Saturday, July 30, 2005

Conservative Episcopal Church Seized

For the past 25 years, Bristol, Connecticut—at least for all us sports fans—has been known as the home of ESPN. In the past few weeks, those same letters have taken on a whole new meaning in this New England town: Episcopal Seized Parish News.

Edward E. Plowman's article in World Magazine describes what happened: . . .

At 9:30 a.m. on July 13 liberal Episcopal bishop Andrew Smith of Connecticut, several of his administrators, a pro-gay feminist priest, a locksmith, and a computer technician swooped into conservative, 200-congregant St. John's Episcopal Church in Bristol, Conn.

They pried open the locked pastor's office, confiscated pastoral and church records, took down the church's website and redirected traffic to the diocese's website, changed the locks on all the doors, and announced to protesting church leaders and members that the diocese had taken over St. John's. Bishop Smith said he had suspended Rev. Mark Hansen from ministry, and Rev. Susan McCone was now in charge.

Rev. Hansen is one of the six priests in the state who said Bishop Smith was welcome to visit their churches but not to preach or administer the sacraments ("A good Friday," May 7). Because he had voted to approve the consecration of an openly homosexual bishop in the Episcopal Church (ECUSA), they asked him to appoint a theologically conservative bishop to provide alternate oversight for them, as ECUSA policy allows. When the bishop refused, the six churches began withholding dues from the diocese. In March, he suspended them from ministry, declaring they had "abandoned the communion." They rejected the charge and refused to budge.

In an Agape Press article Thursday, Jim Brown reports on the reaction to the takeover of the church by Bishop Smith:
Canon David Anderson of the American Anglican Council says he has never seen anything like this in his 35 years of ministry. "It appears the bishop has broken perhaps federal law," he observes, and "certainly has gotten into very questionable area in state law. The congregation are what's called 'tenants in possession,' and it appears that the bishop had absolutely no legal right to come in and do what he did."

Anderson believes Smith has ignored or broken numerous church laws as well. The canon points out that the abrupt takeover of St. John's is already generating controversy within the already divided worldwide Anglican Communion. The incident seems to be inspiring outrage among many conservative Episcopal leaders and possibly cautious admiration among some radical liberals in the church.

"And I had hoped it wouldn't happen," Anderson says, "but I have to say that we've heard from liberal revisionist bishops that they're taking careful note of what Smith gets away with. And I think that if he gets away with [this illegal seizure of a dissenting church], it will be spreading all over the country very quickly."

And then yesterday, in an Associated Press report, via Agape Press, comes news of support for Rev. Mark Hansen:
Nine conservative Episcopal bishops say they'll take Connecticut's bishop to religious court over his suspension of one priest and threat to remove five others. . . . In a letter to Smith, the nine bishops say they plan to intervene in the case and are prepared to do the same if the five other priests are suspended.

The ECUSA is already at odds with the worldwide Anglican Communion over the consecration of openly homosexual bishop V. Gene Robinson. The Anglican Church of Canada finds itself in a similar state over the blessing of same-sex unions. The Anglican Communion's chief bishops have already suspended these North American churches from participating in the Anglican Consultative Council for failing to "repent" from these activities. The suspensions last until 2008, at which time the two church bodies can be expelled if they continue to refuse to repent. According to the World Magazine article, the conservative churches, such as St. John's in Bristol, could then become "the officially recognized Anglican presence in North America."

Plowman's article concludes:
William Witt, a St. John's member who holds a Ph.D. in theology from Notre Dame and witnessed the July 13 takeover, said Bishop Smith's actions are part of this bigger picture: "We are loyal Anglicans, and the Anglican Communion has made clear that it will support us. . . . ECUSA is choosing to walk away from that communion, and Bishop Smith has today helped to hasten its breakup."


At Saturday, July 30, 2005 9:56:00 AM, Blogger Roch101 said...

Sounds like a good argument for churches to have local autonomy from their diocese.

At Saturday, July 30, 2005 3:29:00 PM, Blogger Joe Guarino said...

Mickey- As you know, those denominations with hierarchical structures often retain legal control of local church properties and operations. A number of splinter denominations in the Anglican tradition have formed in reaction to the ongoing trends in the American Episcopal church, at least a couple of which have churches in the Triad. It may be very difficult for concerned Episcopalians to influence what is happening in their denomination or local church, but they can seek out one of these alternatives.

At Sunday, July 31, 2005 1:54:00 AM, Blogger George said...

There is ample legal precedent from the years that chruches resisted implementing the revised prayer book that shows that Dioceses have the legal right to seize church property. My father, when he was alive, testified in the case that set the presendent in Colorado. That is not to say that this Bishop acted wisely but many priests are taking it upon thenselves in these difficult times to step outside the discipline of the church, a hierarchy that they swore a holy vow to attend to, and grandstand for the benefit of the moment, rather than work with their flocks and their brother and sister clergy toward an end that carries with it the love of God.

I am so sad for the church I loved so much. There is so little loving and listening going on. The Gospel has been replaced by polemic.


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