SOUTHWESTERN VIRGINIA: Bishop spins parish departure
History recall flawed, says orthodox priest
Bishop Neff Powell offers public support and "condolences" to VA bishops
By David W. Virtue
The Right Reverend F. Neff Powell, Bishop of the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia, has written a letter to his priests saying that he fully supports fellow liberal bishops Peter James Lee and David Jones of Virginia in their actions to take back parishes who have severed ties with that diocese, and then he says that in talking to bishops around the U.S. whose congregations have fled the TEC, that "in every single case the clergy led the move to leave."
"Votes to leave typically followed years of preaching and teaching against the Episcopal Church, our polity and our theology," he wrote.
In a "Dear Colleagues" letter, Powell said he called Bishop Lee to offer his condolences and full support and then recounted his own personal story of the departing Church of the Holy Spirit, the largest parish that fled his diocese six years ago over bad faith and morals.
Powell, who voted "yes" on the blessings of same-sex unions (C051) and who gave consent to the consecration of V. Gene Robinson (C045) at GC2003, finally forced the Rev. Quigg Lawrence and his Holy Spirit congregation to face the fact that the diocese and the national church no longer stood for the historic Christian Faith and were out of sync with the vast majority of Anglicans in the Anglican Communion over biblical morality.
"Early in my episcopate, Church of the Holy Spirit, Roanoke, voted to leave us and join with the Anglican Church of Rwanda. The congregation had built a new building and had set up a dummy corporation to hold title to the property so that they could leave at any time. We decided not to contest the matter in court. The rector was deposed from the priesthood. This whole event was one of the most painful experiences of my episcopate," wrote Powell.
But the Rev. Quigg Lawrence whose parish is now under the Anglican Mission in America, wrote VOL to say that "time has a way of fogging people's minds when it comes to facts," and then blasted Powell for rewriting history.
"The Church of the Holy Spirit in Roanoke went to Bishop Heath Light in the early 1990s to see if our very new, fast growing parish could get any help (money or low interest loan) from the Diocese to assist us in getting out of the school we were meeting in and getting our own place to worship. We were not looking for a fancy building - a store front, an old supermarket or church, anything would do. We were just tired of the school telling us when we could and could not worship during the week."
Bishop Light told them that the diocese had no money for the new parish only $3000 in a "wheel chair ramp fund."
"He suggested we write the National Church and see if they could help (it was by the way the Decade of Evangelism and we were the newest church plant in our half of the state!)
"The National Church offered us a high interest loan of "up to $100,000" which was about 1% higher than our local banks were offering and not nearly enough money to buy even a modest facility.
"Knowing that the diocese had seized ("kicked out") several "1928 BCP parishes" when they refused to switch to the new 1978 BCP, some business people in our church said they would be willing to raise the money as long as it would not be vulnerable to seizure. They contacted their friend, Rio Grande Episcopal Bishop Terry Kelshaw and he told them how they could do this.
"When these men started the process of forming a foundation, the senior warden and I went to tell Bishop Light what the vestry was thinking of doing - renting a facility from a foundation made up primarily but not exclusively of church members. We would rent from the foundation, which would be a legitimate, legal, I.R.S. approved foundation whose sole purpose was to raise money for churches.
Bishop Light said he had no problem with that, that it was "really no different than renting from North Cross School or anyone else," he said.
"A year passed and finally the Terumah Foundation paperwork was completed. Terumah was recognized by the I.R.S., completely legal and ready to loan our church the start up money. Even though we did not have to, the senior warden and I went back a second time to Bishop Light to keep him well informed and be open and honest. After all he had told us he approved of what we were hoping to do."
"At the point of our second meeting (a year later) Bishop Light told us that a church in Pennsylvania had rented from such a foundation and was leaving their diocese and that he did not like what we were doing," Lawrence wrote VOL.
"I do not like it but there is nothing I can do to stop it!" he said. He definitely had changed his tune from what he told us the year before, but he did not forbid us to rent from the Terumah Foundation. So we did."
Lawrence then ripped the present diocesan bishop Neff Powell for re-writing history.
"The bishop should refresh his memory. He asked our church to consider leaving the diocese and ECUSA. Apparently we were too conservative, too out of step with most of the diocese or did not give enough money. Whatever his reasons, he did ask us to leave."
"We were shocked," Lawrence told VOL. "So much for the big-tent of the Episcopal Church and what Bishop Powell says is ECUSA's "long tradition of tolerance". We were being asked to leave. We said we would seek the Lord and earnestly pray about it. I had been an Episcopalian my entire life, graduated from an Episcopal Seminary and could not imagine being asked to leave MY church. So we prayed."
"About a month into our prayer and discernment, we were asked to give a voluntary proportional pledge to the diocese for the New Year. We told the bishop that we needed to decide whether we were going to leave ECUSA (as he had asked us) or were we going to stay. Following the scriptural mandate to "let your yes be yes and your no be no," we did not want to make our pledge for the new year until we had reached a decision to stay."
"Within a week we were sent a letter pronouncing us out of the denomination and diocese. There was no trial; there were no canon law hearings. He simply pronounced us out! He told us many things in his letter but the biggest one was that if we wanted to rejoin ECUSA we would have to give the diocese our land and building. This of course was impossible since we did not own it. We could not give him something that we had no legal right or claim to."
Lawrence said that would be illegal, much like if the bishop had ordered CHS to hand him the title to the local Kroger Store. We were leasing from a legitimate, IRS sanctioned foundation. You cannot give away or sell something you do not own.
"The bishop wrote all the diocesan clergy (except me) and informed them that our parish had "chosen to leave the Episcopal Church" and that "he hoped we would one day return and if we did, he would perhaps even kill the fatted calf" WHAT A DISTORTION! He had pronounced us out without trial! It was a gross abuse of power and misuse of God's word."
Since being kicked out in the Year 2000, Lawrence says he has planted two new missions. "We are averaging almost 800 a week in attendance, our mission in Botetourt, VA is averaging around 400 and our brand new church plant in Blacksburg is averaging around 80. We have paid for five 500 seat stone churches in China and one in Cuba. We continue to minister in our local high schools and serve the poor in our city. We have given money for the entire food budget to the Roanoke Rescue Mission which has served 300,000 meals in two of the last three years."
"For the bishop to spin our leaving the diocese and the TEC as though we were to blame is outrageous. We are not the devious devils and dividers Bishop Powell intimates. Come and see!"
To read the bishop's letter click here: http://episcopalmajority.blogspot.com/2006/12/bishop-powell-speaks.html
To access the Church of the Holy Spirit's website click here: http://www.coths.org/index.cfm
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