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WEST TENNESSEE: Tensions and threats abound at Convention - by Jeff Marx

AS EYE SEE IT. Tensions and threats abound at West Tennessee Convention
by Jeff Marx

The Diocese of West Tennessee had its convention this past weekend.
Bishop Don E. Johnson, who voted against Robinson, continues to
verbalize the theme of unity. In an emotionally powerful image he
recounted a rabbinical story about Abraham's call. The point of the
story was that Abraham responded to God with one request, "I will go
where you send me if I can bring my family with me." Bishop Johnson then
asked that he be allowed to bring his family, the diocesan family, with
him into the unknown future.

The call to unity and focus on togetherness permeated much of our time
together. The question for many of us concerns the content of that
unity. One major source of contention was the role of Bishop Chilton
Knudsen of Maine. She had been invited last fall to be a speaker for the
convention. Unfortunately, shortly after that invitation was accepted,
she was a co-consecrator at V. Gene Robinson's elevation to the
episcopacy. Although Bishop Johnson made it clear that he did not know
she would participate in the consecration and it was not his intent to
make a political statement through this invitation, several of the West
Tennessee clergy told the bishop that we would be unable to attend the
Eucharist if she concelebrated and preached.

Bishop Johnson had extended the invitation prior to the Robinson
consecration and decided not to withdraw it. Four priests met with him
(ironically, the day after he issued his Pastoral Letter about the AAC).
During a candid, but generally friendly exchange, we made it clear that
we would be gathering elsewhere to pray. Bishop Johnson voiced respect
for us and our position. We emphasized that we would not make any 'grand
exit' which would disrupt the Eucharist. On Friday evening we did not
attend the diocesan Eucharist and gathered instead at my parish.

Friday at 6:00 PM St. Andrew's Church in Collierville was filled with
some 1200 worshippers. We prayed Evening Prayer and a dozen folks prayed
aloud for the needs of the church. At the end of the service all the
priests present were asked to stand up and extend their hands in
blessing. About nine clergy were there and the beauty and power of the
moment was lost on no one. Several participants later commented that it
was the high point of the convention weekend. The atmosphere at the
evening prayer had been affected by the threats uttered just a few hours
before.

Just prior to the evening prayer, beginning at 3:30, we had gathered for
hearings on several resolutions. Three resolutions had been submitted by
a traditionalist priest. One called for a renunciation of General
Convention resolutions that have caused such an uproar in the church,
another affirmed that marriage was between one man and one woman and
that sex outside of marriage was a sin. A third asked for diocesan
support of the Network as an effort to make a place for those who want
to remain in the Episcopal Church but remained committed to the orthodox
faith.

In the midst of those discussions at the hearings a statement was made
by the rector of the host parish that he would bring up on presentment
any priest who was associated with the AAC or the Network.

A short time after that I asked if I had correctly heard that this
priest intended to present me for my membership in AAC. At that point
Fr. Joe Davis asked , "And me?" I think that one or two other priests
also asked the same question. Both publicly and privately afterward this
priest made it clear that he would bring us up on presentment if need be.

Although this threat was rather unnerving, later that night and the next
day three other priests who are in opposition to our position came to
offer support. I do not believe at this point that any charges will be
filed. I think many of the opposition here still view us with respect
and love and do not want us brought up on charges.

Unfortunately, the resolutions committee decided to not bring the three
resolutions made by the Traditionalists to the house floor. Instead they
claimed to roll them into another "unity" resolution which called for
further dialogue.(Several of the Traditionalists had supported this
resolution with the understanding that we wanted to remain in the church
and work together). We were deeply saddened when this resolution was
foisted upon us as a compromise to avoid conflict. The attempt to
silence us failed as on the house floor the resolutions were resubmitted
as amendments and the very discussion that t hey had tried to prevent
occurred any way.

During the closing floor debate Fr. Joe Davis set out a reasoned
argument for the orthodox claims. Fr. Colenzo Hubbard pointed out that
we had heard only the liberal voice and needed to also hear the
Traditionalists, and Fr. Sam son Giteau asked for the delegates to give
us some reason for hope. The discussions were neither contentious or
highly emotional. They also did not sway the delegates to vote
affirmatively for any of the amendments.

I addressed the assembly and tried to explain our plight. I called on
them t o realize that many folks in our parishes were barely hanging on
in the church. I explained that they needed some sign of hope. I asked
them, "besides Vicky Gene Robinson himself, who could you have possibly
placed at this altar to send a clearer message of where we stand than
the person who consecrated him?"

I turned to Bishop Knudsen and told her that had she spoken at any other
time or circumstance we would have listened to her. I told her that I
understood we missed out on a fine talk. I also explained that we are
committed to the Church universal and the Anglican Communion.

Bishop Knudsen had ignored the united voice of the Anglican Primates,
had engaged in an act which tore at the fabric of the communion and that
she was the schismatic. I also stated that the disregard for Africa and
the Southern Hemisphere was an act of racism and that Liberal racism is
the most insidious type because they cannot believe they are capable of
racism.

Our diocese failed to renounce the Robinson ordination. We did not
confirm t hat we believe marriage is between one man and one woman
(i.e., we rejected the Prayer Book definition). We did not confirm sex
outside of marriage is a sin. We did not allow for parishes in West
Tennessee to be part of the Network. We did commit to further
discussions and dialogue.

Many of the orthodox are not hopeful. They believe dialogue means "talk
until you get on board with the new and improved Christianity." The days
ahead are uncertain but we remain committed to faithful discipleship. We
ask the Primates to hear that we did not attend the Eucharist and do not
want to be in broken or impaired communion. We want our ecumenical
partners to hear we witnessed to the faith within this convention. We
want the readers of this to hold us and our bishop in prayer.

Jeff Marx is the rector St. Andrews Episcopal Church in Collierville in
the Diocese of West Tennessee

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