REV. MARK HANSEN: "I am in a state of shock; most of my parishioners are in shock"
An exclusive interview with the Rev. Mark Hansen, rector of St. John's Episcopal Church in Bristol, Connecticut and his senior warden Mr. Rick Gonneville.
By David W. Virtue
BRISTOL, CT (7/13/2005)--The Bishop of Connecticut Andrew Smith descended quietly and swiftly on the parish and offices of St. John's Episcopal Church, one of six that has been accused by the bishop of abandoning communion with him over the church's theological and moral direction. They have adamantly denied that assertion. The Bishop and 12 of his diocesan leaders walked into the parish, demanded access to the rector's private office, "hacked" into the parish computer and told the secretary the church now had a new priest-in-charge the Rev. Susan McCone.
VirtueOnline spoke first with Mr. Gonneville, Senior Warden about the events as they unfolded.
QUESTION: How did it start?
GONNEVILLE: I got a call from our secretary to say that Bishop Smith had arrived with an entourage. I immediately jumped into my car and was over at the parish within 10 minutes.
QUESTION: Then what happened?
GONNEVILLE: Bishop "Drew" told me he had inhibited Mark and said the Rev. Susan McCone was taking over as priest in charge. I told him that I was not accepting that. He said it didn't matter whether I accepted it or not Mark [Hansen] was now inhibited and this individual was now in charge. He then asked me to open Mark's office.
QUESTION: What did you say?
ANSWER: I told him that that was his personal office and I did not have the keys.
QUESTION: Then what happened?
GONNEVILLE: They called in a locksmith company and proceeded to pry open the door. When they had done that they changed all the locks on the church doors. In a sense we have all been inhibited. We have been locked out of the church including the parishioners. No one can get into the church without the key held by the bishop and his priest in charge.
QUESTION: What will you do next Sunday?
ANSWER: We are prayerfully considering a number of options regarding next Sunday morning. We haven't made up our mind.
QUESTION: Were you told to leave the premises?
ANSWER: I was free to stay around and have been there all day and I watched as I saw the men hacking into the parish computer.
QUESTION: What did they find?
ANSWER: Parish records and financial statements; that is what they were looking for.
QUESTION: How do you feel about what has happened?
ANSWER: I have mixed feelings. I am hurt and I am mad. He [the bishop] has cut the heart right out of me.
QUESTION: How long have you been at the church?
ANSWER: I have been working at this church for 11 years at a feverish pace to get this church where it is today. In one brief moment it was all torn away from me.
QUESTION: How many do you think will turn up to the church next Sunday?
ANSWER: If she has a dozen people I would be surprised. Bishop Smith is claiming we are a failing parish which is simply untrue. We are getting new parishioners every week. It is their (the people's) church not mine any more.
VIRTUEONLINE then turned to Fr. Mark Hansen, the rector of St. John's.
QUESTION: How many of the congregation do you think is behind you?
HANSEN: Over 90 percent of the parish have supported our pro biblical stance on the issues.
VIRTUEONLINE: How did this start for you?
HANSEN: As you know I am on sabbatical and I was notified by phone by the secretary this morning. I got to the church as soon as possible arriving later in the afternoon. When I got there I was told I had been banned from the property of the church. I am not allowed on the church property for 6 months. I have been inhibited. It was a Gestapo raid. Some of my parishioners are irate that these strangers are going through my confidential pastoral files, including those associated with remarriage after divorce.
QUESTION: Then what happened?
HANSEN: When I arrived at the church the bishop told me that I could no longer worship there. "You are to arrange to have your personal property removed under my personal supervision. You are to refrain from interfering with the life of St. John's parish," he said.
QUESTION: How did that make you feel?
HANSEN: I feel like I am confronting an evil force that cares nothing for legitimate human interaction, and that all I can do is simply brace myself to take the appropriate steps and not to descend to the same level which I am being treated.
QUESTION: Are you being replaced?
HANSEN: A woman priest, from the Affirming Catholic movement is taking over. Her name is the Rev. Susan McCone.
QUESTION: Will the congregation accept her?
HANSEN: I find it inconceivable that the vast majority of the congregation will receive her. The whole purpose for staying on during this sabbatical, while making money to meet my family needs, was to defend and protect my congregation from this sort of outcome, which was to have a theologically unsympathetic priest foisted upon the parish. I begged suffragan bishop James Curry to work cooperatively to arrange for a theologically sympathetic priest to come and take over, and I would vacate the rectory and make it available and I would have accomplished my goal.
QUESTION: What happened?
HANSEN: The events this morning took me completely by surprise. I was stunned at the timing, because of my good faith efforts and overture to settle the matter in a manner agreeable to both parties.
QUESTION: Have you appealed to the Panel of Reference set up by the Archbishop of Canterbury?
HANSEN: We have appealed to the panel. All six parishes under siege have sent appeals twice to Bishop Smith and we asked him to refer the matter to the Panel of Reference.
QUESTION: What has he done?
HANSEN: He has ignored these requests. In the three months when we started this process he has totally ignored that issue.
QUESTION: Will you pursue your legal options?
HANSEN: Yes. We saw the Bennison/Moyer story and have referred this to our attorneys. St. John's and I as a priest have had an attorney representing our interests. This attorney has given many hours pro bono and has been working with us since last summer. He appeared in person immediately this morning and confronted the bishop regarding these actions.
QUESTION: How have the other five orthodox parishes responded?
HANSEN: The key here is we are committed to responding in a thoughtful and unified manner.
QUESTION: You have sent a letter to Bishop Smith (see link here). Has he responded?
HANSEN: To the best of my knowledge, no. It took him 3 months to respond to our first appeal. When he did respond he avoided most of the substantive issues.
QUESTION: Have you approached the Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold?
HANSEN: He was copied on the letter from the Connecticut Six.
QUESTION: Have you heard from him?
QUESTION: How have the other five parishes responded?
HANSEN: They have rallied around. They all gathered together for prayer here in Bristol to consider a unified response.
QUESTION: Do they think they will be next?
HANSEN: It is too soon to say. We don't want to escalate this.
QUESTION: What is your next move?
HANSEN: To consult with my attorney.
QUESTION: Any idea what the parish is going to do?
HANSEN: I presided at a vestry meeting last night. In the course of that, the vestry said it was united and they were made privy to the letter saying that the bishop should not celebrate or preach at St. John's. The vestry stood behind that approach.
QUESTION: What sort of feedback did you get?
HANSEN: The parishioners really want to see some resolution, they hate to see this drag out or be in a state of limbo with the bishop making threats and not carrying them through.
QUESTION: What are your actions now?
HANSEN: Our actions are based on conviction not emotion, and any moves we make are based on principle not personal loyalty to me. I have been a priest for the 15 years of consistent growth we have had. The overwhelming majority joined the church in my tenure and therefore I am the face of St. John's. However any move they make should bes based on convictions and principles and not loyalty to me.
QUESTION: Do you think you will now leave the Episcopal Church?
HANSEN: The parish has overwhelming by 10 to 1 in a secret ballot they did in March to give the vestry the fast track authority to pull out of the diocese and the ECUSA. The lay people are discussing different options. The whole reason I took a sabbatical was so I could provide protection for their beliefs...it is for them.
The bishop has shocked me and us. I am in a state of shock. I think many of my parishioners are in a state of shock. I have tried to make an honest appeal to vacate the rectory with a suitable priest. We have a wonderful supply priest, Fr. Clayton Knapp. He is solidly orthodox. I don't know what will happen to him now that the bishop has brought in an outside priest.
QUESTION: Do you see your parish coming under an overseas bishop or Primate?
HANSEN: On those matters we have always functioned as part of the Connecticut Six, and therefore I would defer any decision about that till we have had consultations with them along those lines. This I do know, whatever happens, the parishioners are rock solid in their understanding of the faith and in their support of my pastoral leadership.
A Statement from Five Connecticut Episcopal Churches Decrying the Actions of the Bishop of Connecticut
We are extremely sympathetic to Father Mark Hansen, a godly and committed priest who is experiencing outrageous abuse at the hands of Bishop Andrew Smith.
Father Hansen has sought to serve St. John's and protect the interests of a congregation at odds with Bishop Smith regarding theological and doctrinal issues. Bishop Smith's inhibition of Father Hansen is unconscionable and represents a personal attack devoid of pastoral concern for the Hansen family or the parishioners of St. John's.
In addition, we are appalled that Bishop Smith has ignored the authority of the duly elected leadership of St. John's by seizing, without warning, the church property, disregarding the expressed will of those present and violating the cherished church home of faithful members of St. John's.
In the name of "pastoral concern" he has treated St. John's as though it were a crime scene. We note, without qualification, that the church has faithfully fulfilled the expectations of canon law by providing for consistent and ongoing pastoral leadership for the congregation during Father Hansen's sabbatical.
We believe this is one more example of Bishop Smith's apparent intention to systematically destroy, one by one, the six parishes that have requested adequate episcopal oversight. This crisis is one that extends far beyond Connecticut.
It is a crisis for the Episcopal Church and for the entire Anglican Communion. We believe this situation requires immediate and bold intervention on the part of the Panel of Reference established by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and we call upon the Panel to act swiftly and decisively to the relief of St. John's specifically and the "Connecticut Six" generally.
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