Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Reading between the lines: Commentary on the latest Press Release from the Diocese of Virginia

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.


tdunbar said...

Excellent article. Thanks

mousestalker said...

I do not know Bishop Lee. But his writings over the past few years remind me more and more of another practitioner of the 'via media', Erasmus. the resemblance is rather striking.

Anonymous said...

Let me frame my comment with the fact I votes "yes" on both resolutions.

BabyBlue, you have to cut Bishop Lee a little slack, after all this has been a tough week on the guy. Here all his pipe-dreams have come crushing down on the guy as all of us vote overwhelmingly to leave him. The poor guy is probably suffering a huge amount of rejection.

The pipe has come to be paid and he's probably quite overwhelmed by it all. In part this serves him right for his vote in 2003, in another I almost feel sorry for the guy, note the "almost feel" sorry.

Anonymous said...

BB, what pastoral presence would YOU establish for the remnant who voted to remain in TEC? At least +Lee expressed some modicum of concern for them -- which, at least in this entry, you do not. (Express it, that is -- I'm not going to assume anything about your feelings...)

Unknown said...

We have been reaching out pastorally to all our members, including the Episcopalians, before the vote, through the vote and after the vote. That's not going to change. From all indications - those who may cotninue as Episcopalian have indicated that they want to remain with the things the way they are - and as part of the Truro family (we don't want anyone to go - we all want to stay together). You see, you may assuming that Truro members want to exchange biblical and Jesus-centered preaching for a generic Episcopal variety. I am not sure that we can make that grand assumption. And we are still using the 1979 Prayer Book and will for the forseeable future. I believe the Episcopalians at Truro will join the Presbyterians, the Methodists, the Catholics, the Lutherans, and all the others who make up the Truro membership. I think TEC assumes that all members of Truro are Epicopalian - and that is just not the case. I was a Methodist for several years before I was received - and there are those who were never able to make the switch. It will be intersesting to see how many of the other denominations who make up Truro will now received into the worldwide Anglican Communion now that our relationship with the Communion is clear.


Unknown said...

I'm sorry for the lack of a spell check in the posting above. I am rather sleepy.


Anonymous said...

I believe that what the DioVa is trying to establish is the equivalent of "the true church", a legal designation that we in California are familiar with. If there are even a few people who will cooperate with he diocese and say that they are members of Truro Church, Episcopalian, they become the plaintiffs in a law-suit against Truro Church, Anglcian for the church property.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, that's "Anglican" I need spell check, too.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I'll wade into this one. Judith, I think you are correct. Also Bishop Lee is probably under great pressure from 815, Truro is kind of a lightning rod, especially with ++KJS, so Truro will probably be primary target (this time it's personal).

Things to watch for is the election of the coadjutor can set up a "good cop/bad cop" situation in Virginia. Also how the expiration of the Priest-in-Charge arrangement is not mentioned in the 30 day cooling period. Those are some of the weak spots and also make Truro a more opportunistic target for 815.

VA code is VERY helpful! 815 losses in CA also are handy. Everyone leaving in a group at one time helps. The fact we're leaving to something in the AC is good. So there's a lot strength for Truro.

I'd expect more strategy from 815 in VA than CA. First trying to fight everyone would be foolish, we're all at different spots legally with our deeds. All Saints has a settlemant already, COA or COW are not propeties 815 would be interested in taking, maybe St. Pauls, but with more tempting targets out there probably not. Ten to fifteen defendant law suit would actually probalby hurt them as it'll get real confusing, good in some trials but the confusion here would probably hurt them.

I'm not a lawyer, but in an industry that sees a lot of legal action. The tone from +Lee seems to tell me there is some strategy going on from another. +Lee has been very fair in these times, but that was under the old PB, he is company man with a new boss, so I'd expect more of this stuff.

Roles now switch, CANA parishes are now more fixed trajectory so reactive and 815 has the ball to act or not act.

My two cents worth (probably all it's worth)


OFF TOPIC: As I was typing an email from a friend in State Dept. arrives:

At 1:00am local time the president of Turkmenistan died of massive cardiac arrest. There is much uncertainty as to what happens next.[ CNN Report]. Please pray for the people of Turkmenistan that there will be a peaceful, stable transition of government.

The guy was strange (banned lip synicing & gold teeth) and iron fisted, I have this friend in country and several missionaries neighboring former Soviet block ones. Prayer for peace for Truro & all CANA parishes and peace over there as well.


"I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life" [John 8:12]

Anonymous said...

Watching here from Maryland, as I've also posted on Titus 1:9 in the recent past: BRAVO! Those of us who reside in apostate, declining denominations are wondering what we'll do in the years ahead. We are not nearly as well organized as you folks. Since we are already (or is that were?) partners through the Concordat, perhaps there are potential opportunities for us ELCA lutherans who understand our denomination has already driven over the cliff.

BTW, Babyblue, perhaps this is something your new bishop could explore for us. Does the Concordat, the recognition of our mutual ministries in the ECUSA and ELCA, travel along with this new Anglican entity in the US?

Maryland Brian

Anonymous said...

Maryland Brian:

I have a few ELCA friends at Kairos. I don't understand the politics, but they tell me inside ELCA is a inverse split to TEC of revisionist and reasserters.

They can forsee a split in ten years, each group using that same Concordat to align themselves with theologically simular braches of Anglicanism.

No clue what that worth, but I'll add two more cents (not sure you have four cents worth however).

Anonymous said...


Thanks. And you're right, it's been an interesting split in the ELCA. Many orthodox Lutherans tend to fight the succession issues in the Concordat while the more "HerChurch.Org" crowd embraces it. Go figure.

OTOH, since we are not a communion, but a federation, that isn't likely to change on an international level either. My first mentor, Dr. Carl Mau, had tried to change that language when he was the General Secretary of the LWF. I worked with him after retirement and, at the time, didn't understand his point. Now I do.

Maryland Brian

Anonymous said...

I have sought out folks at Truro who voted against disaffiliation, and it was interesting to discover that, for at least some of them, their votes were not so much to stay with TEC, but against affiliating with CANA. There was much sympathy among the no-voters I talked to that Truro remain "independent" until the ABC provides a home for orthodox Anglicans in North America. Truro is a very evangelical parish, and this independent streak probably reflects the baptist/methodist/presbyterian background of many of our members. It does not appear to me that anyone in the pews is in need of + Lee's "pastoral" concern!!

Unknown said...

Maryland Brian,

Interesting question about the Lutherans. My guess is that we are going to see - if this is the Lord's will - a major realignment between how denominations work with each other (it's all ready happening, it just isn't official). This is a different type of realignment then the Ecumenical Movement. It seems based on common faith and vision. Some of the first inquirers about joining CANA were actually a Methodist and then a Presbyterian Church. This could be a way for splintering from the past to come back together in non-hierarchical way and more like a network.


Anonymous said...

BabyBlue: Everything you said about the Diocesan legal strategy tees up perfectly with the report I got at my vestry meeting the other evening. It's not about reaching an equitable arrangement with Truro and TFL, it's about crushing them, thereby making examples for anybody else thinking of taking similar action.

BTW, I'm preparing for a meeting at my church on Jan. 7 to discuss the ins and outs of the property situation (led by one of the members of the Bish's propery committee). The meme being spread about is of bad faith on the part of the breakaways, coupled with superhuman patience on the part of the Bish. Any info you can shoot me so that I can ask embarrasing and awkward questions would be most appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Our Associate Priest at Anglican Church of the Resurrection, San Marcos CA is a Navy Chaplain, ECLA, who is very orthodox.