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,


Anonymous Dr. Quigg lawrence said...

Time has a way of fogging people’s minds when it comes to facts

In response to Bishop Neff Powell and his blog above, let me share the facts:

Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke, went to Bishop Heath Light around 1991 to see if our very new, fast growing parish could get any help (money or low interest loan) from the Diocese to assist us in getting out of the school we were meeting in and getting our own place to worship. We were not looking for a fancy building. A store front, an old supermarket or church, anything would do. We were just tired of the school telling us when we could and could not worship during the week.

Bishop Light told us that the diocese had no money for us only $3000 in a “wheel chair ramp fund.”

He suggested we write the National Church and see if they could help (it was by the way the decade of Evanglism and we were the newest church plant in our half of the state!)

The National church offered us a high interest loan of “up to $100,000” which was about 1% higher than our local banks were offering and not nearly enough money to buy even a modest facility.

Knowing that the diocese had seized (“kicked out”) several “1928 BCP parishe” when they refused to switch to the new 1978 BCP, some business people in our church said they would be willing to raise the money as long as it would not be vulnerable to seizure. They contacted their friend, Episcopal bishop Terry Kelshaw and he told them how they could do this.

When these men started the process of forming a foundation, the senior warden and I went to tell Bishop Light what the vestry was thinking of doing – renting a facility from a foundation made up primarily but not exclusively of church members. We would rent from the foundation, which would be a legitimate, legal, I.R.S. approved foundation whose sole purpose was to raise money for churches .

Bishop Light said he had no problem with that, that it was “really no different than renting from North Cross School or anyone else.”

A year passed and finally the Terumah Foundation paperwork was completed. Terumah were recognized by the I.R.S., completely legal and ready to loan our church the start up money. Even though we did not have to, the senior warden and I went back a second time to Bishop Light to keep him well informed and be open and honest. After all he had told us he approved of what we were hoping to do.

At the point of our second meeting (a year later) Bishop Light told us that a church in Pennsylvania had rented from such a foundation and was leaving their diocese and that he did not like what we were doing. “I do not like it but there is nothing I can do to stop it!” He definitely had changed his tune from what he told us the year before, but did not forbid us to rent from the Terumah Foundation. So we did.

Neff Powell might refresh his memory. He asked our church to consider leaving the diocese and ECUSA. Apparently we were too conservative, too out of step with most of the diocese or did not give enough money. Whatever his reasons, he did ask us to leave.

We were shocked. So much for the big-tent of the Epsicopal Church and what Bishop Powell says is ECUSA’s “long tradition of tolerance”. We were being asked to leave. We said we would seek the Lord and earnestly pray about it. I had been an Episcopalian my entire life, graduated from an Episcopal Seminary and could not imagine being asked to leave MY church. So we prayed.

About a month into our prayer and discernment, we were asked to give a voluntary proportional pledge to the diocese for the new year. We told the bishop that we needed to decide whether we were going to leave ECUSA (as he had asked us) or were going to stay. Following the scriptural mandate to “let you yes be yes and your no be no,” we did not want to make our pledge for the new year until we had reached a decision to stay.

Less than three days latter we were sent a letter pronouncing us out of the denomination and diocese. No trial. No canon law hearings. He simply pronounced us out! He told us many things in his letter but the biggest one was that if we wanted to rejoin ECUSA we would have to give the diocese our land and building. This of course was impossible since we did not own it. We could not give him something that we had no legal right or claim to. That would be like me giving you legal rights to the bishop’s house – a house I do not own.

The bishop wrote all the dicoesan clergy (except me) and informed them that our parish had “chosen to leave the Episcopal Church” and that “he hoped we would one day return and if we did, he would perhaps even kill the fattened calf” What a distortion. He had pronounced us out without trial!!! What a gross abuse and misuse of God’s word.

Every story sounds convincing until you hear the other side.

Since being kicked out in 2000, we have planted two new missions. We are averaging almost 800 a week in attendance, our mission in Botetourt is averaging around 400 and our brand new church plant in Blacksburg is averaging around 80. We have paid for five 500 seat stone churches in China and one in Cuba. We coninue to minister in our local high schools and serve the poor in our city. We have given the money for the entire food budget for the Roanoke Rescue mission (300,000 meals served a year) 2 of the last 3 years and many other things.

We are not the devious devils and dividers Bishop Powell intimates. Come and see!

1/05/2007 10:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you going to post the reply I sent earlier today to your regarding Bishop Powell's blog letter and the facts therein? I know you do not have to, but good journalism dand fair play demands that both sides be told impartially


Dr. R. Quigg Lawrence

1/05/2007 9:41 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Dr. Lawrence, I saw your long comment earlier today, and I am actively discussing with the Steering Committee whether or not we should publish it.

Here's the main problem I have with your "comment": It prints out at two pages long. That's more than a "comment." To me, it suggests you should have a blog or website of your own. Or that you should find an appropriate site and publish your story as an essay.

So I have recommended to the Steering Committee that we not publish your "comment" here, because it really goes way beyond the scope of a comment.

I have saved your submission. And if I had a valid e-mail address for you, I would have told you this directly.

But the Steering Committee is still discussing your submission. We have not yet rejected it.

1/05/2007 10:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Lisa

You can feel free to shorten the response as long as it accurately portrays my position. I am a very trusting person. With a church of 1300+ I do not have time to run my own blog



1/06/2007 11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is very obvious the "Episcopal Majority" is not interested in reporting or the truth, but rather propaganda (yes, I know, it goes both ways).


1/06/2007 12:18 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Clay, I don't understand your comment.

As I explained last night to Dr. Lawrence, the Steering Committee needed to discuss whether to post his very long comment. By this morning, we decided to do so, and I released it for publication about 10 a.m. You'll see he even thanked us thereafter.

So why do you have a problem with this?

1/06/2007 1:21 PM  
Anonymous Anglican, not Episcopalian said...

Because a bishop with right on his side does not need to distort or omit any argument or any part of any argument of his opponents, thereby misrepresenting their views. He can proclaim it all fairly, his side and theirs, and be an strong advocate of his views, confident in his integrity.

You thought differently. You wanted to cavil: was Quigg's+ reply to the bishop not also comment and was his reply that somehow in Lisa's mind ceased to be comment but became "comment" invalid because Quigg+ developed his argument? Moreover you apparently concluded that fairness and intellectual integrity did not require you to advise publication of the response because it "prints out at two full pages" and so to Quigg+: just find a website of your own.

The Steering Committee members who came to a just result are to be praised, and like Quigg+, I also thank them.

1/07/2007 11:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Lisa,

I do not understand my comments either. Perhaps I should pay better attention to timelines. Thank you for setting me straight.


1/12/2007 7:46 AM  

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