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WESTERN NEW YORK: "You Have Your Opinion, You Will Not Change Mine"

David: Here is my account of another travesty in the Diocese of Western New York.

"YOU HAVE YOUR OPINION, YOU WILL NOT CHANGE MINE"

These were the words spoken repeatedly by Bishop Michael Garrison as he "visited" St. Bartholomew's in Tonawanda, NY. on January 8th. It was a bitter cold snowy evening (5*) when members of all ages (from babies in arms to those in their late 80's) filled the sanctuary for a scheduled meeting to tell the Bishop of their concerns regarding his vote in favor of the consecration of V.Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire. St. Bartholomew's, a parish of over 1100 members, has long been known as a faithful congregation who both know and love Holy Scripture.

Over and over Parishioners stood in the sanctuary to give their own personal faith statements and their opinions of their Bishop's decision at General Convention. Some mentioned that the many letters sent before General Convention appealing to the Bishop to carefully consider his vote had gone unanswered. The bishops reply was that he was too busy to answer these letters. The parishioners continued to pour their hearts out to the bishop and implore him to hear what they were saying and to understand the pain and suffering his vote had caused them. Hundreds of faithful people had braved the cold and snow just to ask their bishop to be their pastor in the midst of this issue. The Bishop may have heard the words being offered but clearly he did not understand the hearts of this loving congregation. For in the middle of the evening he said : "I hear what you are saying and quite frankly if this is who you are I would not like to be a member of your church". Although somewhat stunned, a member was quick to remind the Bishop that as bishop of the diocese and he was indeed a member of St Bartholomew's.

And so it went as one person after another rose to speak. Finally the Bishop said he wanted to address the congregation on their recent decision to cut their fair share pledge from 67,000 to 1,500, in the upcoming year. The Bishop then read a letter he had addressed to the vestry about this. He started by citing what he called the "stinginess" of St. Bartholomew's. He further stated that they should know all parish, assets, property etc. would revert to the diocese in the event that St.Bartholomew's ever tried to leave the diocese (a move which the parish has not discussed). Finally, he said that in the event that this "fair share" was not paid within this calendar year he would move to have the parish declared delinquent and thus come under the classification of"dependent". Such a decision would make the diocese the ultimate controlling authority in the life of St. Bartholomew's. His letter further reminded the church that such a classification would allow the diocese to select all future clergy for this church. Following the reading of this letter his Administrative Canon, who had accompanied him on this "visit", rose to tell the congregation that earlier that day the Diocesan Council had met and given their affirmation to the bishop's letter and the information which it conveyed. As if this letter had never been read, several minutes later the bishop told the congregation that he had come to listen to them and certainly not to threaten them. It was this comment that caused the congregation to pause in disbelief and moved a member of the congregation, who was also a litigating attorney, to call the Bishop on what he had just said to this congregation. The Bishop then said that he was the one being attacked and that he felt like "Michael in the Lions' den".

Still this faithful congregation stood to give personal faith statements of who they were as Christians and what Jesus meant to them. Certainly there was a passion to the words which they spoke, but it was the passion of those who know right from wrong - the passion of those who know the truth of Holy Scripture.

Finally the meeting was over; it was now 3 1/2 hours since parishioners of all ages had braved the elements of a stormy night to come and share their faith with the man they called their Bishop. Yet, the last to speak was the young Rector of this parish, Arthur Ward. Thanking the bishop for coming, this brave priest continued to stand his ground on what he and his parish believed. There were no names called not threats offered. Instead, this young priest looked pastorally at his flock. As he stood before them he realized that on that dark and cold January night his congregation had stood for what was morally true and just. His congregation had ministered to the Bishop of The Diocese of Western New York.

Submitted by:
David Rich
Christ Our Healer Ministries
Buffalo, New York

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