Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Saturday, December 08, 2007

NY Times: Episcopal Diocese Secedes from Church

The New York Times
Posted: 2007-12-08 20:43:39

FRESNO, Calif. (Dec. 8) - The Diocese of San Joaquin voted on Saturday to cut ties with the Episcopal Church, the first time in the church's history a diocese has done so over theological issues and the biggest leap so far by dissident Episcopalians hoping to form a rival national church in the United States.

Fissures have moved through the Episcopal Church, the American arm of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members, and through the Communion itself since the church ordained V. Gene Robinson, a gay man in a long-term relationship, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

San Joaquin's delegates voted overwhelmingly last year to change the diocesan constitution to erase mention of accession to the Episcopal Church, but such amendments require a second vote, which occurred Saturday. Two-thirds of the laity and clergy needed to accept the changes, and the approximately 200 delegates passed the measures again by huge margins.

Two other dioceses, Pittsburgh and Fort Worth, out of 110 in the Episcopal Church held their first votes this fall. Bishop Schofield estimated that another six or seven might follow suit, though he declined to name them, and that together they would form a new Anglican province of North America, marginalizing the Episcopal Church.

In response to such moves, presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the chief pastor of the Episcopal Church, has written to bishops warning them to stop and to be aware of "potential consequences."

The Episcopal Church has said that people can depart, but they must leave their property, which, it contends, is held in trust for the church. The church and loyalist dioceses are already involved in several lawsuits against breakaway congregations that have insisted on keeping their property.

The Diocese of San Joaquin, with 47 parishes and 8,800 members, has long been different from the rest of the Episcopal Church. It is one of three dioceses that does not ordain women priests. It stopped sending money to the Episcopal Church budget after the consecration of Bishop Robinson. Its cathedral runs a ministry for those struggling "with sexual brokenness," Bishop Schofield said, which includes homosexuality.

The drive to leave the church began just after Bishop Robinson's consecration. About three to eight parishes are likely to remain in the church, said the Rev. Van McCalister, spokesman for the diocese, and among them will be Church of the Saviour in Hanford, a small town amid the vast farmlands south of Fresno.

"They say that this is all about belief in Scriptural authority, but that is their buzzword for fundamentalism, and Episcopalians aren't fundamentalists," said Lana Butler, a lay leader at the Hanford church. "We are a Bible church, but we don't interpret Scripture the way a fundamentalist would."

The move to leave the Episcopal Church risks roiling people's lives in the diocese, beyond the expense and strain of potential lawsuits. Secessionist priests could be defrocked and might lose their pensions. Loyalist congregations, if they owe any debt to the diocese, may themselves lose their buildings. People might leave parishes whose views they disagree with, and if a legal fight between the diocese and the Episcopal Church grows ugly enough, parishioners might leave the Anglican faith entirely.

The split also threatens to draw in the rest of the Communion and the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, the Communion's spiritual leader. The diocese accepted an invitation from the archbishop of the Anglican province of the Southern Cone in South America to join his region temporarily. Bishop Frank Lyons of the diocese of Bolivia, part of the Southern Cone, said that Archbishop Williams had told his archbishop the arrangement "was a sensible way forward."

But Mr. Radner said the Southern Cone's invitation showed the willingness of some provinces in Africa, Asia and Latin America to create an alternative Communion structure that would bypass the Episcopal Church and even the archbishop of Canterbury himself. That could eventually create a new church.

The fraying of ties weighs on the Rev. Keith Axberg, rector of Holy Family in Fresno, which will stay in the church.

"You have two different world views in the diocese: There are those with a real concern for purity and orthodoxy, which are very important, and I admire that they stand up for bedrock values, like the fact that Jesus is Lord," Mr. Axberg said. "The Episcopal Church has stood up a great deal for social justice. You really need both sides to hold each other to the fire. But they have blinders on to one another."

Copyright © 2007 The New York Times Company

No comments: