Tuesday, December 19, 2006
One of the things we learn when we've been in Virginia for a while is that saying things "directly" is not exactly the "Virginia Way." And so when we read the latest press releases from the Diocese of Virginia, we begin to recognize that reading them is an art form. They must be read between the lines - only hold on to your hat, it might become useful.
For the past month we've been treated to several rather interesting press releases and letters from the Bishop of Virginia and the Diocese. First there is a protocol for departing congregations, then there is "I never knew you" statement that there is no protocol for departing congregations, then there is a "yes, well, there is a protocol for departing congregations and I know the Chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia actually wrote it and the Bishop of Virginia put his stamp on it, but it really isn't what we all said it was." And then there were the letters - the three-page "Bishop is going to sue my cat" letter followed by the "why can't we all just get along letter" followed by the "you'all are just a bunch of Nigerians" letter followed by the a literal statement of the facts, followed by last night's latest press release.
And that one is fascinating. It hit the papers last night, since it "announced" that it had issued a "standstill agreement" and all parties had agreed. But then, buried inside the text, is a Virginia-style threat - and it's a doozy. Did you catch it?
First off, the "standstill agreement" did not originate with the Diocese of Virginia, it originated from the churches that now make up the Anglican District of Virginia. That is probably a good thing to know. The Diocese released their press release and somehow forgot to tell the Anglican District of Virginia churches that it had accepted all our requests. Oops.
Perhaps that was make it sound like it was their idea to deflect what was buried inside the press release - something that was not contained in the Standstill Agreement but was added by the Bishop of Virginia, The Standing Committee, and the Executive Board, and all their lawyers later. It's this paragraph:
“In some of our churches where that membership has now been significantly reduced, there are faithful Episcopalians who need to be given every encouragement to establish structures necessary for their continuity as the Episcopal Church.
So it begins, "In some of OUR churches ..." So right from the start, the Diocese of Virginia attempts to foster an image that they claim domain over the churches, as though we are Serfs on the Estate of His Lordship.
The letter continues, defining what happened on Sunday as something "where the membership has now been significantlyly reduced ..." Now this phrase is totally devoid of any pastoral concern or feeling, it is as though a tornado came blasting through Fairfax County and whipped all the church members into the whirlwind, whisking us all off to the Land of Oz. Here's your hat, what's your hurry?
It is an amazing twist of the truth, as though something random happened and not a major historical and overwhelming vote of We The People (we are actually in America, aren't we, where one person, one vote actually has meaning?). The sentence should read "where on Sunday an overwhelming majority of church members voted to sever their ties from The Episcopal Church and The Diocese of Virginia (which - by the way - still continues under discipline by the worldwide Anglican Communion and will still have to answer to its failure to fulfill the requests of the Windsor Report and Dromantine) and instead remain in the Anglican Communion by joining the Anglican District of Virginia (CANA)." But then, that would have been really accurate and would not have served the purposes of the next part of this sentence that reads:
"...there are faithful Episcopalians who need to be given every encouragement to establish structures necessary for the continuity as the Episcopal Church." Faithful to what?
Do you remember this presentation by David Booth Beers to the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church Oct. 24-27, 2004 when he made the case regarding the possibility of Episcopal Dioceses separating from the church so that if there is a "remnant within a diocese who wish to remain, they will retain title to church property for the diocese."
This is exactly what this threat is about in this press release from the Diocese of Virginia. We shouldn't be naive, but thoughtfully consider that the "standstill agreement" initiated by the District of Anglican Churches in Virginia is actually a helpful cover over the real intent of the meeting of the Bishop, The Standing Committee, the Executive Board, and the diocesan lawyers on Monday. It appears that the real intent is to "establish structures necessary for their continuity as the Episcopal Church" in all those churches that voted to go to CANA. And they need more time to do that.
This is not about pastoral concern for Episcopalians in the District. It has been very clear at Truro that every member, whether they are Episcopalian, Anglican, Lutheran, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal, Presbyterian or whatever - every member of Truro (and I am sure this is very true of the other congregations as well) are cherished and valued members of the parish. I know this is true at Truro for I have had many conversations with those who probably voted to remain Episcopalian. But they also indicated that they loved Truro the way it is and didn't want it to change - and that is certainly our intent - to remain faithful to the risen Lord Jesus and to the Scriptures - it is The Episcopalal Church who left us, not the other way around. I am not sure the Diocese still grasps this - but then, it really isn't about that for them, it's actually about their intent to "establish structures necessary" so that those church buildings - Truro, The Falls Church, St. Paul's, St. Stephen's, Apostles, Christ the Redeemer, St. Margaret's, Church of the Word, etc. - continue as Episcopal Churches. As Beers illustrated two years ago regarding the ACN Dioceses, the "remnant ..will retain title to church property for the diocese." Are they nothing more than useful pawns to aid the Diocese in their own legal strategy? I just can't believe that Virginia would take on the politicized culture of 815. How did that happen?
If this isn't true - then show me. I would LOVE to be proved wrong. I mean it. I really mean it. Let's return to the spirit of the Protocol and not engage in this sort of offensive tactics. Please.
So what this latest Press Release actually appears to do is put the churches on notice that the Diocese is going to track down the members who voted no and "encourage" them to establish a presence contrary to the majority so that when the Diocese is ready, when the "standstill agreement" is ended (it only takes seven days to end the agreement at any time - or did they fail to mention that part in their Press Release?) then they can be positioned in court to have established their own pawns in the churches and fight against the majority of the faithful Christians who followed the protocol established by the diocese in the first place to avoid this kind of the cynical politicizing of the process and instead walk out a Christian witness of an amicable agreement and take over the property.
How did this happen? How did the National Church succeed in taking over the heart of the Diocese of Virginia and convince Bishop Lee to abandon all his principles, his "center aisle" philosophy and engage in the type of ecclesiastical politics we only used to see at General Convention? What happened? I wish I knew. I really wish I knew. I don't know what happened, but it must have been terrible. This is vindictive, but dressed up in fancy clothes.
The press release reminds us again that "the Executive Board and Standing Committee authorized the Bishop to explore all options with the Episcopalians who remain and to take appropriate actions for their support and full participation in the life of the Diocese." Looks like they want representation at Diocesan Council at the end of January for all the churches that are now in the Anglican District of Virginia. Bishop Lee will go to any means, "explore all options" to get it.
What it does for us is illustrate more and more that what guides the Episcopal Church is not the historical Anglican faith, grounded in Scripture, expressed in the 39 Articles, proclaimed in the Creeds, and centered on the Risen Lord Jesus Christ. What guides The Episcopal Church is best expressed in this hatchet job from ENS regarding one of the smallest churches to vote to sever their ties to the Episcopal Church, St. Stephen's Heathsville. This is a small rural parish - a wonderful parish, one where the rector preaches out of the Scriptures and centers on Jesus. The overwhelming majority - satisfying the criteria set by the Diocesan Protocol - voted to sever their ties to The Episcopal Church and join the Anglican District of Virginia. But since then, the Diocese of Virginia - following the lead of David Booth Beers and the National Church - is seeking to "encourage" dissent and division in the church and instead "establish structures necessary" to take the property away from the voting majority. This is such a big deal that they sold the story to ENS.
Watch that spin - they seek to do it again.
Is this the future of The Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia? While we stand down, is the Diocese going to take that time to "establish structures necessary for the continuity as the Episcopal Church?" Does the prestige of having historical properties mean more to The National Church and the Diocese of Virginia than the vote of the majority of faithful Anglican Christians? And will they follow up their plan to retain the historical symbols of the Church, even as they continue to discard the historical faith?
LATER: The onslaught begins from the National Church. Read today's editorial by Katharine Jefferts Schori in the new faith online feature at the Washington Post. Take note of her very serious threat when she writes, "Even if a large percentage of a congregation departs, the remaining people will be assisted by the diocese and the larger Church to reconstitute their congregation and continue in mission and ministry in that place." The Bishop of Virginia has abandoned the year-long work of his personally appointed Special Committee through pressure from the National Church, as we see spelled out clearly in these words from the new Presiding Bishop.