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FLORIDA: Bishop John Howard Fires Evangelical Woman Priest


By David W. Virtue

HIGH SPRINGS, FL (11/30/2004)--The Bishop of Florida, Samuel Johnson Howard has fired the Rev. Claudia B. Kalis, evangelical vicar of St. Bartholomew's Church, citing theological differences, her insubordination, and accusing her of proclaiming that he was the administrator of the "devil's cup" when publicly making known that she could not be in Eucharistic fellowship with the bishop while he remained in Eucharistic fellowship with Frank Griswold and Gene Robinson. She also refused to take Holy Communion from the bishop.

Kalis, who is vicar of the 108-member growing congregation, which gained and lost several families over the actions of General Convention last summer, got a letter on November 28, from Bishop Howard saying: "I am electing to terminate your employment as vicar of St. Bartholomew's, High Springs, effective immediately."

A copy of the termination letter given to the Rev. Kalis was obtained by VirtueOnline from an anonymous source. In the letter, four areas of concern were cited that lead to the irreparable break between her and the bishop.

In responding to the Windsor Report (the response was printed on the church's website) Kalis indicated that as long as Bishop Howard continued to be in sacramental fellowship with Frank Griswold and Vicki Gene Robinson she could not be in sacramental fellowship with Howard. The letter said that Kalis honored those who held sentiments similar to her own as well as those who did not. Because it had become a divisive issue in the parish, Kalis clarified her own position while respecting that not all would agree with her. Kalis indicated that she could not be in sacramental fellowship with Bishop Howard but that she continued to honor his position as her bishop.

On November 7, the woman who prepared the Sunday morning worship bulletin said the newly established Anglican Relief and Development Fund was formally known as UTO. The Board had resolved that any money received for the UTO would be sent to the newly formed Anglican Relief and Development Fund. All parish members were notified of this both verbally and in writing. This was a decision of the Mission Board, not of Kalis, and everyone who chose to give to the UTO Fund was aware of where their gifts would be sent. Bishop Howard held Kalis responsible for the error in the bulletin.

Bishop Howard concluded that this was an "untrue statement" and a "misrepresentation" that he took very seriously, VirtueOnline was told.

Kalis was also accused of only accepting members on the mission board who agreed with her. "This is fallacious and obscene" said one of the members of the parish. Because there was a discrepancy between the list of board members that appeared on a web site that had not been updated and the list submitted to Bishop Howard by our vicar, the bishop accused Kalis of lying and of fraudulent misrepresentation.

The fact that one member listed on the web site was a 15-year-old who served merely as a youth delegate to the board and another woman listed had resigned, and her resignation letter had been forwarded to the Bishop, the Bishop simply didn't care or take note.

The Mission Board was accused of disbursing money to ministries and missions both within the diocese and beyond that were "unauthorized and unapproved" despite the fact that the Mission Board had directed a letter to Bishop Howard on March 6, 2004 revealing their full intent. The letter stated: "The 10% that would normally go to the support of the ECUSA will now be sent directly to the American Anglican Council designated for the work of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes. The remaining 90% will be distributed proportionately among the missions and ministries of our diocese and elsewhere that uphold the orthodox, traditional Anglican faith and order."

Were the people of the mission surprised that they never heard from Bishop Howard? "No," they said. Prior to this, two letters, one e- mail, a telephone call, and a personal face-to-face invitation for the Bishop to meet with the Mission Board were extended. He never even acknowledged our request. In October he announced that he knew nothing about these requests.

During a report of the meeting to those who had gathered as prayer warriors in the sacristy, the group was informed that "he could only have someone representing him at St. Bartholomew's who was of one mind with him." During his meeting with the Board, Bishop Howard was asked, "What would you do if the priest you assign to this place comes to have differences of opinion with you. What will you do then?" The Bishop suggested that it would be the responsibility of that priest to step down.

During the meeting with the Mission Board, Bishop Howard indicated that he is and will continue to be in sacramental fellowship with Frank Griswold and Vickie Gene Robinson. He also shared with the Mission Board that he believed the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes was only a passing thing. It would fold and go under like many other splinter groups, said a board member.

Kalis wrote the following in a commentary piece on "The Windsor Report: The Vicar's Comments": "I am your priest and your pastor ... for better or for worse ... and I need to share with you my thoughts on this [issue of being in communion with our diocesan bishop.] I cannot and will not be in sacramental fellowship with Bishop Howard until he repents of his association with those who have betrayed our communion and discontinues that association. It is my firm conviction that to do otherwise would be to drink to my own damnation. As St. Paul warned the Christians in Corinth: "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of devils. You cannot be partakers of the Lord's table and the table of devils."

Howard blasted back at Kalis saying: "As vicar of a mission in the Episcopal Diocese of Florida, you act as my assistant. You cannot, in good conscience and integrity, continue to be my direct representative in that congregation when you are not in communion with me and advocate others to that position, also."

Howard accused Kalis of not being candid with him and had encouraged others to do likewise. This is contrary to documentation provided by my source which reveals that Kalis had twice written to Bishop Howard about these concerns and difficulties.

It was the board's understanding that Kalis was told by Bishop Howard that as his vicar she was "merely his mouthpiece to the congregation. She was to present the theology and convictions of the bishop ... not her own.

Howard also accused Kalis of making unauthorized and unapproved expenditures of church funds to individuals and groups outside the diocese without consulting him and without his approval and the approval of the diocese, and contrary to the intent of Diocesan Resolution 2005-05a which was passed by the entire Diocesan Convention in January. "Contemporaneous with your receipt of this letter, please deliver to me all checkbooks and other financial documents belonging to St. Bartholomew's mission, including those attached to your discretionary accounts. There will be an immediate audit of all of these accounts."

Howard said he no longer had the trust and confidence in her to continue as vicar of a mission in his diocese. He hoped she would choose to come back into communion with him, "and I will welcome you at the table any time."

But one board member who was present at the firing wrote Howard and said this: "To say that I was stunned yesterday is putting it mildly. I could not believe what I had just witnessed. Not only was this your very first visit to St. Bartholomew's [you] used it as an occasion to terminate our Vicar, BUT you even refused to listen to her response [to your allegations] which would have made known to you our frustrations as well as hers."

The parishioner accused the bishop of "ignoring [us] for months...mail, addressed personally to you, did not arrive on your desk?" He said only the letter uninviting the bishop for a scheduled visitation got his interest.

"St. Bartholomew's has been financially independent for two years. Had the Mission Board not resolved to escrow funds for the Common Ministry Budget, the church would be a parish. . The Board did approve the distribution of escrowed funds and further resolved to offer their gifts through money orders. This decision was made because Bishop Howard had been demanding that the receipt of such funds had to be returned to the giver. A member of the church said, "We wanted our money used for ministry and mission" and when the bishop never even acknowledged our repeated requests to meet with him about these issues, we resolved that it was poor stewardship and contrary to will and purposes of God to bury our treasures when they could be used for the building of God's kingdom.

During the meeting with the Bishop, one of the board members confronted Bishop Howard saying, "Had you responded in some way back in the spring of this year to our numerous requests, maybe not to the first of the Board's letters but certainly to the second, this crisis would not have come about. And then to ignore the third letter and a personal verbal invite from the Board seemed reprehensible to me."

When I spoke to Kalis today she said: "The people of St. Bartholomew's wept more tears than I have wiped in 20 years of ministry. They are hurt like you cannot believe. They feel betrayed simply because they have strived in heart, soul and mind to live into the truth of Jesus in obedience to his holy word. I have called them to praise God for his mighty works. I have tried to assure them that our Lord is doing GREAT THINGS and to cast ALL their cares upon him. I told them and I can proudly proclaim to all the world that I'd rather be fired and unemployed standing firm in the truth of Jesus than employed, having sacrificed my Lord." I have dried many eyes and told God's people ... "this is not an end. It is a beginning. Just follow the Lord. He will not lead you astray."

Kalis has already been approved for overseas episcopal oversight. At this time, she is merely lifting everything up in prayer. She believes in the depths of her heart and soul that Jesus will lead her in the right and righteous direction and when the Lord has made the path clear she is ready and willing to respond.

Said a source who knows Kalis well, "She'd rather be fired for upholding the Gospel of righteousness than to be employed at the cost of sacrificing her salvation or the salvation of those she has been called to serve."


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