Central New York Rector Rips Silence of Church in Face of Crisis
by Tony Seel
The following is my letter to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Vestal NY. It was published in the December issue of our Fisherman newsletter. I wrote it because even in our parish there are many people who don't know what is going on in ECUSA these days. I present it here because there are people in parishes in our Diocese of Central NY and around the country that know even less about what is going on. For some people this is deliberate - they really don't want to know. For others, it is that their parish priest and their bishop would prefer that they not know. I hear from parishioners from other churches in the Diocese of Central NY either directly or through our parishioners that the issues that confront ECUSA are not discussed in their parishes. Two weeks ago we managed to go through an entire diocesan convention without having any serious discussion of the issues that confront our diocese and ECUSA. I mentioned General Convention 2003 at a microphone during the Friday afternoon session. The chancellor of the diocese made a report that our diocese has not studied the Windsor Report. That was it. We have an elephant in the living room where the coffee table used to be and everyone is talking around it as if it isn't there.
Last month five of us from St. Andrew's traveled to Pittsburgh for the Hope and a Future Conference of the Anglican Communion Network. All of us, Rich and Debra Gabrielson, Bill Ritter, Warren Musselman and myself agreed that going to the conference was well worth the time, money and effort to get there. One of the main speakers was the Right Reverend Keith Ackerman, Bishop of Quincy (IL). As I told him after he spoke, his presentation was extremely meaningful to me and (as I also told him) I would be relaying it to you through our newsletter.
Bishop Ackerman spoke on The Hope of the Americas: A Broken Church. Bishop Ackerman is a cradle Episcopalian and he highlighted four changes that have occurred in the Episcopal Church over his lifetime. First, there has been an erosion of belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and our Lord and Savior. In the teachings of some of our leaders in the Episcopal Church, Jesus is less than what the Church has always taught about Him. Later in the conference a speaker from Canada repeated what he had heard at a diocesan gathering up north. A priest stood up in a meeting and declared that when she was ordained she pledged her obedience to her bishop, not Jesus Christ. I couldn't believe my ears, but this is just one sign of how far the church has moved from the one, holy, apostolic and catholic (meaning universal) faith.
Second, in the Episcopal Church there has been an erosion of belief in the blessed Trinity. As Bishop Ackerman explained, when you change the root metaphor of our faith, you change our beliefs. God has revealed Himself to us as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but we have leaders in our Episcopal Church who do not want to refer to God in the ways that God has revealed Himself to us. We have Episcopal churches that no longer pray to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; they pray to God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, or they pray to God our Mother. Often they replace the personal language given to us by God with a language that speaks of the functions of God. We saw this drive toward impersonality at our diocesan convention, when instead of praying to God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we prayed to the "undivided Trinity." Even in our own diocese, we have people who act as if they are allergic to referring to God as He has revealed Himself to us. This is a significant departure from the Christian faith.
Third, we have churches in the Episcopal Church that practice open communion. You might ask what is open communion? Open communion is the practice of inviting those who do not profess to be followers of Jesus Christ, or are not baptized, to receive Holy Communion. The sacrament of baptism is our sign of conversion to the Christian faith. In direct violation of the canons of the Episcopal Church and the theology of the Church, we have churches, acting unilaterally to change our practices as they see fit. I am told that this is being done in our own district of the Diocese of Central New York.
Fourth, there are leaders in our Episcopal Church who are teaching that Jesus is not the only way to salvation. In opposition to our Lord's clear proclamation and that of the apostles, we have prominent leaders in the Episcopal Church teaching that there are other ways to God beside Jesus Christ. Let's be clear: if there are other ways to God, then we don't need a Savior. You see, Jesus the Christ did what no other world religious leader did. The Son of God died for our sins. If you don't need a Savior, then you don't need Jesus. This is not the Christian faith, but it is being taught in the Episcopal Church.
We live in difficult times in the Episcopal Church, and despite the unfaithful changes there are those who will remain loyal to the Episcopal Church no matter what. I believe that the role of all genuine Christians in the Episcopal Church is to call her back to the faith that we have received from our Lord. There are those who are willing to follow the Episcopal Church right out of the Anglican Communion, and apparently right out of the Kingdom of God. I hope that this isn't true, but to tie oneself to a wayward church is to endanger one's salvation. As we were challenged in Pittsburgh, we all are being challenged to choose a way.
At General Convention next June, the Episcopal Church will have the opportunity to change directions and show the Anglican Communion that she desires to walk alongside our Communion brothers and sisters rather than walk alone. Indications are that the Episcopal Church will choose the sectarian path of walking apart from the Anglican Communion by continuing with the blessing of same-sex unions and the consecration of sexually active homosexuals as bishops.
Will we at St. Andrew's choose a church that is practicing these departures from the Christian faith and teaching those other departures that Bishop Ackerman mentions, or will we seek to be joined with those who are faithful in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church? There will come a time when none of us can sit on the fence regarding this question.
I write these hard words so that you will know something about what is going on in our diocese and the Episcopal Church. I don't want you to be surprised about what's going on now or what could happen in June 2006. These are difficult times in the Episcopal Church and it isn't going to get any easier right away. We cannot act as if everything is all right concerning the issues that confront us in the Episcopal Church. Let's not hide our heads in the sand. The future of our church is at stake.
Yours in Christ,
--The Rev. Tony Seel is rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Vestal, NY in the Diocese of Central New York
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