Saturday, December 27, 2008
From Accra to Easton: A Cautionary Tale of One Anglican Church
This is a picture of St. Andrew's Anglican Church in Easton, MD. Actually, it is an "independent Anglican Church" in what it describes itself as "The Anglican Diocese of the Chesapeake" which was organized, I believe, in 2005.
I don't know if it has any connection to an Anglican Province anywhere. Their web page is pretty devoid of those kinds of details.
As you will later read, St. Andrew's was part of the original formation of the Anglican Communion Network and Common Cause Partnership, but there is no information about that on its web site. I'm not sure why that is; it seems curious to me.
It's a pretty little church, isn't it?
Just today, it was put on the Auction Block. It sold for $700,000 against a total mortgage debt of $884,657.
It is important to pause and note the story of this church that begins in high hopes and ends in bankruptcy and homelessness.
It would be easy to follow the "orthodite" (I join "Muthah+" in refusing to call them 'orthodox') tradition and look for "signs and messages from God" in the midst of this very sad situation that support what it is I believe.
I'm not going to do that, and I strongly urge readers to resist that temptation. It's not the way I understand how it is that God works. I think God's got a lot more on God's hands than to be smiting and punishing, much less casting people into the outer darkness of bankruptcy because I happen to disagree with their theology.
Yes, I know what Bishop Duncan has said about how "God is replacing The Episcopal Church". Please also resist the temptation to gloat. Gloating is simply not edifying for anyone's soul.
To quote one of the pastors in one of the articles cited below, "Pastor Unrau said people at churches are sometimes not realistic enough in their thinking. “ ‘Well, maybe God’s just going to make this go away,’ ” he said. “But, actually, we have a responsibility for the situation.”
This is a cautionary tale which demands that we all pay attention.
I really don't like linking to conservative blogs that are highly toxic, but in order to be able to tell this story from my perspective, I'm going to do just that.
It began for me here, with the story of how Robert Ihloff, then Bishop of the Diocese of Maryland (and former rector of Grace, Madison, NJ), had dis-invited Bishop Justice Akrofi of the Province of West Africa, from preaching at the Cathedral in Maryland.
I had met Bishop Akrofi in his office in Accra when I was in Ghana in early January of 2003. He would not license me to preach or preside in his diocese because, he said, it did not allow the ordination of women.
He did, however, extend the invitation to my brother clergy, Phillip Dana Wilson, rector of Redeemer, Morristown, with whom I had made the trip. Phillip, gentleman that he is, graciously declined, saying to the Bishop, "If Elizabeth's priesthood is not honored here, neither is mine."
I later learned from The Rt Revd Daniel Allotey, the Bishop of Cape Coast, just down the road from Accra, that this wasn't exactly true. The Province had, in fact, voted on the ordination of women, but had not yet ordained any women. However, it had always allowed women who had been ordained elsewhere in the Anglican Communion to preach and preside in their churches.
Bishop Allotey then graciously invited me to con-celebrate with him the next day at the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of The Cathedral of Cape Coast (Which is directly across one of the notorious Slave Castles).
Bishop Ihloff had dis-invited Bishop Akrofi from celebrating Palm Sunday Eucharist because he had joined other African bishops in refusing to celebrate Eucharist with Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, allegedly because of her "revisionist ways." I suspect that was secondary to being concerned about the status of her ordination.
That's when I first heard about Bishop Joel Marcus Johnson and the Anglican Diocese of The Chesapeake. I quote from the aforementioned article:
"On hearing the news, The Rt. Rev. Joel Marcus Johnson, Bishop of the Diocese of The Chesapeake and rector of St. Andrew Anglican Church in Easton, MD, promptly wrote the African archbishop and invited him to preach and celebrate the Eucharist at St. Andrew, an independent Anglo-Catholic Diocese in Maryland.
"I wrote the archbishop immediately after I read the news about Ihloff's rejection," Bishop Johnson told VOL. He had not heard back from the primate, believing he is on the road back to Accra. "He is most welcome here and we will extend him every courtesy and hospitality."
In his letter to Akrofi, Johnson said, "It is with deepest respect and admiration that I invite you to preach this Palm Sunday, 1 April, 2007, in Saint Andrew Anglican Church in Easton, Maryland, on the beautiful Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay...our arms will be open to welcome you, and to receive the inspiration of your apostolate."
Johnson said he would not comment on Bishop Ilhoff's letter of dis-invitation, but said St. Andrew's and its mission works had struggled faithfully for fifteen years, the Diocese eleven; and that he himself had celebrated the 10th anniversary of his consecration.
"Our work overlaps that of the Episcopal Diocese of Easton, which is among the most revisionist in The Episcopal Church, and which has openly attacked us. Though we are not part of The Episcopal Church, we are co-religionists with our brethren of the Anglican Communion Network and its Common Cause organization. We marched together at the opening Eucharist at its conference in Pittsburgh in November, 2005, where with you and your colleague Primates I was honored to assist with the ministration of the Holy Communion to that massive congregation."
Johnson said he hoped the archbishop would also consider conducting a quiet day retreat on the same Tuesday in Holy Week. "Our people here have ears to hear, and eager spiritual appetites."
I don't know if Bishop Akrofi was able to accept the invitation. I can find no story that follows up on that initial report.
That article was publish on February 24, 2007.
Now comes this article dated December 27 from The Wall Street Journal
In Hard Times, Houses of God Turn to Chapter 11 in Book of Bankruptcy
Strapped Churches Can't Pay the Mortgage After Borrowing Binge;
St. Andrew at Auction
By SUZANNE SATALINE
EASTON, Md. -- The auctioneer told the small crowd huddled outside the Talbot County Courthouse that the property would be sold "as is" -- rectory, bell tower, oak pews and rose-tinted stained glass windows included.
"Who gives $700,000, 700, 700?" he called out. One man, a representative for a local bank, raised his finger. The auctioneer tried in vain to nudge the price up. "Sold!" he cried. St. Andrew Anglican Church had just been bought by the bank that had started foreclosure proceedings against it.
"It's probably good for my soul to be taken down a notch," said the Right Rev. Joel Marcus Johnson, the rector of St. Andrew, after the auction.
The church was, apparently, originally Roman Catholic. Unfortunately, St. Andrew's Church had problems with mice in the undercroft and bats in the belfry, along with creeping black mold in the church which was costly to get rid of.
The church had also counted on drawing from the Hispanic population it served, but lost that demographic when the local Roman Catholic church began offering masses in Spanish.
Then, there's this story from The New York Times.
St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Easton, Md., exemplifies the optimistic assumptions that fed church lending. St. Andrew’s had only 35 members in 2005 when it moved from a rented storefront to a Gothic revival-style chapel built in 1866. The building cost $795,000, but the church borrowed $50,000 from one lender and $850,000 from the Talbot Bank of Easton, according to W. David Morse, a vice president of the bank.
The church hoped its congregation would expand at a time when some Episcopalians were leaving their churches to join Anglican parishes. But by early this year, St. Andrew’s had not grown much and had fallen behind on its mortgage. By August, as interest racked up, it owed Talbot Bank $884,657.
At auction this month, Talbot took possession of the church for $700,000, giving the congregation weeks to move out unless the auction is contested."
This is a very sad story which I reproduce here to urge us all to pray for our sisters and brothers at St. Andrew's Anglican Church, the bishop and the staff, the wardens, vestry and people of that church.
Pray for all churches which have been newly planted in the hope of growth in the Lord which have fallen on hard financial times.
Pray for all churches which have undertaken capitol fund drives in the past year which are now struggling to close the gap on what was pledged and what was budgeted.
This is me, breathing deep sighs of relief that we decided to postpone our capitol fund drive for a year. I confess that my ego really, really wanted to raise tons of money and build up the church. There but for the grace of God . . . which sometimes comes in the guise of wise financial counsel . . . go many of us.
Pray for the World Wide Anglican Communion.
Pray for The Episcopal Church.
Pray for God's one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
Note: A special thanks to a "sister angel" who helped me connect the dots on this story. You are the BEST.