"For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
By David W Virtue
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
PITTSBURGH, PA. It was a giant pep rally for orthodox Anglicans, the biggest in 2005. More than 3,200 Anglicans/Episcopalians from 77 dioceses, with 7 primates in attendance representing 32 million Anglicans worldwide, met in the Pittsburgh Convention Center this past week to reaffirm their faith, reconnect with their Anglican heritage, and to state with absolute conviction that they had a faith to declare and that it was not they who had moved away from the 'faith once delivered to the saints.'
It was a powerful and dramatic 72 hours in the life of many Episcopalians, former Episcopalians, and Anglicans from around the Anglican Communion. Almost one third of those in attendance were ex-Episcopalians now on the road to healthier spiritual lives under new orthodox jurisdictions that included anything from the Anglican Mission in America, the REC, to a plethora of overseas orthodox Primates.
It was carefully named "Hope and a Future Conference" with focus on the word "Anglican" rather than Episcopalian.
Many present are still disenfranchised and hurting from the pain caused by their Episcopal bishops. They represented clergy and laity in various stages of alienation from their revisionist bishops, wondering and fretting about what the future would look like for them.
Many had already made the choice to leave and there was a palpable relief that they were no longer under the curse of bishops like Bennison and Shaw, Bruno and Howard, Smith (Ct.) and Smith (Missouri.)
They heard evangelical church leader activist Rick Warren tell them to lay it all down and let Jesus pick it up for them. "What's more important is your faith, not your facilities," he told the evangelically driven Anglicans. "The church is people, not the steeple. They might get the building, but you get the blessing."
That, of course, is easier said than done. One rector of a small parish in the Diocese of Florida I spoke with told me he wanted to leave the Episcopal Church because of Bishop John Howard's fudge over doctrine and morals, but he is unsure how many will follow him, and will the new remnant be able to pay him enough to keep his two kids in college. There were lots of questions but few answers. He walks a knife edge of insecurity. A wrong move and he could topple into the financial abyss with no church or future.
Anglican Communion Network moderator Bishop Robert Duncan warned against impatience, idolatry and self-righteousness and urged truth over accommodation, accountability over autonomy and mission over sullen inaction.
"[We are here] to model a united, biblical and missionary way of being Anglicans. To begin to set a wholesome and reformed DNA in place for a movement that is evangelical and catholic and charismatic, and recognizably Anglican and passionately Christian."
High sounding words but the Network cannot save anyone. Some might feel good, but what about persecuted priests still in revisionist dioceses? Who will save them? They are cursed by the Dennis Canon hanging over their heads and fascist bishops behaving like ecclesiastical thugs. And even Duncan himself admitted to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that he expects an effort to depose him. During the meeting, he read a note from someone who described the group as facing its Good Friday. Bishop Duncan said he could not say exactly what form Good Friday would take for the Anglican Communion Network, of which he is moderator, only that it would be painful.
Still there was no formal acceptance of boundary crossing. Williams told Duncan in Egypt that he now recognized the Network, but that does little for the REC or AMIA. They are still not recognized.
The truth is no orthodox person is safe any more in the Episcopal Church. No one. The Via Media are planning their crucifixion of the Network bishops in November 2006. And even orthodox rectors in orthodox dioceses have no guarantee that that situation will continue indefinitely. Look what happened in Florida and San Diego. When Bishop Steve Jecko left Florida they got John Howard and now a dozen rectors are trying to figure out how to get out and keep their parishes. Bishop Gethan Hughes (San Diego) was moderately orthodox but he couldn't control the revisionists in his diocese and when he retired they got James R. Mathes, and now that diocese will shortly experience rupture.
But the conference was far from doom and gloom. There was an Anglican Church Planting pre-seminar before the main conference and numerous lay, deacons, priests, and bishops shared the possibilities of new church plants. Members of multi-jurisdiction groups dialogued about how to build the necessary consensus for developing a road to cooperation rather than competition and antagonism, said a Continuing bishop to VirtueOnline.
But the message of the conference was clear: Whatever is birthed out this "re-forming" is being pointed in the direction of becoming a version of Christ's Church that is bent on evangelizing the unchurched as well as the churched, planting new churches alive in the energy of the Holy Spirit. It will be liturgical and sacramental in its core and it is not likely to die in the first generation as much of the Continuing Churches are doing.
The Global South archbishops have drawn a line which calls on North American Anglicans to be a new generational Church that is spiritually alive, reproducing itself (rather than sub-dividing itself along the fault lines of narcissistic power struggles), be thoroughly biblical in focus, expression, and practice, yet contemporary in assessing the needs of the corporate Body of Christ, the people, and the clergy.
Said Southeast Asian Primate Yong Ping Chung, "Yes, we will stand with you as long as you remain faithful, biblical, evangelical and orthodox."
The conference featured speakers from the Global South including Archbishop Henry Orombi speaking about the Martyr Church, Nigerian Primate on A Missionary Church and Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman on A Broken Church. Other featured speakers included Joni Eareckson Tada, recounting her journey of personal pain and suffering, Baroness Caroline Cox, talking about persecution of Christina in Sudan, Nigeria and other places, Canon Michael Green on being the church and others. There was also the ordination of three deacons and a priest to the Diocese of Bolivia that got the ire up of the revisionist Bishop of Maryland, Robert Ihloff and the Bishop of Washington John Chane. You can read both their stories today. An interesting footnote to the actions of Bolivian Bishop Frank Lyons who authorized the ordination at the Conference is this. He was refused ordination by none other than Washington Bishop Ron Haines, the previous bishop to John Chane. Truly God is not mocked.
One wag observed that Bolivian Bishop Frank Lyons, who now has more parishes (over a dozen) under his ecclesiastical wing outside of Bolivia than inside it should add "Bolivia North" to his jurisdictions. Realignment is now heating up in earnest.
Nigerian Archbishop Peter Jasper Akinola in primate's panel question and answer session said in response to a question about staying or leaving the ECUSA that those attending the conference must be clear about their allegiance.
"Many of you have one leg in ECUSA and one leg in the network. You must let us know exactly where you stand -- are you ECUSA or are you network?" His call prompted a standing ovation.
Now it is important to understand not what he said, but what he meant and the context in which he said it.
The fact is that the Network bishops are still in the ECUSA, they have not left it. Akinola was not calling for open schism. He has made it clear that schism, that is two separate Anglican Communion's is not on the cards for the worldwide Anglican Church, because the Episcopal Church is the one who has left the faith and the communion and not the orthodox. Therefore it is up to them to repent and return to the fold. Broken or impaired communion has already occurred.
What Akinola was trying to say was that by joining the Network it would be making a statement that they are in communion with biblically faithful Global South Primates and not in communion with Frank Griswold and the Episcopal Church. Most of the secular media did not understand that and several suggested that Akinola was calling for open schism in the church. He was not.
Akinola sees the Network as the faithful remnant in North America that he can relate too. He cannot and will not relate to the Episcopal Church any longer.
IN TODAY'S DIGEST VIRTUEONLINE will give you hard news, news analysis and, where possible, full, textual, unedited scripts of the speakers themselves.
ON THE EPISCOPAL HOMEFRONT in the DIOCESE OF OHIO four parishes left the diocese and the ECUSA this past week. They include St. Luke's in Fairlawn, Church of the Holy Spirit in Akron, St. Barnabas in Bay Village and St. Anne's in the Fields of Madison. They have affiliated with the Diocese of Bolivia in the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone and come under the ecclesiastical authority of Bolivia Bishop Frank Lyons.
This diocese started heading seriously down hill under Bishop Clark Grew, now under Mark Hollingsworth it seems headed for extinction. More than 75 percent of his congregations cannot afford a full time priest and with the loss of four sizeable congregations, Hollingsworth must be asking himself some serious questions about faith and order not just canons and constitutions. The four Ohio congregations have been withholding contributions to the diocese and national church and redirecting their funds to orthodox Anglican organizations and missionary work. Robinson multiplied by Griswold equals fleeing churches.
VirtueOnline has learned that in the DIOCESE OF SAN DIEGO some nine parishes are weighing their future with the liberal bishop of that diocese. Of course the besetting sin is the Robinson consecration. If they go, with or without their parishes it will be an enormous financial loss to Bishop James Mathes, a liberal, who took over from the moderately orthodox Bishop Gethan Hughes. This is another case of Bishop Robinson's behavior killing the ECUSA golden egg.
In the DIOCESE OF FLORIDA another congregation, Good Samaritan in Orange Park has requested alternative oversight. The priest there is the Rev. Hall Hunt. Apparently, Bishop John Howard went to visit the congregation and REFUSED OUTRIGHT to address their questions and concerns about the ECUSA vis-a-vis Anglicanism. Now this is not the first time Howard has shown himself to being intransigent with his fellow Episcopalians. But it is back firing. If he won't address the issues why should anyone stay? And they are not. This led Hunt into Howard's office (before Hunt went to Pittsburgh) to request alternative episcopal oversight. He has the full backing of his parish.
I spoke with several cardinal rectors from the Diocese of Florida in Pittsburgh at the conference this past weekend and they all said it is only a matter of time before they leave. Now even if Howard takes them all to court for their properties, inhibits and deposes them and spends millions to do so, he will still lose. When the laity walk; he's toast, and he can't sue them.
Bishop Geoffrey Steenson the orthodox bishop of the DIOCESE OF THE RIO GRANDE told me at the Anglican conference that the expose of the Via Media's plans by VirtueOnline has not met with universal approval even by all Via Media groups. He says that the Via Media in his diocese do not approve of actions to file presentments at Network bishops next year. He also says he is finding his new role as bishop exciting and is meeting virtually no resistance from liberals. He says he has solid plans to grow the diocese.
My opening story in today's digest on Dr. Rowan Williams recognizing the Anglican Communion Network of bishops is important but begs the question as to what "recognition" by Williams really means. As usual it is ambiguous and could mean something or nothing. It would mean something if Williams had explicitly said: "If a bishop leaves ECUSA and joins the Network, he is part of the Anglican Communion. It means nothing if Williams means that the Network is recognized as an organization but that Duncan is part of the Anglican Communion because he is in ECUSA." We are in deep water here. The fact is; the whole communion is in a sort of limbo waiting for the next shoe to drop.
WILLIAMS AND HOMOSEXUALITY...the latest word. Dr. Williams was quizzed recently about his [latest] views on homosexuality. He was asked the following question on human sexuality and authority.
QUESTION: We are all sinners who fall short of the glory of God and we should never use language that demeans another human being. Granting all these, do you believe that same-sex sex can be holy and blessed? If so, on what authority do you base this belief?
WILLIAMS: The church overall, the Church of England in particular, the Anglican Communion has not been persuaded that same-sex sex can be holy and blessed. Were it to decide that by some process - unimaginable to most of you - it would be by an overwhelming consensus and only at that point would it be possible to say in the name of the church, this is holy and blessed. So I take my stand with the Church of England, with the Communion, with the majority of Christians through the ages.
I have in the past raised questions about this. I was a theological teacher for 17 years and along with other theological teachers raised this issue and discussed it. I have advance ideas on this in the past, but the fact remains that the church is not persuaded, and the church is not William's personal political parties, or any particular persons. I am loyal to the church which has asked me to serve, and I myself hold if I am asked about doctrine and discipline, this is what the church upholds. So, the authority that I accept has to be the authority of the whole body and that part of the body which is the Church of England and the Anglican Communion has made its determination.
This answer strikes this writer as more ecclesiastical and tactical in response and not particularly biblical. We shall know more ere long. Word from some of the Primates is that when push comes to shove Williams will come down on the side of the Global South and not Frank Griswold. But both men are Affirming Catholics so it will be interesting to see how all this plays out.
IN ENGLAND the Church of England General Synod will begin its November Group of Sessions this week. The Synod is now significantly smaller with nearly 100 fewer members than when it last met in July. It remains to be see what the composition of the new Synod will be and how this is likely to affect legislation brought over the next few years.
FROM SWEDEN comes opposition to registered partnerships. Here is the THE PRIESTS´ DECLARATION signed by more than 800 priests in the Church of Sweden
To: The parishes of the Church of Sweden and their decision-making bodies
The Church of Sweden has decided to introduce an official order of blessing for registered partnerships and this has been written into the Church Order.
We, priests of this church, who have signed this declaration, consider this decision to be contrary to that order of cohabitation and marriage which God, through his Word, has revealed to us, and which is defined as a relationship between a man and a woman. The Word of God does not permit us to bless any other type of relationship as a couple.
As priests, we are bound by the promises of faithfulness to Holy Scripture and to the confession of the church which we made at our ordination. We therefore totally reject this order, which has been decided upon, and in this way we want to make that generally and publicly known."
Hyssna All Saints Day 1st of November, 2005
RUMORS abound that conservative bishops and archbishops might not turn up to the next Lambeth Conference in 2008. Not true. West Indies Archbishop Drexel Gomez told VirtueOnline that would never happen. "That would allow the liberals an opportunity to overthrow Lambeth resolution 1.10 and we are not going to let that happen."
CORRECTION AND APOLOGY. In my last digest I wrote that Bishop James M. Adams of the Diocese of Western Kansas told his clergy that anyone who speaks negatively of him would be subject to discipline. This made the bishop sound like a revisionist. He is not. He is a Network bishop. Apparently this news item was totally untrue. I met Bishop Adams in Pittsburgh this past weekend and apologized to him. He told me there was and is no effort to suppress free speech nor is anyone being intimidated. I asked him to write a response. Here it is. "Let me first thank you for your gracious apology this morning. Being one of the original ACN Bishops, it is always interesting to see what appears from time to time. Louie Crew still will not change his web site that says I voted for Robinson. But I understand mistakes and certainly forgive you being mistaken about me. At our Diocesan Convention the Diocese of Western Kansas voted to not affiliate with the Network. It passed in the clerical order but failed in the lay vote, thus it failed. I have been very consistent with my stand concerning the major items of 2003 and I think it frustrates some that I will not back down from my ordination vows which call me to defend and teach the Gospel that I have received. I would never discipline any clergy for disagreeing with me in private or for what they would ever say in a convention discussion (if it was the truth) or for their vote. This particular vote was by ballot and secret, except for orders (clergy or lay). So any discipline was for some canonical misstep outside of that arena. I am sorry that this person would share this private thing between Bishop and Clergy. If they want to advertise their mistake, so be it. But they can not claim to be a victim for something they did that was against our canons and our polity."
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