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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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A scorched earth policy. That’s how Anglicans who have left The Episcopal Church (TEC) and its endorsement of unbiblical beliefs and actions often describe TEC’s response. From depressed Binghamton, N.Y., to affluent Newport Beach, Calif., TEC leaders have fought dozens of court battles to force congregations leaving the denomination to forfeit the buildings they, their parents, and their grandparents paid for.
[This policy]... is evident...at St. James Anglican Church, which for more than half a century owned property in Newport Beach: The 300-member congregation now meets in a fluorescent-lit room with exposed pipes and concrete walls. It’s a humble setting for an affluent congregation accustomed to soft lighting and stained glass, but a fitting one this month for celebrating the birth of a Savior in a barnyard stable—and that’s one of the providential results of the scorched earth policy.
St. James lost its building even though the church had a written agreement with its diocese that seemed to ensure the congregation’s ownership of the building—but when it was time to part, the diocese and TEC sued the congregation, and a judge cited an Episcopal Church canon declaring that all church property belongs to the diocese and the denomination.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Conflicts TEC Conflicts: Central Florida TEC Conflicts: Los Angeles TEC Departing Parishes * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
When Father Chris Rodriguez brought his family here from New Jersey last September becoming Trinity Episcopal Church’s new rector, he discovered a congregation that was hurting and needed help.
A little over two years ago, a doctrinal split within the congregation prompted approximately three-fourths of its members to leave. Most followed the former Reverend Loren Coyle, the church’s rector at the time, creating the breakaway, Christ Church at K-Mart Plaza. Soon after, Coyle left the ministry.
Read it all.
We see in this set of facts, as early as 2004, a recurring pattern. While professing to honor diversity -- and indeed, to seek "unity in diversity" -- the groups allied with Via Media have always taken root only in those dioceses led by orthodox clergy who stoutly resisted the ordination to the episcopacy of individuals in a noncelibate relationship outside of Holy Matrimony as defined (and still defined) by the Book of Common Prayer. For thus upholding the rubrics of the BCP, they have been accused of fomenting schism within ECUSA, sued, deposed and hounded from the Church.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Identity Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Conflicts TEC Conflicts: Central Florida TEC Conflicts: Fort Worth TEC Conflicts: Pittsburgh TEC Conflicts: San Joaquin * Christian Life / Church Life Church History * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues * South Carolina * Theology Ecclesiology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology
Back in 2003, the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York consecrated a gay bishop and allowed others to perform same-sex blessings.
The Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, an Episcopal parish at the time, disagreed with this move and severed ties. Last year, the Diocese sued for Good Shepherd to leave the church building on Conklin Avenue, and in December, a state Supreme Court judge ruled in their favor.
On Friday, both sides were back in court.
"We've kind of moved on as a congregation and this is almost looking backwards now. So we were dreading it but here it is," said Father Matthew Kennedy, Good Shepherd's head pastor.
This time, the feud centers around a will by former Good Shepherd member Robert Brannan. He died in 1986 and left behind money in a trust fund for his parish.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Conflicts TEC Conflicts: Central New York TEC Conflicts: Central Florida TEC Conflicts: Colorado TEC Conflicts: Connecticut TEC Conflicts: Florida TEC Conflicts: Fort Worth TEC Conflicts: Georgia TEC Conflicts: Los Angeles TEC Conflicts: Ohio TEC Conflicts: Pittsburgh TEC Conflicts: Rio Grande TEC Conflicts: San Diego TEC Conflicts: San Joaquin TEC Conflicts: Virginia TEC Departing Parishes TEC Data TEC Diocesan Conventions/Diocesan Councils TEC House of Deputies
The Diocese of Central Florida is thankful to the Anglican Communion Institute, Inc. (ACI) for taking the initiative in making a statement (see below) about the nature of hierarchy and governance within the Episcopal Church. We fully support and are grateful for The Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, The Rt. Rev. Bruce MacPherson and the other signatories to the statement.
We fully share the concerns expressed in the statement regarding recent court filings and arguments made by the Presiding Bishop's chancellor to "turn The Episcopal Church’s governance on its head."
We oppose any attempt, in this civil litigation or in any other secular forum to turn Dioceses into "subordinate units" of the General Convention, the Executive Council or the office of the Presiding Bishop--something they never have been and must not become.
We are deeply concerned that the Presiding Bishop is seeking to reinterpret the Constitution and Canons of this Church and overturn 220 years of settled church custom and law by appealing to an outside secular court.
We welcome and encourage other dioceses within the Episcopal Church to stand with us in resisting this redefinition of our ecclesiastical polity through the use of the secular courts by the Presiding Bishop and her chancellor.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori TEC Conflicts TEC Conflicts: Central Florida TEC Polity & Canons * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues
[Central Florida Bishop John] Howe has told me that he would not be part of any group that is cut off from the Archbishop of Canterbury, the main symbol of unity in the Anglican Communion. In an interview with his diocese's newspaper recently, Howe said, "I share many if not most of (the dissenters') theological commitments and concerns. ... But God has called me to be a bishop in The Episcopal Church ... and I have no intention of leaving it."
All this may seem like a lot of to-do about technicalities, but there is an important principle at stake in these disputes, and that is the nature of the church. The dissidents - those who are going - believe they are upholding its purity. The ones who are staying believe they are upholding its unity. Which is the more important?
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal - Anglican: Commentary Common Cause Partnership --Proposed Formation of a new North American Province Episcopal Church (TEC) TEC Bishops TEC Conflicts TEC Conflicts: Central Florida * Theology Ecclesiology
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Canon Lorne Coyle has written an important letter to those he believes will be departing from The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Central Florida on July 1, 2008.
I am concerned that several of his statements may not be entirely accurate.
He has said:
1. “Trinity is part of a dying denomination…The Episcopal Church is part of a culture which God cannot honor, the culture of salvation without a cross, of grace without sin, of Easter without Good Friday.”
I believe this may well be the theology of some within The Episcopal Church, but it certainly is not the official teaching of TEC. And, more importantly, it is not the teaching of the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which we are a constituent part.
Read it all.
I wrote you in November that a “season of separations” had come upon us. And I have tried to keep you apprized of the way events have unfolded since then.
Today I write you with the greatest thanksgiving. This terrible time of separations is coming to an end. Two weeks ago all of the parties concerned agreed to a Mediation Settlement at Trinity, Vero Beach, which was the last of the nine congregations involved.
To recap, very quickly: the two tiny church “plants” (neither of which had yet become an organized mission) have left The Episcopal Church. One Rector changed his mind, entirely, and he and his congregation remain very much part of the Diocese. One parish has become an independent community church, and they are renting the facilities from the Diocese. And the other five congregations have seen their clergy, and a portion of their membership leave, but there remains a continuing congregation in each of those five places.
By the grace of God we have been able to navigate these very troubled waters in a way that is different from what has happened anywhere else in this country. We have had NO litigation, there has been NO inhibition or deposition of clergy, and there has been NO transfer of real estate.
Read it all.
The two sides have agreed not to lobby undecided members and to issue no media releases “concerning the disaffiliation except what counsel for the Leavers and Stayers agree upon.”
The leavers, who include most of the ordained clergy including the Rev. Canon Lorne Coyle, rector, retain sole operational authority of the plant until the date of separation. If the continuing Episcopal congregation later decides that it cannot afford to maintain the church plant, the Leavers have the first right to purchase the property.
Read it all.
Another Central Florida Episcopal congregation has split over the issue of the denomination's policy on homosexuality.
Most of the members and ministerial staff of Trinity Episcopal Church in Vero Beach will leave their historic facility in July to form a new congregation separate from the Episcopal Church, USA, if an agreement is ratified later this week with the Diocese of Central Florida. The agreement would formally separate the two groups.
On Sunday, about 200 of the congregation's 700 members who wish to remain part of the diocese elected a new vestry, the congregation's governing board. That board is expected to sign a separation agreement already approved by the diocese and the departing members.
"I hope it shall be," said Warren Winchester, who was elected Sunday as the vestry's presiding officer.
Read it all.
Recently, Trinity Episcopal Church mailed letters to 700 active church members, asking them to indicate their preference and return the signed forms by Feb. 15, said member Ron Joaquim, who recently was appointed to speak on behalf of the pastor and church leaders.
Based on informal questioning of parishioners, Joaquim estimates 75 percent to 80 percent of the members favor disaffiliation.
"My prayer is that the whole flock will stay together as we move to a safer pasture," [Lorne] Coyle said.
The letters are a written poll, Joaquim said, rather than an official vote on disaffiliation. Ultimately, any separation proposal would have to be approved by the diocese.
Coyle said he hopes to finish the conversion by June 1.
Read it all.
A majority of members of six congregations in the Diocese of Central Florida are leaving The Episcopal Church following discussions with their bishop, the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe.
Church of the Good Shepherd, Maitland, held its final service as an Episcopal Church on Feb. 3, and the rector of Grace Church, Ocala, and the leadership and majority of members at Good Shepherd were received into the Anglican Mission in the Americas (AMiA) the following day.
During the past six weeks, a majority of members at four Central Florida parishes and two mission congregations have walked away from consecrated Episcopal church buildings. The parishes are Good Shepherd; Gloria Dei, Cocoa; St. Edward’s, MountDora; and Holy Cross, Winter Haven. The mission congregations are St. Philip’s, LakeNona, and St. Nicholas’, Poinciana. The six have been received into the AMiA, a missionary outreach of the Anglican Church of Rwanda.
Read it all.
I will consider posting comments on this article submitted first by email to Kendall’s E-mail: KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.
There are those who simply have to leave The Episcopal Church for conscience sake. I understand that. I don’t agree, but I don’t believe we should punish them. We shouldn’t sue them. We shouldn’t depose the clergy. Our brokenness is a tragedy. The litigation that is going on in so many places is a travesty.
And although some seem to be trying to do so, I don’t think you can hold a Church together by taking everybody you disagree with to court.
One year ago I stood before you and said, “This is my promise: if there are those who decide to leave I will be more fair-minded and generous to them than any policy that could possibly be established. And I don’t have to ask you to believe that; I’ve proven it.”
Well, Dear Friends, we have proven it, again (and again, several times). As I promised we would, we have said to those leaving, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
You all know that personally I am no happier than those who are departing about some of the recent decisions of The Episcopal Church. But I am committed to staying the course for as long as it is possible to remain both an Episcopalian and an Anglican. And the Archbishop of Canterbury has given me, personally, and all the world, assurances...
Read it all.
At the conclusion of the diocesan convention Jan. 25-26 at St. James’ Church, Ormond Beach, Bishop Howe told a reporter for The Living Church that though exhausted, he was pleased with the negotiations.
“We are on the best of terms with all those leaving,” he said. “And we are committed to rebuilding where there have been losses.”
In his address to convention, Bishop Howe said the last three months had been the worst period of his life. However, amicable solutions had been reached with the members of the eight congregations who sought to withdraw from the diocese.
“There are those who simply have to leave The Episcopal Church for conscience sake,” he said. “I understand that. I don’t agree, but I don’t believe we should punish them. We shouldn’t sue them. We shouldn’t depose the clergy. Our brokenness is a tragedy. The litigation that is going on in so many places is a travesty. And although some seem to be trying to do so, I don’t think you can hold a church together by taking everybody you disagree with to court.”
Read it all.
Central Florida's Diocesan Board on Jan. 18 moved closer to resolving questions about seven rectors’ stated intention to disaffiliate from The Episcopal Church.
On Thursday, October 18, 2007, the rectors and senior wardens of seven parishes of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, and two church planters, met with Bishop John W. Howe and representatives of the Diocese to discuss the possible scenarios by which all or part of the congregations might leave The Episcopal Church.
The parishes are Gloria Dei, Cocoa; St. Anne's, Crystal River; Good Shepherd, Maitland; St. Edward's, Mount Dora; Grace, Ocala; Holy Cross, Winter Haven; and Trinity, Vero Beach. The "church plants" are St. Philip's, Lake Nona; and St. Nicholas, Poinciana.
Read it all.
The only Episcopal congregation in Lake County to leave the national denomination over the issue of homosexuality and other doctrines has found a new home and ally in its quest to begin worshipping anew -- a tiny Pentecostal congregation.
The Rev. Woodleigh Volland and an overwhelming majority of his congregation at St. Edward's Episcopal Church departed the national Episcopal Church in late October but remained with the 77-million-member worldwide Anglican community.
The dissidents regrouped and formed a new church, Epiphany Celebration Anglican Church, but quickly found themselves with nowhere to worship or hold services.
"We had to move nearly the entire congregation and didn't have anywhere to go," said Volland, an ordained minister since 1990 and pastor at St. Edward's for six years.
Four of the five staff members and 10 of 12 vestry members opted to leave along with 130 of the roughly 170 regular church worshippers, Volland said.
"We stepped out in faith and started completely over," he said. "It was an extraordinarily difficult decision."
Read it all.
My Dearly Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
Most of this letter was written two weeks ago, but I did not believe it was timely to send it. I think that the Protocol has now been adopted by the Diocesan Board it may be right to do so.
Not a single one of you has asked the question: "Bishop, why are you allowing these rectors who want to 'disaffiliate' the space to pursue their objectives? They are clearly in the process of abandoning the communion of this Church. Why are you not moving against them by inhibition and deposition?"
Here is my answer to the unspoken question: I am deeply sympathetic to any who believe that the current leadership of The Episcopal Church has greatly compromised the "doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them." And I am extremely reluctant to discipline those who, for conscience sake, are finding they MUST "disaffiliate."
I believe that many of our clergy and lay leaders have attempted to be completely loyal to our received heritage, and have tried to reform a Church that is in many ways errant. And they have finally concluded that such reformation is not going to be successful. They want to "protect" the members of The Episcopal Church entrusted to them from any further spiritual incursions against them.
I am not convinced we have come to a point of no return. But I understand why they may believe we have done so. I believe it is still possible to be a faithful parish, or a faithful diocese, within The Episcopal Church. And I am still eager to hear what the Archbishop of Canterbury has to say about all of this.
Some of our people have expected and hoped that I would attempt to "lead the Diocese out of The Episcopal Church." (They are, frankly, deeply disappointed in me!)
I do not believe that is possible, though I recognize that some of our Bishops are attempting to do precisely that. I do not think they will be successful. They can leave, and they can take any number of clergy and laity with them. They can affiliate with some foreign jurisdiction such as the Southern Cone.
But there will be a remnant who will NOT want to leave, and that remnant will constitute the continuing Diocese of Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, Fort Worth, etc.
I expect that millions of dollars will be spent in lawsuits that will ultimately fail as far as those who wish to leave are concerned. And I cannot be part of that.
Nor can I be part of litigation against those who, for conscience sake, believe they must leave The Episcopal Church. These are faithful brothers and sisters who only want to remain true to what we have always been: orthodox Anglican Catholic Christians.
We have spent two months (four meetings, approximately twelve hours) attempting to craft a Protocol (a page and a half) which is finally in place - to deal with those who wish to "disaffiliate." This Protocol does not spell out the whole process. It merely brings to the threshold of being able to deal with those congregations. I want to state again my gratitude for the prayers of so many, and my particular gratitude for the members of the Board, the Standing Committee, the Special Task Force, and especially our Chancellors. We could not pay them for the time they have invested on our behalf!
The Protocol does not guarantee success. If the leaders of some congregations offer unreasonable proposals, and we cannot possibly accept them, and if I and the Board offer counter proposals that these leaders cannot accept...there is no guarantee whatsoever that somebody may not do something that the other side will find litigious. I believe that nobody wants to go there. But we may not be able to avoid it.
The Church of the New Covenant attempted to transfer title to a separate non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation, and forced our hand four years ago. We had to file suit, and we did so. Something like that could occur again. I pray it does not.
On one level, I think the honorable thing those who wish to "disaffiliate" would be to simply walk away.
That is what happened at St. John's, Melbourne, and Shepherd of the Hills, Lecanto. And it appears that is what is about to happen at St. Edward's, Mount Dora.
But, on another level, I believe that there is a validity to the argument of some who wish to 'disaffiliate" that it is they who have been faithful, while the national leadership of The Episcopal Church has increasingly abandoned the very heritage we have all sworn to protect.
So, I want to try to work with these brothers and sisters if it is at all possible. (It may not be.) We have received proposals from three of these congregations so far. In all honesty, I do not think any of the three are realistic. But now that the Protocol is in place, we can begin to discuss these proposals.
Each church's situation is unique, and each will have to be dealt with on its own merits. My life, since October 18, has been totally consumed with all of this, and I can tell you there is not a shred of joy in any of it. (Ernie [Bennett]'s, too.)
I will attempt to keep you apprised of where we are as this process unfolds.
My warmest regards in our Lord,
(And yes, you may post off the list so long as you post the whole thing.)
--(The Right Rev.) John W. Howe is Bishop of Central Florida
The Bishop will call a meeting of those members desiring to remain in The Episcopal Church as indicated in the declarations. The Bishop, or his designee, will preside at that meeting. The purpose of the meeting shall be one of mutual discernment regarding two key questions: Is there a viable continuing congregation? And if so, can the continuing congregation maintain its life and ministry within the existing physical plant?
Should the mutual discernment be that a viable continuing congregation does not remain the members shall be asked to dissolve the parish and corporate entity, with all assets reverting to the Diocese of Central Florida. Note that: “whenever the number of persons so associated shall fall below 25, the Ecclesiastical Authority may dissolve the mission.” (Canon XIV.5) While this Canon applies to missions, and not to parishes, the Canon provides guidance as to the minimum number of members the Diocese believes is needed to maintain a viable congregation.
Should the mutual discernment be that a viable continuing congregation does remain, and that the continuing congregation can maintain its life and ministry within the existing physical plant, the members shall at that meeting fill any vacancies on the Vestry. Or, the Bishop may appoint at least five of the members of the continuing congregation as an acting Vestry and will appoint an interim senior warden. The Vestry shall take charge of the continuing congregation and establish a plan for its future operation.
Should the mutual discernment be that the continuing congregation cannot maintain its viability in the existing physical plant the continuing congregation shall be asked to empower the Vestry and Bishop to negotiate the sale or lease of the real and/or personal property.
The Bishop shall report the results of the meeting to all parties within one week of the meeting itself.
Read it all.
Disagreements over religious beliefs are leading Trinity Episcopal Church to consider breaking from the national Episcopal Church, following in the footsteps of other parishes in Florida and nationwide.
The Rev. Lorne Coyle says the national church is being unorthodox, in his estimation, on everything from interpretations of the Bible to allowing a gay bishop to be ordained in 2003. He is not alone in his beliefs — members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, Calif., voted this week to split from the national church, the first entire diocese to make such a move.
The Episcopal Church nationally has a "culture the Holy Spirit cannot honor," Coyle said. "It is losing members."
Members of the 81-year-old Trinity Episcopal parish are talking among themselves about making a decision, possibly within six months, Coyle said. If part of the congregation decides to stay, it would continue to remain in the church and worship there, diocese officials said.
So far, Coyle's conservative congregation is the only Episcopal parish on the Treasure Coast openly considering a split, diocese officials say. However, Trinity Episcopal is among six parishes in the 90-parish Diocese of Central Florida that are considering going their own way.
Read it all.
One November night, Bishop John W. Howe stood at the pulpit of Grace Episcopal Church as members with worried and frustrated faces stared back at him.
Howe, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, was there to tell the members what they all wanted to hear.
"During this time of transition, however it comes out, neither I or the Diocese of Central Florida intend in any way to abandon you. . . . Neither your rector [pastor] or your vestry [pastor and lay members] will decide for you whether you want to be a part of The Episcopal Church or the Diocese of Central Florida or not," Howe said. "That's something that you're going to decide for you."
Howe visited the church to address Grace Episcopal Church's recent decision to "disaffiliate" from the Central Florida diocese and The Episcopal Church (USA) - a movement that's happening in Episcopal parishes all across the country. The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion and has 2.4 million members. Approximately 80 million members belong to the global denomination.
Conservative Episcopalians believe the church is losing its biblical and traditional roots because of what they describe as a growing liberal leadership. The division between liberal and conservative Episcopalians centers on issues from Bible interpretation to accepting homosexuals. Most notably was the consecration of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man in a committed relationship, as the Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Blessings of same-sex unions in some Episcopal churches also have drawn much criticism in the Communion.
Read the whole thing.
Following a joint meeting of the standing committee and diocesan council, the Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, Bishop of Central Florida, announced Nov. 15 that they were unable to agree upon a protocol for congregations desiring to secede from The Episcopal Church.
The rejected proposal would have permitted a departing congregation to purchase church property from the diocese provided that they made adequate provision for those members who desired to remain Episcopalians and participated in a parish discernment process devised and supervised by the diocese.
Read it all.
Where are the affected churches and members?
Gloria Dei Church in Cocoa; Church of the Good Shepherd in Maitland; St. Edward's Church in Mount Dora; Grace Church in Ocala; Trinity Church in Vero Beach and Holy Cross Church in Winter Haven, according to officials at the Diocese of Central Florida. The church affiliates are from St. Philip's in Lake Nona and St. Nicholas in Poinciana.
Why are the churches leaving now?
"We're not dialoguing anymore," said the Rev. Paul Young, rector at Gloria Dei Church in Cocoa. The consecration of a gay bishop "is done, and it's held up as a standard in a church. ... Within our diocese, our bishop is highly respected. But he also has said he is going to stand behind the Episcopal Church. It makes it more difficult for us in that we do love our bishop." Bishop John Howe, who leads the diocese, declined to comment on the impending departures.
Read it all.
“We have tried every act of reconciliation. We have tried to reconcile with the Episcopal Church and there is no reconciliation in their hearts, “ says Waymon Singleton, who has been a member of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Maitland for thirty-four years.
Waymon and his wife Elaine are supporting their pastor, Rev. John Nyhan, in his decision to separate the congregation from the Central Florida Diocese. According to Rev. Nyhan, the Episcopal Church, USA has been shifting to a more liberal path since the 1960s.
“We have a problem holding up as a model for the Christian life, and when you become a priest and are ordained --and that comes with the calling that you must be an example with the Christian life -- we object of that lifestyle being help up as a model for the Christian life, “ says Nyhan.
Nyhan says the rift is not just about the homosexual issue. He says the House of Bishops, which presides over all churches in the United States, is not following the guidance of the Holy Scriptures.
“In our seminaries they have taught a very liberal and deconstructed understanding of what scripture is, and what they have done is stripped it of having any authority. They’ve rendered the scriptures of being an uninspired book.”
Nyhan, along with other church leaders, urged Central Florida Bishop John Howe to oppose changes and keep the diocese on a more traditional course, but the bishop decided to side with the church's current path in the spirit of reconciliation. Nyhan says the decision left him with no other option.
Read it all.
The long-simmering dispute over homosexuality in the Episcopal Church, USA, which has threatened to tear the denomination apart, is now roiling the Diocese of Central Florida.
Six traditionalist congregations here, together with two new congregations in the process of being established, are planning to leave the diocese and the denomination.
They oppose ordaining openly gay clergy and blessing same-sex unions and were outraged at the 2003 consecration of openly gay Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.
"I believe all of the efforts we have made to change the direction of the church have failed," said the Rev. Donald J. Curran of Grace Episcopal Church in Ocala, one of the dissident congregations.
Read it all.
From the November, 2007 Central Florida Episcopalian [emphasis as in the original]. An excerpt:
How we move forward will necessarily differ from one case to another. If an overwhelming majority of the members of a given congregation were to decide to leave, we might face a situation in which disposal of the property would eventually have to be considered.
I have shared the following proposed protocol with the clergy at our annual Clergy Conference at Canterbury, and it will be presented to the Diocesan Board and Standing Committee later this month. It has not yet been adopted, but I believe that it – or something very like it – must ensure that the spiritual needs of all the members of the Diocese will be protected. (This is more detail than most of you will want, but for everyone concerned we need to be as clear as possible.)
Vestry Vote and Special Meeting of the Members
The vote of a Rector (or Church Planter) and Vestry cannot control whether or not a congregation disaffiliates. This will only be considered after a vote of the members of the congregation. However, if the Rector and Vestry determine to disaffiliate from the Diocese by at least a 75% majority vote they shall immediately notify the Bishop of that fact. They are to furnish to the Bishop a plan outlining how they intend to provide for the ongoing nurture of all people, whether they are disaffiliating or not, and whether they will seek to negotiate for the real and personal property of the Parish. A copy of the plan submitted to the Bishop shall be given to every member of the congregation and the Rector and Vestry shall certify to the Bishop that this has been done.
The Bishop will call a Special Meeting of the congregation giving at least 15 days notice of that meeting and he or his designee will preside at that meeting. The Bishop and the Parish will provide a joint notice of this meeting. The Bishop may require the Parish to hold informational meetings for the congregation prior to the Special Meeting where a pastoral team appointed by the Bishop may participate and answer questions concerning disaffiliation.
Prior to the meeting the Bishop will appoint a committee of three members of the congregation who will make a recommendation to the Bishop as to the eligibility of any member to vote should a challenge arise, the Bishop being the final arbiter. This decision shall be based upon the canonical definition of a member in good standing, eligible to vote.
At the Special Meeting of the Congregation, after a suitable time for discussion as determined by the Bishop or his designee, the question shall be put before the meeting: “Do you wish to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church or not?” The vote tally shall be reported by the Bishop or his designee and the Bishop shall render within 7 days, on a case by case basis whether in his opinion a viable Episcopal congregation remains.
The Bishop will call a meeting of those members desiring to maintain their affiliation with The Episcopal Church in order to elect a new Vestry. The Bishop, or his designee, will preside at that meeting. Until a new Vestry is elected, the Bishop will appoint at least three of the members desiring to remain in The Episcopal Church as the Vestry and an interim Warden who shall take charge of the Parish and establish a plan for the future operation of the Parish.
Possible Sale of Real and Personal Property
If, in the judgment of the Bishop with the concurrence of the Diocesan Board and Standing Committee (if consecrated property is involved), the Parish and the Diocese are willing to sell the real and personal property held by the Parish, and the members desiring to disaffiliate with The Episcopal Church have formed a non-profit corporation, the Diocese will enter into negotiations with the new corporation to consider the purchase or lease of the property. A decision to sell parochial property is one that must be made by the continuing members of a congregation, not by those who have voted to leave it. The Diocese and the new corporation will select a qualified property appraiser to determine the fair market value of the real property. The cost of the property appraisal will be borne by the new corporation. The Diocese may require an audit of the financial affairs of the Parish by an independent accountant for the current year and the prior two years.
Upon receipt of the audit reports and the property appraisal, the Bishop, with the consent of the Diocesan Board and Standing Committee, shall be empowered to sell the real and personal property on behalf of the Parish on terms agreeable to the Bishop and the Board. These terms may include a mortgage amortized over a 30 year period with low (not to exceed prime) or no interest. The starting point for any such discussion will be the fair market value of the property for use as a church.
This is a very painful time for many of us. I feel a great sense of personal loss in contemplating these departures, but I want to reassure you that the Diocese of Central Florida remains steadfastly committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority and trustworthiness of God’s word written, and the anointing and empowering of the Holy Spirit. As your Bishop I am committed to proclaiming the Gospel, to strengthening existing churches and planting new ones, and to raising up the next generation as faithful followers of Christ. The painful loss of some of our brothers and sisters in Christ will not divert us from any of these commitments.
I have said repeatedly that it is my desire to remain both an Episcopalian and an Anglican. In that regard, let me share something with you that the Archbishop of Canterbury has written to me just this past month: “Any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such…. I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the ‘National Church.’”
We have a great and faithful Diocese, and with the help of the Lord himself, I am committed to making it even better. During this time of transition, I urge all of us to treat each other with great care and compassion. I ask your prayers for wisdom for all who will be involved in these discussions.
With warmest regards in our Lord,
+ John W. Howe, Bishop
The full article is here.
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