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Day of Reckoning Approaches for Episcopal Diocese of Springfield - UPDATED

Day of Reckoning Approaches for Episcopal Diocese of Springfield UPDATED

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue
August 11, 2010

Three candidates have emerged from a list of 14, one of whom will be the next Bishop of Springfield.

The candidates were elected at a special nominating synod held Aug. 7 at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Springfield, IL, from an initial field of 14.They will stand for election as the 11th diocesan bishop during a special electing synod on Sept. 18, according to the Rev. Anthony Holder, president of the diocesan Standing Committee.

Before analyzing who they are and how they were short-listed it is important to see who was rejected and possibly why.

Among the best candidates rejected was the Rev. Dr. Robert Munday, 55, dean and president, Nashotah House Theological Seminary in Nashotah, WI. He is a former professor at Trinity School for Ministry (Ambridge) and clearly should have been a contender, a front-runner in fact. Also, Springfield would have been something of a homecoming for him as most of his family lives in the area. He is about as solid an Anglo-Catholic as you will find. Even with his obvious leadership skills, sound theology and more, he got a rejection slip.

The Rev. Canon F. Brian Cox, 60, rector of Christ the King Church, Santa Barbara, CA, is orthodox in faith and morals and known for his reconciliation skills. He had the vision to start something called Reconcilers.net in 1984, a movement consisting of three distinct periods: the Reconciliation Institute Period, the Hands in Healing Period and the Reconcilers.net period. He has been answering the call to the work of faith-based reconciliation ever since and has been a pioneer of this work in the Episcopal Church and within the circles of international politics and diplomacy. Many policymakers and diplomats have cited his model of faith-based reconciliation in Kashmir as an innovative integration of religion and politics in the cause of peacemaking.

With the mess TEC is in he would have made an equally good candidate even though he lacks the theological and administrative skills of Munday. He has not been as successful as a church growth expert, but in today's Episcopal climate, anyone who can keep all the players at the table without tearing their own or someone else's hair out should be commended. Cox has skills of reconciliation. He would have been able to talk to HOD president Bonnie Anderson in dulcet tones without wanting to stuff her head down a toilet bowl. He, too, was rejected.

A third contender was the Rev. Leander Harding, 61, associate professor of pastoral theology and dean, church relations and seminary advancement, Trinity School for Ministry, Sewickley, PA. A more solid evangelical could not have been found. He would have brought to the table solid evangelism skills, training and church growth along with enormous pastoral skills and sensitivity. He would have made a fine bishop. He, too, was nixed.

The Rev. Dr. Ladson Mills III, 59, scholar-in-residence, Church of the Savior, Johns Island, S.C. has a fine pedigree of preaching, teaching, leading worship, pastoral care and administration. He has also trained at Oxford so would have brought some fine educational equipment with him. Whatever the criteria, he, too, was shot down.

The rest of the candidates were largely run of the mill rectors with nothing particularly outstanding to commend them. Five were internal candidates with ties to the Springfield diocese. They never had a prayer.

Now in fairness to the deep thinkers who voted for the three candidates, one candidate, the Rev. Robert Hensley, 59, rector, Grace Church, Vineyard Haven, MA, the only openly homosexual candidate was also shown the back door. He was clearly a bridge too far for a nominally orthodox diocese.

So who are the three candidates and how will they play out?

The final candidates nominated for bishop are: The Rev. Matthew A. Gunter, 52, is rector, St. Barnabas Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, in the Diocese of Chicago; The Rev. Daniel H. Martins, 58 is rector, St. Anne's Church in Warsaw, Indiana, in the Diocese of Northern Indiana; and The Rev. Canon E. Mark Stevenson, 45, is canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Louisiana.

Stevenson garnered the most votes and is the most likely contender. He was elected on the second ballot. He received 32 clergy and 60 lay votes. A total of 24 clergy and 38 laity votes were needed to elect. Gunter and Martins were both elected on the third ballot, which required a total of 24 clergy and 37 lay votes. Gunter received 27 clergy and 51 lay votes. Martins received 35 clergy and 41 lay votes.

I met Stevenson when I visited the Diocese of Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He was Canon to the Ordinary to Bishop Charles Jenkins at that time. He was affable and charming, but nothing about him excited me to believe he would make a good bishop. So what makes him so extraordinary? Not much. He is Chief of Staff, administers policies of Bishop and Executive Board, diocesan finances, and operations of Bishop's staff and serves as Deployment Officer. The truth is he is not remotely in the same ballpark as Munday, Harding and Mills on theology, teaching, preaching, leadership or reconciliation skills.

How orthodox is he? Well a rector who knows him well says he was once orthodox, but has rolled over apparently craving a purple shirt. "He is still on record as against women's ordination. When considered by other dioceses, the question of his support for women's ordination came up. He needs to go on record and be straight forward on the subject." In Georgia during the nominating process they learned his views and dumped him. He was an initial candidate there, but didn't make final cut, said the source.

"He attended Plano I when he was on the orthodox bandwagon. Then he got purple-itis. His best new friend is Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's Canon Theologian."

The Rev. Daniel H. Martins is rector of St. Anne's Church in Warsaw, Indiana, is orthodox in faith and morals and has served as a Rural Dean and a member of Standing Committees. He was born in Brazil and runs a modestly popular blog called "Confessions of a Carioca".

Since he looks to be the most orthodox candidate in Springfield, I e-mailed him and asked if he got elected what his chances were for obtaining consents as he would undoubtedly oppose (stand against) General Convention resolutions D025 and C056 that rescinded the moratorium on gay bishops, and authorized the collection and development of rites for the blessing of same-sex liturgies. He said he did not believe they would be the litmus tests, "consent will not be an issue."

Asked if he would be a member of Communion Partners as a bishop, he replied, "My expectation is that I would probably remain a member of Communion Partners as a bishop even as I am as a Rector. However, even as I don't now represent my parish as a Communion Partners parish (because there is a significant minority who would be opposed to such an affiliation and I have more pressing pastoral concerns), so I would not make any commitment to making Springfield a Communion Partners diocese.

"The first job of the next Bishop of Springfield is to mend a lot of fences, establish relationships, and build trust, focusing on "domestic" concerns. This is not to say that the issues of the larger church should be ignored, but they need to be put on the back burner."

Of Matt Gunter whom he described as a good friend he stated, "He isn't nearly so liberal as you and others make him out to be. The fact is, he has a hard time getting elected to anything in his own diocese because he's considered way too conservative." (Actually, VOL has never commented on Mr. Gunter until now).

When VOL suggested that he might consider the difficulties South Carolina Bishop Mark Lawrence encountered in becoming bishop, Martins replied, "His position is different, in that he has parishes in his diocese that are eager to abandon TEC. He's trying to resist that pressure, but do so pastorally and sympathetically. An almost impossible job. Be very sure that I will expect to have a civil, and maybe even cordial, working relationship with the Presiding Bishop, but when I believe she is mistaken I will tell her so. I have plenty of backbone, but I believe it's possible to resist without being ugly or cantankerous."

The third candidate, The Rev. Matthew A. Gunter, 52, rector of St. Barnabas Church in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, in the Diocese of Chicago, is a complex mix. His own very substantial biography reveals that he studied at the evangelical seminary at Gordon Conwell in Massachusetts, but lost his faith, saying he doubted "Whether I believed in anything in particular at all". He moved to California, became a schoolteacher, but eventually found his way back to the Episcopal Church through meeting a rector, graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary and has served ever since in the Diocese of Chicago.

Pressed on the besetting issues in TEC, he opined, "Given the comprehensiveness of the Anglican tradition and the particular shape that takes in the Episcopal Church, a bishop should be theologically multi-lingual and able to appreciate and respect the gifts of various streams of the tradition bring to our common life."

On sexuality issues and resolutions he commented, "In truth, I am sympathetic to the desire to find a more expansive understanding of faithful same-gender unions. But, I find the arguments and the means toward that end, which have dominated the Episcopal Church to be unsatisfactory and counter-productive. And it is not up to me alone anyway."

It is VOL's belief that none of these candidates will resist the siren call of national church leaders to accept the sexual innovations of The Episcopal Church.

Secondly, the best candidates were clearly and deliberately overlooked by the nominating committee as they presented "extreme" views that the diocese's liberal wing would not tolerate and would not vote for or accept.

That they chose moderate men of all shades of opinion will guarantee that the diocese, once under the orthodox Bishop Peter Beckwith, will cease to be an orthodox alternative to the vast majority of liberal and revisionist dioceses and that Bonnie Anderson's "new vision" and "static" rejection of human sexual behavior will triumph. This diocese will now fall off the wagon.



August 14, 2010

Dear VOL readers,

Following the posting of my story on candidates to be the next Bishop of Springfield I received the following communication, which I believe I should share with VOL readers.

"It was the feeling of most of the traditionalists in the Springfield Diocese, both cleric and laity, that what was needed in their diocese was not a theological, scholarly bishop but rather a solid, dynamic leader who could maintain the truths of our Faith while at the same time seeking to show the liberals and revisionists the error of their ways - in a firm but genteel way of course.

"Some of the local Rectors who have had their feet on the ground in that diocese for some little time might well have been better suited to take on the bishop's duties than a distinguished scholar with a gaggle of letters after his name and who would have to spend the first 6 months of his tenure just learning what was what in his new diocese.

"It is no secret that the Springfield Diocese has a serious financial problem and that some very painful decisions are going to have to be made and soon. Indeed, one of the reasons Bishop Peter Beckwith gave for taking early retirement was to save the diocese money (his salary and expenses). In a word, it seems to me that an intelligent local knowledgeable of the diocese's problems would be more apt to hit the ground running than a well-meaning stranger with outstanding academic credentials.

"As to the Reverends Harding and Munday, I'm told that the quality of Rev. Harding's video was abysmal, had a pronounced negative effect and turned many people off. He did not make a good first impression. The Rev. Munday, however, had a different problem. It seems a considerable number of the diocese's traditionalists were sorely puzzled (as was I, an outsider) as to why on earth the dean of the Episcopal Church's only solidly orthodox seminary would want to exchange that critically important position for a miter in an obscure and uninfluential diocese way out in the clerical boondocks."

For the record I raised this personally with Dr. Munday who assured me that this was a sort of homecoming for him as all his family lives in the area. He also believes he could bring a solidly orthodox presence into the diocese without compromise. He is no stranger to the area.

Whether or not either of these gentlemen, or any other solid traditionalist for that matter, would survive the sure-to-follow inquisition from the HOB is another question entirely. Consents might have been impossible.

Now it should further be noted that no local priest appeared among the finalists, not even an orthodox one. Had a group of conservatives coalesced around one candidate and promoted one of their own, things might have been different. But years of watching orthodox laity and clergy working together have convinced me that at the end of the day they cannot get their act together thus allowing moderates, liberals and revisionists to walk away with the main prize.

VOL stands by its statement that none of the present candidates will pose a problem for the national church in obtaining consents. The real question will be what happens when that person steps into Bishop Beckwith's shoes and faces a solid phalanx of conservative priests and parishes. The likely scenario is that over time, several, perhaps many, will leave the diocese and the dance of litigation, inhibition and deposition will begin.


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