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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


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.


Anonymous said...

I can tell you about Akrofi. He was a seminarian intern in this parish.

Lisa Fox said...

Elizabeth, I am trying to heed your counsel not to make judgments or gloat. But it is difficult, when the schismatics have been so holier-than-thou insistent that they are following God's plan, when Duncan has said that God himself "is replacing The Episcopal Church." It is difficult to resist schadenfreude.

I am struck by the "Anglican" bishop of the Cheseapeake testifying, "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 ...." As I recall, that's the very same conference in which Archbishop Akinola urged "the faithful" of the Anglican Communion Network to walk away from their buildings and property, to keep their eyes on the prize and not stoop to litigation.

You are kinder and gentler than I, my sister. Thank you and your "angel" for digging out this story.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Scott - do tell. I'd love to hear your impressions of Akrofi.

Lisa - I understand. And, I suspect St. Andrew's Church will go back to a store front somewhere and struggles to preach and live the Word of God as they understand it. Without a connection to something larger than themselves and living in bitter reaction to something else ("the dreaded revisionist") they will not be following a recipe for church growth.

The future does not look good for these folks. The kindest thing we can do is pray for them.

Lisa Fox said...

I'll try to take your counsel, Elizabeth. But I'm also mindful of your oft-repeated wisdom: "Dead wood splinters." When all these folks have to bind them together is hatred of the Episcopal Church, the future does not look bright.

P.S. The word verification here is "chasm." How funny is that!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lisa, your last post made me giggle. I have two thoughts: My grandmother used to say, "Dead wood splinters." How funny that you should know that aphorism. The second is the image of all that dead wood bound together like faggots for kindling made me giggle and think of something my therapist used to tell me. She would always counsel, "It is best to learn to love what you hate and embrace what you reject. The unwritten rule of the cosmos is, 'We become what we reject.'"

I have learned, over the years, that there is much truth and wisdom in her words. I've just never seen the ironic humor in it before.

Bateau Master said...

To Clergy & Vestries

If you do not have 110% of the building funds in the bank (or investment instrument of your choice, but I can't recommend Bernie Madoff) , then you are not ready to build, buy, expand, etc.

Nothing sucks the life out of the volunteer leaders and pastor than trying to cover the debt created by excess optimism of prior regimes. You can do without. Hope is not an acceptable course of action when it involves bankers and congregations.

Lisa Fox said...

"We become what we reject." Words to ponder. Thank you.

And, of course, it's from you and your grandmother that I learned the "dead wood splinters" mantra.

Anonymous said...

Well now, how beautiful was that last little dialogue?! It clearly evolved at great cost. I take it to heart and thank you both. Dead wood splinters, indeed. hrrm.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I know this is probably one of the few rare times I'm able to say this, but I couldn't agree with you more, Bateau Master.

One of our daughters is a professional fund raiser and she always says that you never start a campaign unless you have AT LEAST 50% in the bank.

You wrote: "Hope is not an acceptable course of action when it involves bankers and congregations." And to that I say, "Amen."

Brother David said...

This story leaves me a bit confused. Why would the bank that, in effect, already owns the building because it was obviously the collateral on the loan, buy the building in an auction? It would seem that the bank is now out the money twice!

Perhaps I do not understand Statesonian banking and money matters!?!

No schadenfreude here, but the irony is not lost on me of high church Anglo-Catholic wannabes, with costly perfect vestments (per the attached foto), and a wannabe bishop (also per the foto), parading around in a suffocating cloud of incense, in a storefront!

Happy fourth day of Christmas to all.

susankay said...

Hey -- storefront churches aren't a bad thing at all and sometimes the clergy has rather neat vestments. Check with Paul the BB about the storefront church of San Gabriel in Corrales, New Mexico. And Paul has sewn some pretty gorgeous vestments.

Of couse San Gabriel is a parish mission of the fastest growing and most welcoming diverse parishes in the Dio Rio Grande.

Robert Christian said...

This reminds me of a conversation I had with a fellow from Trinity Cathedral, Pittsburgh. The TEM crowd seems to believe that projecting words on a wall, praise bands and the like are the way of the future. Trinity Cathedral started going evangelical thinking it would grow. The simple fact is it's lost over a hundred members in the last few years.

People who build a church on ideas as opposed to people don't seem to make it. This church was built on an idea. Also,it doesn't sound like they did any research before jumping off the deep end into debt.
Thinking build it and they will come isn't sound a business practice (and we are in business esp when we take loans we can't afford).

br andrew said...

It is a shame that Bishop Joel ran St. Andrews into the ground by running up lines of credit that he did not need. There was nothing wrong with the old vestments he had in the storefront but NO he had to buy new. He had to put up his goofy assistant Fr Hart with new furniture in the old rectory, so much for the mold story.
In my opinion, Joel has a Champaign appetite with a beer pocketbook to say the least.

I would love to see him follow MD law and report publicly the income of the church as all 501C3 org's are supposed to do. MD law also requires all vestry meetings to be open not private.

It seems "his taking down a peg" was a long time coming. I wonder how much of his salary HE gave up to keep the church afloat, I will bet not one dime. Yet he wanted his clergy to put up their homes as collateral to save the church. Did he?
As a parishioner I could not attend any longer with this going on.