Monday, December 04, 2006

The Sources of Division

BB NOTE: The following is a statement written by the Vestry of Truro Church.

The Sources of Division: A Statement by the Vestry of Truro Church

Grace and peace in the name of Jesus the Christ, our Lord: through whom we are reconciled to the Father, who no longer counts our sins against us, but in whom we are a new creation, transformed by the renewing of our minds in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is our hope and intention to bring clarity and transparency as to how we have come to the reluctant but ultimately firm conclusion that we should recommend that Truro Church sever its ties with The Episcopal Church.

In May 2005, following the issuance of the Windsor Report in October 2004 and its reception by the Primates of the Anglican Communion the following February, the Vestry of Truro Church approved unanimously a statement entitled “A Clear Choice.” (A copy is attached, and remains available at The Vestry recognized, as had the Archbishop of Canterbury and the rest of the Primates, that “[d]ecisions taken at the 2003 General Convention” of The Episcopal Church had “created a crisis in the Anglican Communion and in our own denomination,” which had led to a clear choice being squarely presented to The Episcopal Church and its dioceses and congregations: “accept the same teaching on matters of sexual morality as is generally accepted elsewhere in the Communion, or walk apart from the Communion.” The statement explained that the choice had been presented “not because sexuality is central to Christianity, but because the presenting issues of sexual ethics are symptomatic of much deeper differences over the authority of Holy Scripture, the content of the gospel message, and the meaning of Christian mission.” The Vestry declared that, should The Episcopal Church walk apart, “we will choose to remain within the Anglican Communion.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, together with the rest of the Primates, and (in June 2005) the Anglican Consultative Council (“ACC”) graciously granted The Episcopal Church until the 2006 General Convention to turn back to the Communion by complying with several specific requests. We waited, prayed, and hoped for that fateful Convention. With The Falls Church and others, we pondered the outcome of General Convention through an extended congregation-wide discernment process, to which the Diocese of Virginia contributed materials at our request.

We write now, with heavy hearts, to explain our unanimous conclusion that The Episcopal Church has determined to walk apart and divide itself from the rest of the Communion. We stand at a fork in the road and must choose whom we shall serve, and serve alongside. As did the prior Vestry, we choose to remain within the Anglican Communion in its adherence to the apostolic and historic Christian faith.

Therefore, following our unanimous preliminary recommendation on November 11 (of which we informed the Diocese), we unanimously resolved on November 19, 2006 to call a congregational vote pursuant to our Bylaws, at which we will ask the congregation to sever its denominational ties with The Episcopal Church and to affiliate with another branch of the Anglican Communion within the Commonwealth of Virginia. We have provided and will continue to provide written notice to the congregation, as well as announcements at public worship, with the vote scheduled to commence December 10, 2006.

With regard to The Episcopal Church, this decision brought us much grief, yet the basis for it was not difficult to discern. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the rest of the Primates, and the ACC all had, through their reception of the Windsor Report in 2005, called on The Episcopal Church to “express its regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached in the events surrounding the election and consecration of a bishop for the See of New Hampshire, and for the consequences which followed.” The Episcopal Church refused, as appears by comparing this request to resolution A160 of the General Convention last June. They had asked it to “effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges.” The Episcopal Church refused, resolution B033 being at best a shadow of this request. They had asked it to impose a “moratorium on all . . . public Rites of Blessing of same sex unions.” The Episcopal Church refused. And they had asked it, as well as the other provinces of the Communion, to state its willingness “to be committed to the inter-dependent life of the Anglican Communion understood in the terms” set out in Sections A & B of the Windsor Report. Although The Episcopal Church did pass some resolutions (particularly A159 and A165) professing commitment to interdependence and generally commending the Windsor Report and the Windsor “process,” it did not directly address this specific request. (By way of comparison, the Global South provinces of the Communion, meeting in October 2005, had “endorse[d] the perspectives on communion life found in sections A & B of the Windsor Report” and “encourage[d] all Provinces to comply with” this request by the Primates.) In any event, The Episcopal Church’s failure to respond to the other three requests, the ones specifically directed to it, belies even these arguable responses. And a corollary—and confirmation—of such commitment as the Primates had requested would have been to affirm, with the Primates and ACC at their 2005 meetings, the “teaching on matters of human sexuality expressed in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10, which should command respect as the position overwhelmingly adopted by the bishops of the Anglican Communion.” The Archbishop of Canterbury and, among others, 21 diocesan bishops of The Episcopal Church—including two who had consented to the election of Gene Robinson—have made such a reaffirmation since the 2006 General Convention. This too The Episcopal Church refused to do.

These refusals, and the resulting division now tearing the fabric of our Communion, are plain to see. The Archbishop of Canterbury, though ever gracious, has seen and acknowledged them, confessing (in June and September 2006, respectively) that the resolutions of General Convention “have not produced a complete response to the challenges of the Windsor Report” and “represent what can only be called a mixed response” to the requests by the Primates, adding (in June) that “[t]here is no way in which the Anglican Communion can remain unchanged by what is happening at the moment.” So have the Global South Primates—half of all the Primates of the Communion—stating at their September 2006 meeting that The Episcopal Church at General Convention “gave no clear embrace of the minimal requirements of the Windsor Report,” adopted “a number” of resolutions that “were actually contrary to the Windsor Report,” and elected a Presiding Bishop whose consistently stated views are “in direct contradiction of Lambeth 1.10 and the historic teaching of the Church.” The Global South Primates therefore have taken steps to initiate “the formation of what will be recognized as a separate ecclesiastical structure of the Anglican Communion in the USA.” The 21 “Windsor Bishops” have also seen and spoken, stating in September their “clear sense that the General Convention of 2006 did not adequately respond.” At least a third of these have added that they cannot be represented by or live under the authority of the new Presiding Bishop.

Furthermore, although the Communion in its charity has limited its requests of The Episcopal Church to the specific issues that sparked the immediate crisis, we view these refusals to be but the fruit of a deep-rooted disrespect for “Holy Writ,” the standard of the Christian faith, of which The Episcopal Church once pledged to “be a witness and a keeper.” In the words of Anglican Bishop John Jewel over 450 years ago, addressing a crisis with parallels to that of today, The Episcopal Church’s “errors were proved and made manifest to the world, which Church also had already evidently departed from God’s word.” No longer can The Episcopal Church say with its founding father Bishop William White, writing for the House of Bishops in 1817, that “our Church inherits the maxims of the earliest and best ages, prevailing . . . before the many notions of modern times, the novelty of which we conceive to be sufficient evidence of their unsoundness.”

The Episcopal Church thus has walked beyond any worldly hope of or expectation for returning to its original foundations. In addition, the toil of resisting and enduring its decline has taken a heavy toll on Truro, particularly in the three years between the General Conventions. The feedback that has flowed in from the congregation during our discernment period, in dozens of small groups, in written submissions, in congregational meetings, and in countless private conversations, has confirmed our sense of this toll and indeed shown it to be heavier than we had thought. We therefore have been constrained to conclude that, if Truro Church is to continue as a vital congregation, and if it is to preserve its witness to God’s Word and its fellowship for the Gospel throughout the Anglican Communion, we cannot persist any longer in The Episcopal Church. We must sever our ties, so that we might remain with those who do not hesitate to contend for the faith but rather delight in doing so.

The Diocese of Virginia remains firmly in and under The Episcopal Church. In coming out of the latter, we cannot avoid coming out of the former. We have longed for an unimpaired relationship with the Diocese, but we cannot in good conscience ask the congregation to remain in The Episcopal Church for the sake of such a longing.

We realize, and do appreciate, that the Bishop and the Diocesan Council have made statements and adopted resolutions that moved toward addressing three specific requests of the Windsor Report. We are unaware, however, of any institution of the Diocese that has taken actions in direct response to the Primates’ (and ACC’s) additional, subsequent request for a specific commitment to the inter-dependent life of the Communion as set out in Sections A & B of the Windsor Report—even though the Bishop in his January 2005 address to Diocesan Council had pointed out their upcoming reception of the report. At the 2006 Diocesan Council, neither the resolutions nor the Bishop’s address mentioned the Primates or ACC. Furthermore, as explained above and indicated in “A Clear Choice,” a sincere commitment to that conciliar life would show itself in an embrace by the Diocese of the teaching of Lambeth 1.10. Yet the Diocese consistently has declined to affirm that teaching.

Most critical in our discernment, however, was that, since the General Convention last June, the Diocese of Virginia has not indicated a dissatisfaction with or insufficiency of The Episcopal Church’s responses to the Anglican Communion, much less committed to doing all that the Communion’s Instruments of Unity may deem necessary—including altering the Diocese’s relationship with The Episcopal Church—in order to have an unimpaired relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the majority of Primates in the Communion. After the 2006 General Convention, simple compliance with the Windsor Report would no longer suffice for a diocese in and under an Episcopal Church that has turned its back on the Communion and the Scriptures. (For comparison on this point, we commend recent actions and statements of the Dioceses of Dallas and Western Louisiana, among others.) The patient warnings and requests of the Anglican Communion made the 2006 General Convention the Rubicon. The Episcopal Church crossed—and the Diocese has followed.

In sum, the Diocese of Virginia, even if some of its institutions have stated their technical compliance with and respect for the Windsor Report before its reception by the Primates, has not directly responded to the Communion’s Instruments of Unity, has declined to affirm the scriptural teachings of the Communion, has avoided speaking the truth about The Episcopal Church since the 2006 General Convention, and has not humbled itself before the Anglican Communion as a consequence of The Episcopal Church’s actions. After an extensive personal and frank dialogue between our leaders and the Diocese over the last three years, the time to persuade each other to change one’s viewpoint is long past. We accept that those with whom we disagree hold their views sincerely and firmly, and we reiterate our thanks to the Diocese for graciousness and open communications amid these disagreements. But we do wish our actions to be understood, including by those who do not agree with them. As acknowledged by the Diocesan Commission on Reconciliation (on which one of the members of our Vestry served), the Diocese of Virginia comprises two markedly different understandings of the Christian faith and Scriptures. Given the decisions and actions of the last three years—and particularly the last five months—we see no way for those competing understandings to continue within the same diocese. We further have come to see that the impaired relationship between Truro Church and the Diocese since General Convention 2003 is not likely to improve and is not sustainable. There is and needs to be a division.

Nevertheless, and whatever may happen in the next few months, we do thank God for Truro Church’s long history in the Anglican church and Diocese of Virginia, grieving that these two beloved legacies have become incompatible. We continue to desire, with the 2006 Diocesan Council, “the highest degree of communion possible” with those individuals and congregations that remain in the Diocese and Episcopal Church; we commit to continue to pray for the Diocese and its leadership, and appreciate its recent efforts to find a useful and gracious way forward amid the division; and we long for the day when we might be fully reunited in truth, that the world may know all the more that God the Father has sent his Son into the world, to reconcile us to Himself by redeeming and transforming our lives.

And now, in the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Romans, we remember that “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 2:1-2). We pray that this peace of God will fill all hearts and minds in the knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord, and in the blessing of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.


The Vestry of Truro Church

Approved: November 28, 2006

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