BB NOTE: Church of the Apostles, Fairfax, is a leading parish in the Diocese of Virginia. This letter is in response to the December 1 letter from Bishop Lee to selected Vestries in Discernment in the Diocese of Virginia. The letter from Apostles is extraordinary.
LATER: The letter below is the official letter with signatures from the COA Vestry that was sent to Bishop Lee:
December 5, 2006
The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee
Diocese of Virginia
110 West Franklin Street
Richmond, Virginia 23220
Dear Bishop Lee,
Your personal letters of December 1 to every member of the vestry of Church of the Apostles shocked and greatly disappointed us all. You will recall that the last time you were in direct communication with us was at the dinner we hosted for you at the home of our Junior Warden, Mark Robbins, on March 28. That evening was a warm time of fellowship and conversation. We reminisced about our cordial relations over many years, and how they had been important to all of us. We discussed our serious areas of difference that night, of course, but we also made a strong effort to do so with decorum and civility, in a manner and tone that we felt was appropriate to our genuine respect for you and your office, and to our long-term relationship with you. We sincerely hoped after that meeting that this mutual respect and civility could be maintained between us, even as we moved into what we all knew would be a difficult phase of our relations, which might involve Church of the Apostles separating from the diocese.
That is why we were so taken aback when the next direct communication from you to our vestry was the cold, sharp, and threatening letter you sent us all last Friday. What an unpleasant reversal! Beyond our great concern about what it may be revealing to us about you as an individual and your style of dealing with us, we are honestly confused about your intent.
In the early paragraphs, you discussed the Special Committee, which you had appointed and which had worked diligently in good faith under your direction for a year before it came up with a Protocol for Departing Congregations, on which the Committee unanimously agreed. You had given us every indication that if this Committee were somehow able to reach consensus—a seemingly miraculous accomplishment—you would honor and support their recommendations, and that they would become the basis for our moving forward to resolving our differences in an honorable and amicable manner.
But now you tell us that you cannot actually approve the protocol they defined; that in your view, the power to do so does not even rest within our diocese, but rather is the purview of the national church. Do you really believe that? Have you suddenly ceded your authority over the diocese so completely? And if that is the case, why are you only revealing that fact now? If this was a matter that involved the national church, why did you not include representation from the national church on the Special Committee from the outset? To what end were their efforts spent?
After your seeming willingness to abandon the hard work of the Special Committee, you then turned to reciting to us a litany of quotations from the Church Canons, in an extremely cold and condescending manner. “The place of Christian leaders—chiefly within the Anglican tradition, of bishops—as teachers of scripture can hardly be overemphasized,” the Windsor Report explained. “The ‘authority’ of bishops cannot reside solely or primarily in legal structures, but, as in Acts 6.4, in their ministry of ‘prayer and the word of God.’ If this is ignored, the model of ‘the authority of scripture’ which scripture itself offers is failing to function as it should.” (Windsor Report, para. 58). Frankly, we all found this exercise deeply insulting and profoundly disappointing. Certainly you cannot have thought that we actually needed this information, that our Vestry is unaware of the relevant Canons, and that our church does not have them easily available. Obviously your intent lay elsewhere. But what was it?
We can only speculate, Bishop Lee, but the motive that seemed most probable to us was individual intimidation of vestry members, an attempt to make them fear you and what you as our bishop would attempt to do not only to our church, but also to each one of us. Why else would you cite actions in Pennsylvania and highlight that there, “Members of the vestry were held individually liable for the expenses the Diocese and the Bishop incurred in the litigation.” We note that you did not mention instances where the reverse has been true, and dioceses in the United States have lost in court on property issues.
If indeed intimidation was your goal, we must respectfully inform you that you have utterly failed. Nothing has galvanized our vestry so strongly in all its deliberations over our affiliation with the Episcopal Church as your recent letter. Rather than making us think that we may be making a mistake, despite our having carefully studied, prayed and deliberated about this matter for years, you have succeeded in confirming our conviction that the Episcopal Church is not where we belong. Does your threatening letter reflect the way that a chief pastor should speak to men and women who are voluntarily serving the church on a vestry, in order to help further the work of Christ in the world? The fruit of love, which you referenced by a quote from 1 Corinthians 13 in your video address to our church, and exhorted us to take to heart, seems completely absent in your letter.
Our conclusion was confirmed even further when we noted sadly that although you quoted the Canons many times in your letter, you never once referenced scripture. And then this past Sunday, when members of our vestry attended a parish meeting at the Falls Church, so that we could hear what members of the Standing Committee wanted to say to that congregation, we got another shock. We learned that you have apparently written John Yates that the belief that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him, is an “ideological statement that exceeds the witness of scripture.” We are increasingly unclear about where you really stand theologically. Do you also fully embrace the revisionism that Presiding Bishop Schori is now expounding?
We recognize that our relations with you are now in a different phase from where they were during our amicable dinner. Your letter seems to indicate that your many years of gracious leadership, where we have been able to discuss our serious differences in matters of scripture, doctrine, and standards for moral behavior, in a climate of civility and mutual respect, are now behind us. Are you now signaling to us that you have fundamentally changed how you will deal with those who disagree with you? In the coming months, can we expect to find you the man of honor and civility we have come to know who seeks amicable solutions in the best traditions of the Diocese of Virginia? Or are you instead becoming a man of legalisms, threats, and intimidation? And are you ceding your authority over the Diocese of Virginia to national church officials?
Bishop, we know that we will never convince you of our positions on the authority of scripture, the meaning of marriage, and a host of other fundamental issues on which we disagree. TEC and the diocese are deeply divided, in what the Rev. Sam Faeth described in the Reconciliation Commission as a “Level 5” conflict. You know that we stand in our beliefs with the majority of Anglicans throughout the world, and not with the new positions taken by the Episcopal Church in the United States. Where we fervently hope and pray that we still can find agreement is in how this Level 5 conflict can be amicably resolved through negotiations conducted in an honorable and civil manner. The Special Committee’s Protocol, developed under your leadership, was the first step in that process. We ask you not to draw back from it now, but to embrace it, to defend it, and to implement it in our diocese. We ask you not to cede your authority in our negotiations in Virginia to the national church. We have no question that you have that power. We ask you to return to the civility that has so long been the hallmark of your leadership, and the fundamental characteristic of our relationship with each other.
“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen.” Eph. 3:20-21
“…Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Eph. 4:15
Respectfully in Christ Jesus,
David R. Harper, Rector
David Allison, Sr. Warden
Mark Robbins, Jr. Warden
Members of Vestry:
Gerald C. Baker
Donald Q. Foy
Richard J. Fuller
Anthony F. Moscati, Jr.