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LEAVING ECUSA: Options for the Orthodox


News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

The phone rings late in the evening, an anguished orthodox rector is on the other end of the line. "David, my people won't wait much longer. They want out. What do we do, where do we go? Will the Primates finally act in February? What can the Network do for us? Will there be a proto province? After February I believe all bets are off. I am going to lose 40 to 60 percent of my congregation. Do I go with them? Do I stay with the remainder? What can the Network really do to save me and my people? I don't trust my bishop. He says he is orthodox, but then in the next breath he says unity is everything and if anyone leaves he will go after them. He wants us all to stay. Things will change he tells us. Frank Griswold won't be around forever. But the truth is my people won't stay, and the giving is down. People are not going to put money into a church they don't believe in any more and doesn't have a gospel to proclaim and pushes sodomy. They have drawn the last line in the sand, they are going. What do I do?"

If I have heard this cry once I have heard it on the phone numerous times and I read the anguished notes to me daily in my e-mails. Dozens of rectors are agonizing over their situations. Some have very large churches. Many of them are also under pressure from their wives. Their wives will not have their children brought up in a church that blesses sodomy they tell me. They don't want to hear it talked about, preached from the pulpit, affirmed or even acknowledged as an acceptable sexual behavior. "I will take the children and leave," comes the cry. The orthodox rector retreats further into himself.

He is torn, his loyalties are torn. Many of these godly men and women have put 20, 25 even 30 years into the Episcopal Church and now they must make a choice to leave and go into an uncertain future.

So what options are available?

First of all let me say that I think the February meeting of the Primates will be the last line in the sand for orthodox clergy in the Episcopal Church, and depending on what comes out of that meeting all bets are off and it will be every clergyman and clergywoman for him or herself.

But it is not primarily the clergy that is driving this exodus, it is the laity who is driving it - they are forcing the decisions. So the clergy must make a decision if they want to lead that portion of the flock that remains or go with that portion that leaves. It's a nightmare either way. It's an unhappy choice for all parties. Friends are lost; loyalties blown to pieces, cries of betrayal rent the air. Bishops feel betrayed by clergy who swore loyalty to them, anger is deep and everywhere.

The Robinson consecration has come home to roost, and it has now shown to be a total disaster. Recent figures released by the national church reveal that 36,000 adults and 24,000 young people have left Sunday Schools and walked away from the Episcopal Church in 2003 and there is not one shred of evidence to say that that exodus will stop. In fact all the evidence is in that it will only increase.

The fiction put out by the liberals that Robinson's consecration would see a giant influx into the church with their new fangled doctrine of inclusivity was a fiction. Louie Crew's diocese, Newark, is in total free fall with some 40 suburban parishes ready to close their doors and Bishop Croneberger, the inheritor of Spong's disastrous legacy has no message to proclaim to stop it.

First of all let me say very clearly that just about any option going forward involves pain.

The first option for an orthodox rector is, of course, to stay and fight. You can tell your ultra-liberal bishop that he can go fly a kite and be prepared for a long drawn out court battle for the property. This is happening in the Diocese of Pennsylvania at Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont with Fr. David Moyer. Moyer is still in his parish and the court battles are, to date going in his favor. He is under the ecclesiastical authority of Archbishop Bernard Malango. Fr. David Ousley of St. James the Less has appealed his case to the State Supreme Court and he is still in his parish, and Fr. Eddy Rix, All Saints, Wynnewood has come under another African Primate. All is clearly not lost. In California three parishes have opted out of the Diocese of Los Angeles and come under the Province of Uganda and its primate Henry Luke Orombi. A recent ruling in that state over a Methodist parish wanting to retain its property was successful, offering big hope for these three parishes retaining theirs.

A second option is to simply walk away, leave the keys and check book in the Narthex and leave the empty church to the bishop.

But still nothing is that clean. The odds are that you will sometimes have only half of your congregation after February, and the group that stays and does not want to rock the boat will be the 'pray, pay and obey' crowd who have little evangelistic zeal and want to get along with the bishop and play the game. These are Episcopalian lifers, people who will stay regardless of anything. They have historic ties to the parish, their parents are buried there, and they paid for a stained glass window or two. The bishop could be gay, a Pelagian, an Arian or a Druid and they would still stay no matter what. They will be carried out feet first.

The third option is for the rector to go with the fleers be deposed and inhibited and start over under another jurisdiction. If the whole congregation or 80 percent or more want to leave it is easier to make the choice. The money will follow. I have yet to see or hear of a situation where leaving with 60 percent or more of the congregation has not resulted in a win-win for the departees. Usually a building (local school) or another church offers a safe place where the pieces are picked up and after some initial grieving things get underway, new sails are unfurled and the yacht heads into the wind.

Other options also present themselves.

The Anglican Mission in America, (AMIA).Bishop Chuck Murphy and his two Global South Primates in Rwanda and Southeast Asia offers a safe haven for Episcopal Church start overs. Understand this is NOT a new denomination, it is an Anglican mission organized by two Global South Primates who see the AMIA as a short term measure to some greater incorporation down the road. If you join the AMIA this will make you a total pariah with North American Episcopalians, but that is hardly news any more. An interesting development is that AMIA leaders are in talks with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and if there is a break up of the communion, they are nicely placed along with the Anglican Communion Network to form some greater alliance.

Another option, and one that seems to be coming more attractive, is to come directly under a Global South Archbishop like Greg Venables (Southern Cone) or Bernard Malango (Central Africa), and accept being vilified by your local bishop and scorned by your former colleagues. But suffering for the gospel's sake is part of the job description. Get used to it.

Yet another option, if you are solidly reformed and evangelical is to join up with the Reformed Episcopal Church. These guys are solid, no nonsense evangelical Anglicans. Their heroes are J. C. Ryle, Cranmer, the English Reformed tradition and the Prayer Book they use is the 1785 American version of the 1662 BCP and they are driven to evangelize. Many use the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. They are in talks with various other jurisdictions as part of the ongoing realignment of the communion. Presiding Bishop Leonard Riches is rock solid evangelical as are his bishops. They know what they believe; they are not moved by pluriform thinking or pansexuality.

An option, if you are Anglo-Catholic is to toss your hat in the ring and join up with the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC) and their Archbishop, the driven, highly motivated, Australian-born, John Hepworth whose growing army of ex-ECUSAN's and former Anglicans, are on the road to Rome seeking mutual recognition and communion
with the Roman Catholic Church. The TAC are the biggest of the Continuers and they will hold their annual bishops' conclave in Rome next year where they can expect a courtesy call from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the Roman Catholic Church's chief doctrinal whip. VirtueOnline has been invited to attend.

You could, of course, go straight to Rome and bypass the TAC altogether and hope that they can find a place for a married Anglo-Catholic priest. Forward in Faith UK, the Anglo-Catholic wing in the Church of England may well see a mass exodus to Rome if the CofE goes ahead and consecrates women bishops. That will be the last line in the sand for them, especially as they have been told that Rowan Williams will not endorse their desire for a Third Province. That idea is dead on arrival so I'm told.

I am reliably told that the Roman Catholic Church is looking seriously at offering a safe place for Anglo-Catholics in ECUSA, and it is not without its significance that Justin Francis Cardinal Rigali Archbishop of Philadelphia, the Roman Catholic Church's cardinal for ecumenical relations has an open door to Anglo-Catholics. Walter Cardinal Kasper is president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting of Christian Unity and is based in Rome and is in talks with Forward in Faith UK leaders.

One other option though this has only be explored by individual Episcopalians and not whole parishes, is Eastern Orthodoxy. The most attractive option is the Western Rite Antiochian Orthodox Church which is a strong draw for some disaffected Episcopalians. However they are in full canonical communion and unity of purpose with the several Orthodox jurisdictions of the Standing Conference of Canonical Orthodox Bishops in America (SCOBA). There are about twenty Western Rite congregations around the country. Other orthodox churches like the Russian and Greek Orthodox Church are too ethnically driven and hold little appeal for down home WASP Americans.

Now if you stay, and you are an orthodox priest in an ultra-liberal diocese like Newark, Long Island or Philadelphia, then be prepared to face the fact that the dioceses in question are slowly but surely withering and dying, and you may get sucked down with them.

On the other hand it might be a golden opportunity to evangelize Episcopalians who have never heard the gospel in clear unambiguous terms, and you will also have the plus factor of those who leave dying parishes joining yours. This is happening in the Diocese of Pennsylvania. Remnant orthodox Episcopalians who can no longer stomach gay, lesbian, Pelagian and Druid priests, but who want to remain in the Episcopal Church can simply jump into their cars and drive a few extra miles and come to a lively Evangelical or Anglo-Catholic parish. It's happening.

Of course, as the diocese starts closing down dead and dying parishes, the bishop will have more time for you, which is the last thing you want. The Diocese of Newark will close some 40 parishes in the next 18 months, ditto for Pennsylvania and while this will preoccupy bishops Croneberger and Bennison, it being the failed legacy of Spong and Bartlett, these bishops will come after you for more money to support their failed programs of education and what is wistfully called "mission."

Furthermore the revisionist bishops will see you as a prime candidate for extracting more money from you because he knows you have it. Most of the rest of his diocese will be aided parishes and he needs your money to keep their doors open. You will constantly be harassed by the bishop and in time your faith will grow cold, you will become increasingly resentful, you will come to hate the bishop more and find you don't have much love left for the ministry. You are no longer doing ministry but waiting out your time to collect your pension. This is spiritual suicide. Admit the truth and go sell real estate. You have lost your first love.

In fairness though, Jesus is where lost people are to be found...even IN the Episcopal Church. A fair question is, would Jesus abandon them because of the apostate leadership? Not necessarily. The option of just continuing to preach the Gospel and to witness to the Good News, just as the orthodox have done for many years, within the Episcopal Church is still vitally important. (Luke 19:10)

Another side option is to flee the ultra-liberal diocese where you thought you had heard the call and seek a safe haven (new parish) in say the Diocese of Pittsburgh, Central Florida, Ft. Worth, Quincy or Dallas. You may be accused of running away from a problem and leaving it to someone else, but remember you are trying to survive and you have mouths to feed, medical payments to consider and education bills to pay.

A final option that I know is being weighed is the possibility of an orthodox bishop taking his whole diocese out of the Episcopal Church. I know several bishops who are weighing this option.

In truth there are no bad decisions. The Lord calls us to preach the gospel, love, care and nurture for the flocks given to us. At the end of the day we are only called to be faithful, and that might mean remaining, as difficult and as hideous as that might seem.

But we shall know more after February when the uber purple gather to decide all our fate.


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