Monday, January 08, 2007

Episcopal Church Still Strong

The Reverend Marya DeCarlen wrote this essay (published in the January 5 issue of the Salem News of Massachusetts) in response to a Scripps-Howard syndicated column by Jay Ambrose. [Update: The Ambrose column is now available in the "comments" below, thanks to one of our readers.] The Rev. DeCarlen's comment is a powerful statement from the strong, healthy heart of the Episcopal Church.

The Rev. DeCarlen is rector of
St. James Episcopal Church in Groveland, Massachusetts. She lives in Boxford with her husband and their two young sons.

Episcopal Church Still Strong, Despite Divisive Minority
(the Reverend Marya DeCarlen)

As a member of the Episcopal majority, I take issue with columnist Jay Ambrose and his repetitive rant ("Church schism here has wide impact") published with unfortunate timing in The Salem News the day after Christmas.

As we enter into a new secular year, please allow me to provide some needed perspective.

The vast majority of Episcopalians in the United States - 95 percent - have formed a grassroots organization committed to the values and vitality of our church. They are working to neutralize the negative influence of the American Anglican Council (AAC), the Anglican Communion Network (ACN), and related groups that seek to tear our communion apart.

Millions of faithful Episcopalians, clergy and laity alike, are looking for ways to counteract the damage done by splinter groups. In a century in which we have focused on Christian unity, it is painful to experience division in our church.

The latest episode in the minority rebellion against equality features two schismatic churches in Virginia, Truro Church and Falls Church, that voted to sever ties with the U.S. church. They have joined the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, known by the acronym CANA.

Why did they do this? Because a gay man was consecrated bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 and a woman was consecrated as their presiding bishop in 2006.

These two churches have a combined membership of 3,000 parishioners. They will form the core of what is being envisioned as a new Fairfax, Virginia-based mission of the conservative Episcopal Church of Nigeria.

It is important to note that the head of the Nigerian church, Archbishop Peter Akinola, has voiced support for pending legislation in that country that includes prison sentences for gay sexual activity.

In justifying their actions, the Virginia parishes falsely claim that they predate the establishment of the Episcopal Church of the USA in 1789. They use this, as well as another false claim that George Washington was a leader in both parishes, as an excuse to affirm the equality of some and discount the equality others.

They fail to take into account the fact that the Episcopal Church of the USA owes its existence to the American Revolution. Like our patriot fathers and mothers, we broke away from the Church of England and were reborn as a modern American entity that sought equality, rather than lordship from England.

The founders of the Episcopal Church believed, within the context of their time, that all men were created equal.

Schismatic Episcopal renegades, like those who broke away recently in Virginia, have decided that equality is not something to value in our faith tradition - even though it has been a valued commodity throughout our precious American history.

So why did the schismatic churches in Virginia falsely claim that George Washington was once a member of their vestry, the church's board of directors?

Dr. Joan Gunderson, a celebrated historian with a specialty in Virginia history, points out that neither parish is the direct descendant of a colonial parish, nor can they claim George Washington as a member of their vestries or congregations. Both parishes are "new" church plants from the 1830s and 1840s.

So why would they claim a connection to George Washington if it isn't so? I believe that this is simply a ploy for legal and financial gain within the Diocese of Virginia, one that shows how desperate they are to advance their cause.

The minority faction of the Episcopal Church says it stands for "scriptural authority" and stands against the ordination of women, gays and lesbians. These touchstone points reveal doctrinaire minds that need clear instructions about what to believe, say and do.

Quite simply, these brothers and sisters in Christ are afraid of uncertainty. They want everything spelled out, laid down in black and white so there is less chance they will "make a mistake." They seek clear, dogmatic direction rather than relying on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide them.

I agree that Holy Scripture speaks with authority and we are called to understand what it means. But when we translate terms and concepts that meant one thing in the cultural context of biblical times and another thing now, this can lead to grave misunderstandings.

Faithful discernment requires attention to many biblical voices. We must look at individual passages in the light of all scripture, not in isolation. We can learn by setting passages within a larger biblical context.

This is faithful to the Episcopal tradition and respectful to biblical authority. Including the whole story of biblical covenant and redemption, not just the parts that please us, will bring more people to our faith.

The recent sad, divisive episode by the minority's self-appointed gatekeepers will not help any of us to reconcile, love, and heal those who are in disagreement with their rebellion. Challenging times are ahead for Christians in American denominations, as we weigh in with scriptural authority, equality and moral values.

While I was writing this response, the daughter of an Episcopal priest I grew to love before he died last year, sent me a poem written in 1850 by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. Entitled "Ring Out, Wild Bells," here is Tennyson's final stanza:

Ring in the valiant man and free,
the larger heart, the kindlier hand;
Ring out the darkness of the land,
Ring in the Christ that is to be.
Let's ring out these dark divisions and ring in the loving Christ that is to be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The vast majority of Episcopalians in the United States - 95 percent - have formed a grassroots organization committed to the values and vitality of our church.

I don't understand this sentence. What grassroots organization is she talking about?

Millions of faithful Episcopalians, clergy and laity alike, are looking...

This is really a misleading sentence. When someone says "millions" you would think there would be a lot more than about 2. It really made me question her credibility.

You can say there are "millions of Anglicans in Nigeria" with credibility because there are over 17 million.

Why did they do this? Because a gay man was consecrated bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 and a woman was consecrated as their presiding bishop in 2006.

This is misleading too. If she added "in my opinion", it would be a little better. But this is a very simplistic interpretation of a complicated situation.

The minority faction of the Episcopal Church says it stands for "scriptural authority" and stands against the ordination of women, gays and lesbians.

CANA announced it would have ordained women.

There are just too many misleading and unclear statements in this essay to take it seriously. It doesn't really add anything to the conversation.

People like Tobias Haller and Sarah Dylan Breuer write much better essays that present an opinion with some honest balance that can be respected

1/08/2007 11:50 PM  
Anonymous Deborah Gardner Walker of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Beverly, MA said...

Here's the hateful column by conservative columnist Jay Ambrose that appeared in the Salem News on the day after Christmas. How ironic that this should have been published in our local north of Boston daily on the day that we remember St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Hooray for Marya for writing a response that reflects the views of our local parishes and The Episcopal Majority. Happy Epiphany to all!

Published: 12/26/2006 The Salem News, Salem, MA

Church schism here has wide impact

By Jay Ambrose
Scripps Howard

More Episcopal parishes voted recently to leave the U.S. church, and perhaps those responsible for the parishioners' anguish over the direction of this Christian denomination feel little remorse. Perhaps they think they stood tall for the moral good when they decided as they did in national conventions on the question of homosexuality.

But theirs was, in my view, a narrow, proud and pointlessly provocative act when they accepted an openly gay man as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire and agreed that parishes could bless same-sex unions if they chose.

They could have found other ways less offensive to many fellow Episcopalians to address wrongs done to gays and lesbians; while also understanding that their shrug of the shoulders about scripture could have serious, adverse consequences for Anglican brothers and sisters struggling for their very lives in Africa.

Instead, a majority of the delegates seemed to believe that nothing less would do than to allow Gene Robinson of New Hampshire to ascend to the role of bishop, male companion in tow. Some delegates said they were guided by the Holy Spirit, which can be an excuse for almost anything.

Some of their brethren - especially Africans - were outraged. The archbishop of Canterbury did his best within limited powers to avoid a rift in the world communion, asking that Episcopalians find a way to soften what they had done. But at their most recent national meeting, they elected as the U.S. presiding bishop a woman who had favored Robinson's being named as a bishop and gave a sermon referring to "Mother Jesus," a peculiar way of healing wounds with traditionalists.

For me the worst of it is not what's happening to the Episcopal Church here, as much I regret that, but the schism it's created with Anglican leaders in Africa - who do take scripture seriously and therefore will not take money from any but conservative Episcopal churches anymore.

Their parishioners are largely in the embrace of disease, poverty and ignorance, but these believers are also strongly attached to religious principles that sustain their spirits and put joy on their faces.

When Henry Orombi would visit Christ Church in Alexandria, Va. when I was a member there, we called him "Bishop Henry." But he has graduated to become the archbishop of the Anglican church in Uganda, where he fights for many causes.

Because of the rift, Ugandan Anglicans are reportedly receiving hundreds of thousands fewer dollars than before. Orombi may find ways to deal with that, just as he once
found ways to deal with the murderous dictator Idi Amin.

I have been told and read of how he refused to play it safe as Amin's thugs killed his friends and eventually imprisoned him. That's a moral courage that goes well beyond the dubious kind that put Gene Robinson's ambitions above a denomination's future and the welfare of Africans.

Jay Ambrose is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay

1/09/2007 4:14 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Thanks for providing the text of the Jay Ambrose column, Ms. Walker. I had tried to find it online, as it helps to provide context for the tone and content of the Rev. DeCarlen's response.

1/09/2007 5:57 PM  
Anonymous Deborah Gardner Walker of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Beverly, MA said...

Dear Anonymous: This op-ed was written in response to an awful, hateful, negative column written by a nationally syndicated columnist, Jay Ambrose, that appeared in one of our North of Boston dailies the day after Christmas. The op-ed that was written in response by Rev. DeCarlen is very vital in that it represents the views of most Episcopalians in our region. Many people -- Episcopalians included -- are confused about what is going on and they were dismayed by the negative column about our national church, written by someone from Colorado that seemed to speak for us but did not. You have to keep in mind that Rev. DeCarlen's column was not written for a national audience, but a local one. And it was not designed as a legal document.

Our North Shore Deanery of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts includes 17 parishes. We felt it incumbent that someone from our locale respond and The Rev. Marya DeCarlen graciously agreed -- despite any post-Christmas exhaustion or her busy family schedule -- to write a response for us. For that we are grateful.

Next time, maybe we'll take YOU more seriously if you put your name with your comments.

1/09/2007 6:52 PM  
Anonymous Deborah said...

BTW Lisa, The Rev. Marya DeCarlen is Rector of St. James. She was formerly the Priest-in-Charge.

1/09/2007 7:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Thanks for the correction, Deborah. I had taken her title from the parish website, not wishing to bother the Rev. DeCarlen with yet another question in our correspondence. I'll go correct the blog posting.

1/09/2007 7:15 PM  

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