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VOL@GC'06: 8,000 lost members last year...200 churches disassociated from ECUSA

"To be indirectly defaulted out of the Anglican Communion through championing any dividing issue, I would consider an unfortunate lapse of leadership. It would be a shame to have future generations look back on the 2006 General Convention and comment this was the time when the Episcopal Church became "All things to all people and Anglican towards none"." - The Rev. Kevin Bond Allen writing to a General Convention Deputy.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Attention in the press briefing at the 75th General Convention today turned partly to the state and health of the Episcopal Church. ECUSA lost 8,000 members over the last year, according Bob Williams, News Director for the denomination. ECUSA now counts 7,679 congregations with 2.4 million members, which includes dioceses that are part of ECUSA but outside the United States. This latter figure should not be confused with average Sunday attendance, which is under 800,000.

Williams told the press conference that other mainline denominations (ELCA, Presbyterians, United Methodists) are having problems with declining attendance, but the Episcopal Church showed the least decline. Really. That's cold comfort to remaining members of a church in free fall. By contrast the Anglican Church in Nigeria is 18 million strong and will double its numbers to 36 million in three years, says its Archbishop, Peter Akinola. But then they have a different gospel from ours and that just might be the reason.

On the plus side for The Episcopal Church, revenue from diocesan commitments paid to the churchwide budget of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society (the national church) has exceeded budgeted targets annually, said Williams. So the few are giving more.

But American Anglican Council media director Cynthia Brust pointed out that from 1965 to 2004 ECUSA declined by 38%; that is, over 1.3 million persons have left the denomination since the mid-60s.

ALSO at the press briefing, Canon James Rosenthal, Anglican Communion News Service News Director, rose to say that the Archbishop of York is NOT officially representing the Archbishop of Canterbury at the General Convention. "He read the statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury, but he is here in his own position," Rosenthal said.

MONEY, the elixir that greases the wheels of ECUSA's agenda, has come in for a bashing.

Despite an increase from the dioceses to the national church, the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance said there was a shortfall of $5 million between program requests and available funds. The committee heard that the asking from dioceses is so high that some dioceses do not think they can pay it. "When less than half the dioceses meet or exceed the asking, the funding system is broken," said the Rev. William Coyne, deputy from the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. Sanctions on dioceses that fail to meet the asking were urged by others.

Of course what is happening is that orthodox Network dioceses are drying up funds to the national church, and therein lies the problem. This can only be an explosive issue in the coming months and years as the lines over what the Episcopal Church stands for grows more stark with time.

The problem is that money is not going to extend Christ's Kingdom through the call of the Great Commission; in ECUSA it is about Millennium Goals (0.7% from each diocese), not Kingdom Goals; it is about peace, love and justice, the new ECUSA trinity. Transcendence has been replaced by immanence, ontology, by this a world view of human reality that has at its end the perfection and perfectibility of man by man for man. There is no talk of personal sin and accountability before a holy God. One does not hear words like "holiness," "righteousness", "sanctification," from the mouths of bishops and clergy here at General Convention, only the buzzwords of "listening", "diversity", "process", "reconciliation" and "conversations."

It is all about this world, and this is echoed repeatedly by Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold. There is no telos, no Last Judgment, no final accounting of those things "done in the flesh," but a continual whine from pansexualists demanding acceptance for their behavior, a continual pushing by V. Gene Robinson and his sycophantic followers for pansexual acceptance. It is depressing beyond all human understanding.

You can read the Rev. Dr. Peter Toon's brilliant analysis of this in today's digest or click here: TWO RELIGIONS IN ONE FAMILY: http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=4250

The Presiding Bishop talks a lot about "context" whenever he has the opportunity, which is often, and he repeated this mantra on national television with Larry King on Thursday night. EVERYTHING is contextualized for Griswold; there is no absolute truth that one can hold onto. Everything is in a permanent state of flux.

THE REV. BARRY BEISNER, the much married Bishop-elect of Northern California got consents from the committee on consecrating bishops at last. However, the committee's recommendation for his approval is accompanied by a Minority Report recommending the opposite.

A QUESTION in the press conference Friday morning over whether Gene Robinson's consecration would need to be undone because of the Windsor Report was met with a resounding no by Colorado Bishop Robert O'Neill. "There is no request for the undoing of his consecration. The Windsor Report looks for the future and the church teaches that once a bishop always a bishop. The Windsor Report asked us to refrain from future actions," he said.

ON the issue of name change, that is, from the ECUSA to TEC - The Episcopal Church - a seminary dean said it was the most transparent spin he had ever seen. Ruth Gledhill of the London Times, wrote on her weblog, "You have to wonder how long it will be before the Episcopal is also dropped and it simply becomes The Church. Or perhaps, instead, The E Church. Short for empty. We and the rest of the world will be the A Church. Short for Alpha."

THE gay Episcopal group Integrity sponsored a "Eucharist" here Friday night attended by, among others, two candidates for Presiding Bishop: Stacy Sauls of Lexington and Edward "Ted" Gulick of Kentucky. So let me favor you with a couple of choice quotes from the service. "We give thanks for all the blessings of this life, [silence] especially for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons you have called to witness openly to the fullness of their creation in your image. We give thanks for those who have found grace to live together in loving and faithful partnership, awaiting in hope the day when their unions will be recognized on earth as they are before you." Or this. "We pray for those who have died, [silence] especially for the victims of AIDS throughout the world, and for the victims of hate crimes through the ages. May we all become ever more joyful as we await the blessedness they already share!"

At a hearing Friday morning on the liturgy for the loss of a companion animal, one still- grieving gay man stood up and said, "I need a Eucharist of holy healing because my two dogs, Rosebud and Sparkle, died. As a gay man my relationship with my dog is more important than my partner." Another gay man from the Diocese of Utah said he supported the resolution following the death of his Sheltie. We need to pray for animals for their own sake, but we need an authorized rite, said a woman still clearly in pain at the loss of her pet. One woman brought a dog with her that had a covering bearing the words, "I am a dog therapist," We need to offer a grieving person a rite, she said. "Dog therapy honors our independence in all creation." One woman priest with a cross tattooed on her ankle pled for a rite for honoring dying animals. The committee made no decisions on the Spot (pardon the pun).

REPRESENTATIVES of the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) were busily handing out flyers Friday afternoon outside the Columbus Convention Center, in significant part to protest the actions of one Episcopal bishop: Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison.

The Rev. John Bennison, Charles Bennison's brother and a priest in the Diocese of California, had been disciplined but later reinstated in the 1970s after confessing he had had sexual relations with a female minor. We subsequently learned that his brother, Charles, knew of his sexual misconduct and endeavored to cover it up, as revealed in a letter to Bennison's first wife. If his brother's misdeeds became known it would affect his job, he told the woman.

Perhaps the PA Diocesan Council and Standing Committee should take a hard look at this latest revelation about Bennison's actions.

A former United Press International religion editor, Dr. Uwe Siemon-Netto, who is now a scholar in residence at an orthodox Lutheran seminary holding double theological doctorates, has been following VOL's General Convention reports, said that they "read more or less like a verbatim rendering of some sections of the Book of Revelation. It's really eerie."

All Blessings,

David W. Virtue DD

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