Washington) nominal Anglicans, and, having repudiated the political authority of the king of England, they could scarcely have gone on affirming his ecclesiastical authority.

The founders of the church believed, within the context of their time, that all men were created equal. Today's defectors have thought it over in the context of our own time, and decided that they're not.
©2006 The Washington Post Company

Bates: The Problem of Dissolution

In a December 19 story in The Guardian, English journalist Stephen Bates argues evangelical conservatives are using homosexuality as a dividing issue - and standing up to them is the only way to save the Anglican church. A goal of The Episcopal Majority has been to build alliances with other Anglicans throughout the world. This story is another indication about the worldwide importance of the issues that the Episcopal Church is facing.

The decision by two ancient Anglican churches in the Virginia suburbs of Washington DC at the weekend to secede from the US Episcopal church and seek alternative oversight with the hardline anti-homosexual Primate of Nigeria has been a long time in gestation. It represents the latest shaving-off of conservatives (they prefer to call themselves reasserters) from the American church. It remains to be seen how many others will follow in their footsteps.

Truro church and Falls church have made it quite clear that they have been disenchanted with the Episcopal church's liberal-leaning leadership for a long time, looking for an excuse to go. Virtually nothing could have persuaded them to stay. Although the proximate cause may have been the election three years ago of the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson, the real causes lie in a fundamental disagreement over the nature of Anglicanism and a determination to wrest it from its broad and tolerant roots into a more evangelical, conservative direction.

The same thing is happening in England, where last week a faction of like-minded conservative evangelicals, with close ties to the US churches, presented a list of demands to Archbishop Rowan Williams, including a call for the right to appoint their own ministers without reference to their liberal diocesan bishops.

These groups have chosen homosexuality as a defining issue because they believe it is something that will unite and mobilise sympathisers in a way that other current issues in the church, such as women's ordination, have not been able to do. There is still a visceral distaste for the idea of homosexuality and the prejudice against it can be characterised not as bigotry but as something sanctioned by a few (and there are only a few) references in the Bible. Interestingly, the same mobilisation in defence of biblical orthodoxy does not seem to apply to other facts of life about which the Bible's authors were quite as adamant, pre-eminently divorce. Surely this can't be - can it? - because many more folk have experience of divorce in their families these days than of homosexuality, and that even some of the most outspoken evangelical leaders are themselves divorced.

Back in the Washington suburbs it was clear some years ago that the two churches wanted nothing to do with their diocesan bishop, a moderate named Peter Lee, because he had voted in favour of Gene Robinson's election. The bishop pointed out that he had voted in favour of the endorsement of every bishop whose name had come up for election throughout his period in office because each had been elected by his parishioners and, whether he agreed with them theologically or not, conservative or liberal, he believed he ought to respect the decision made by their congregations.

For this he was reviled and insulted by conservatives in his diocese who announced that he was no longer fit to lay hands on their children in confirming them. So he meekly called in the former archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, whose hands were evidently much cleaner (though he'd ordained at least two gay bishops in his time) to carry out the confirmations in his stead. But it's all right because George is a good evangelical.

In the same spirit of Episcopal pick'n'mix, the American churches have chosen the Archbishop of Abuja, the Most Rev Peter Akinola, as their archiepiscopal leader; a man whose vehemence against gay people - quite in defiance of current Anglican position statements - has led him to vociferously support Nigerian government legislation which would prevent gays meeting, let alone campaigning to improve their status and condition in Nigerian civil society. His willingness to cross provincial boundaries to interfere in other churches is also, incidentally, against current Anglican polity.

Even the Americans quail at going quite as far as Akinola does in his anti-gay rhetoric, but that hasn't stopped them in the words of one conservative opting for a black archbishop "even if he does look like the church janitor". Some prejudices are evidently more acceptable than others.

The fact is that what the conservatives demand in the name of orthodoxy is not Anglicanism but a form of congregationalism, inimical to the traditional authority of bishops. The most interesting commentary in the last week has been the response of the Bishop of Durham, Tom Wright, on the Fulcrum evangelical website, following the English evangelicals' presentation of their demands to Archbishop Williams.

What particularly annoyed him was the conservatives' presumption in claiming to speak for all evangelicals, when they only speak for a faction - and had not troubled to consult even those before presenting their demands. Wright's condemnation is extraordinary in its vehemence. He has finally woken up to the way the wind is blowing in Anglicanism. Will others do the same? Standing up to the bullies who proclaim a self-determined orthodoxy and a one-eyed moral rectitude may be the only chance to save the worldwide communion from dissolution. Rowan Williams needs all the help he can get.