Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Diocese of Rhode Island's Episcopal Cathedral shutting down

From here:
Cathedral of St. John Providence
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The Episcopal Cathedral of St. John -- which began as King's Church in 1722 and is the Diocese of Rhode Island's fourth oldest church -- is shutting down, with a final service set for April 22.

Parishioners of the cathedral church, the seat of Bishop Geralyn Wolf, learned the news on Sunday from the Right Rev. David Joslin, the cathedral's interim dean, and Deacon Barbara May-Stock, during the parish's annual meeting on North Main Street.

Parishioner Marjorie Beach says many were in tears when advised that because of declining numbers of pledging families and the cost of salaries and benefits, the parish could not longer continue -- at least for now. The church closed temporarily once before -- during the American Revolution. 
 Read it all here.

The following is an excerpt from the letter from the Acting Dean of St. John's Cathedral, the Rt. Rev. David B. Joslin announcing the closure of the cathedral:
Episcopal Diocese of R.I.'s Cathedral of St. John will close
On Sunday, February 19, 2012, the Annual Meeting was held at the Cathedral of Saint John. In this letter I want to report on the central focus of that meeting.

As you know, the Cathedral parish has experienced growing financial difficulty over a period of years. Now it has become more than a difficulty. Simply put, we are now out of money. Last year we had a deficit of about $250,000 which was covered by reserves. Now those reserves have been used up.

The Chapter has engaged in much prayer, anguish, and discussion. We have consulted with the Bishop and her staff and our former Wardens. As a result, the Chapter realized that we must suspend services and parish life at the Cathedral. Our last service will be on Sunday, 22 April 2012 at 9:30 AM, followed by a time to celebrate our past life together and to thank those who have faithfully served here.

As Acting Dean of the Cathedral of St. John, I announced this decision at the Annual Meeting. I can't exaggerate the pain of this process. We dreaded the conclusion but having exhausted all alternatives we found it was the only thing to do.

Please note that while services and parish life are being suspended it does not mean that the Cathedral is being permanently closed. Suspending services now leaves open the possibility of new uses for the Cathedral in the future mission strategy of the Diocese.

Let me add a personal note. I have greatly enjoyed my association with the Cathedral and with you, its people. When Bishop Wolf asked me to be the Acting Dean following Dean Krauss's retirement I was very pleased and looked forward to ministering with you. But I also knew of the financial difficulties we faced and the pain I would share with you if the Cathedral had to be closed. 
Read it all here.

40 comments:

TLF+ said...

That's sad news to start the day. I had my clinical pastoral education unit in RI, and would attend midweek services at St. John's from time to time. Later, I was crucifer at a friend's ordination there.

The use of the pelican as a Christ-symbol is prominent there, appropriate to "The Ocean State." The way the pelican feeds its young looks like it is wounding itself, and so that symbol is a eucharistic image in the sanctuary at St. John's.

Really sorry to read this.

The Underground Pewster said...

Plate and pledge of only $120,000 yet ASA is a respectable 120. Not Cathedral numbers for sure.

Huge decline in ASA since 2003 from about 210 to 120.

Wake up TEc, this is the fruit of the new gospel message.

Anonymous said...

TEC - closing churches through mutant theology and the courts nationwide.

Daniel Weir said...

I find the apparent glee of the last two comments pretty sad.

The Underground Pewster said...

Glee, Fr. Weir? Take that back please, and wake up and listen.

Nothing could be sadder for this cradle Episcopalian to see the effects of the new gospel and as anon politely puts it, "mutant theology" on our Church.

Steven in Falls Church said...

Alas, while the good Bishop Wolf could not save her cathedral, hopefully she has saved at least a few souls from the spiritual predations of the islamopalian priest she defrocked.

Kelso said...

How's that 1979 BCP working out for you folks now? I think it goes wonderfully with those Thomas Kinkade paintings.

Back when we had the 1928 BCP we were building churches, not shutting them down.

Anonymous said...

I have only a superficial knowledge of Providence and its precincts, but I suspect the reasons for the unsustainability of old centre-ville churches of almost any denomination are multi-faceted and complex. These churches were built at times when the demographics of the central parts of cities were much different than they are now. A layer on top of this is the general decline of what Father Handy calls "old-line" denominations and the growth of mega-churches. There is a great deal of variation from place to place, but I doubt a very cogent case can be made that this particular church has become unsustainable because of theological reasons.

Scout

outtahere said...

"...but I doubt a very cogent case can be made that this particular church has become unsustainable because of theological reasons."

There are many reasons for a denomination to decline. Ms Shori's lawsuits contribute and don't have any direct relationship to theology. (It does relate indirectly, because it enables her to ignore Paul's clear directives as just another historical anachronism.) Now, one can look at measures of liberality of "mainline" denominations and look at decline rates and see their correlations. The UCC and the TEClub leading the pack in liberality and declines.

Now, no one argues that this particular parish is falling just because of the liberality of the TEO. That's a straw man. The soon to be out of a job dean might have been a jerk. But liberality is like playing in a dice game with loaded dice. You can win occasionally, but all will lose eventually. One can look at the parishes losing > 10% which dominates those gaining >10%.

There is no reason for hope for liberal Episcopalians. You sued to keep buildings and those will be taken away.

Anonymous said...

The course of opposing seizures of property by departing parishioners and clergy is very much a conservative approach to church governance and to property rights, outahere, There's nothing "liberal" about it. A lot of us who consider ourselves rock-ribbed conservatives on a wide range of issues, and who understand very well why some of the positions in the national leadership caused distress within the membership, are four square against establishing a precedent that people who depart get to take things with them. Our canons, by-laws, constitutional principles provide no basis for such radical (and, if I could import terms from the secular world, anarchic) behaviour. If the principle that persons who leaves gain property rights in parish buildings and accounts ever were to be established, particularly through acquiescence, church would become a constant political convention. That is something that we conservatives find abhorrent.

Scout

outtahere said...

"Our canons, by-laws, constitutional principles provide no basis for such radical..."

Before the very questionable, unilaterally imposed Dennis Cannon, the canons were entirely silent. And we are talking about separation talks, not lawsuits. The later are clearly proscribed. Before Schori, many parishes separated amicably. It was a matter between the bishop and the parishioners. It is Ms Schori's edict that under no circumstance will property go to ACNA that has no basis in the canons.

But this is obvious to all but the most hardened Schoriites.

Again, the liberals want the property at all costs, but it will be taken away from them. Abandon hope, "conservative" Scout.

RalphM said...

With few exceptions,TEC has been able to accomplish her goals in the courts. TEC has been successful in ousting congregations who paid for and maintained the properties. The canons have been upheld! (or at least the canon that find favor with the PB) TEC has also been successful in driving away many conservatives through theological innovation and marginalization.

So how does TEC replace those who have been driven away? An aging membership with its accompanying low birth rates means TEC must grow through "immigration". However, as with most group-think plagued organizations, TEC is oblivious to public perception.

Public perception of TEC is not good. There are individual congregations that can attract new members, but the overall trajectory is reason for great sadness.

Daniel Weir said...

OK, I saw glee where there was none and I apologize. Perhaps I reacted to the use of "mutant" in one of the comments. It is, I think, a rather loaded word. A more thoughtful reflection on the sad news would recognize that urban congregations of many denominations face similar problems as old cites like Providence decline. One might also recognize that large old buildings are often a major obstacle to mission.

Daniel Weir said...

The Pauline prohibition of seeking justice in civil courts only makes sense when there is some body within the faith community that can resolve disputes. As there isn't such a body available to the parties involved, the civil courts are the only option. As to the Denis Canon being imposed unilaterally, it was enacted, as are all the Canons, by the General Convention, a body in which each Diocese has representatives. It remains a statement of the long-standing policy of TEC that parish properties are not to alienated except with permission from the Diocese.

peggy38 said...

Set aside for a moment the question of TEC's lawsuits against the departing. There is nothing Christian about TEC under Schori when they have prohibited even the sale church properties to the departing congregations. All of the defendent congregations that I know of offered to pay fair market value for the buildings and congregational assets. If one of the departing groups attempted to just steal the properties, that would be a surprise to me. Instead they hoped that the courts would provide them relief when all other sensible options were taken off the table by TEC.

The way that TEC has conducted itself is shameful and spiteful and if its conservative then it is a disgrace to conservatism. The end result will only be empty buildings, a sad and desolate testament to TEC's scorched earth policies. Ultimately the patrimony of the church will be sold at pennies on the dollar to other faith congregations or to some developer that will use the buildings for secular purposes if they don't knock down the (historic) buildings first.

This kind of thing gets into the soul of a church. When a church refuses to amicably settle disputes, when it ruthlessly tosses out congregations from their church homes, when it must humiliate its opponents rather than negotiate with them, is it any wonder that it poisons everything?

RalphM said...

Fr. Weir,

Paul's admonition regarding use of the courts to settle disputes between Christians contains no contingencies for canons or General Conventions.

To say that the civil courts were the only options disregards negotiations between the parties.

Is this another part of scripture that is now considered outdated and irrelevant by TEC?

peggy38 said...

Daniel,

You said,

"It remains a statement of the long-standing policy of TEC that parish properties are not to alienated except with permission from the Diocese."

1) So what about the cases where the PB stepped in and halted negotiations between the diocese and the departing congregations? This happened to Good Shepherd Binghamton and to the churches in Virginia. The policy under Schori has been that no diocese can decide for itself how to handle these cases. TEC decreed at the national level that eviction is the only permitted course of action.

2)What about TEC suing the departing dioceses for all of their properties? In each case, the decision to depart was conducted according to diocesan canons and decided by the majority. In Ft Worth's case, +Iker was perfectly willing to settle with the congregations that wanted to stay in TEC so that they could keep their parishes. But with TEC's backing these handful of parishes are suing the rest of the diocese for all the marbles. So a handful might evict thousands from their church homes. This is justice? This is Christian conduct?

Anyway, I am not trying to be nasty here. I am really curious what you think about the spirit behind both TEC's policy and the law suits? I find the spirit behind them to be vile, nasty and appalling and as far from Christian charity as it is possible to be.

Daniel Weir said...

I do not defend the decisions of the Presiding Bishop, nor do I criticize them, having too little information to be able to make any reasonable judgments. I have argued that Dioceses cannot leave TEC except with the permission of the General Convention. If I am right about that, the votes of the Diocesan Conventions to leave had no validity and all diocesan property continued to belong to the Episcopal diocese.

peggy38 said...

So your answer is that it is better to have hundreds of empty churches and thousands of people out on the street rather than judge the spirit of TEC's actions.

Wow that property sure is valuable when its more important than any other consideration. Good luck getting any value out of those empty buildings. There are only so many mosques and nightclubs one can make out of an excess of churches. What is a building worth when noone wants it?

And how exactly is a diocese that first voted itself into the General Convention then supposed to only be able to leave with its permission? How is that standard ever going to be met? Reminds me of the Middle East a bit. One man, one vote, one time.

But hey, its more important to refrain from judgement even when others are being trampled on in spirit of vindictiveness. Sounds like a case where the letter of the law is more important than its spirit. Which is a shame. It becomes clear to me how its been possible for Schori & Co to get away with it.

outtahere said...

What a cowardly cop out from Daniel Weir.

"I do not defend the decisions of the Presiding Bishop, nor do I criticize them, having too little information to be able to make any reasonable judgments."

Perhaps Babyblue can again give us the links to the video testimony where she admits, after much hemming and hawing, that it was she who ordered that amicable talks be broken off.

The diocese of Virginia and Schori and her lawyers had no other options?

WRONG. What does St. Paul say? "The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?"

St. Paul is correct. The liberals are wrong. Any victory comes at a much higher cost than amicable separation talks. People see the Episcopalian leadership for their evil intent.

Anonymous said...

The issue of Diocesan secession is a different issue than what happens when individuals at the parish level decide to change affiliations, in my view. I think the result is ultimately the same in a legal sense affecting property, however. But the matter is being considered in the courts of California and Texas and will take a while to play out.

My own view on this is that the canons and other rules of governance do not provide for Dioceses as Dioceses leaving. Where this has been attempted recently, (and I am not aware of it having been attempted historically, although there may have been something similar happening at the outbreak of the War Between the States), the departing factions appeared to make up their own rules for how they extricated themselves. One has to view with some scepticism the idea that a departing group can make up procedures that benefit itself. One must also ask why these people could not just leave. The partial answer is that they wanted to leave and claim property, an instinct that I find absolutely indefensible. Both in California and Texas, the numbers were sufficient for the departing groups to have formed and built their own churches (although those numbers were, no doubt, considerably magnified by people who wanted to side with the faction that controlled the property).

I think when a lot of people (including ones with purple shirts and flashy pointed hats) decide to "leave" the church, they essentially just leave and there remains behind an administrative unit in the Episcopal Church known as the Diocese, the buildings that belong to it, and a lot of empty seats that have to be refilled. But we will see.

Outahere, by referring to Father Wier's views as "cowardly" proves the latter's point about the dangers of anonymous blogging and undermines my view that anonymity is a good thing.

Scout

Daniel Weir said...

Being called a coward for refusing to criticize without sufficient knowledge may become a badge of honor in a time when so many people make ill-informed comments about almost everything.

Would I have preferred negotiated settlements of property disputes? Yes. Do I have enough information to know why negotiations were abandoned or not even tried? No. I can speculate that in situations where both parties believe they have absolute claims to property negotiation is unlikely to work. Based on some of the comments here, I think it possible that that was true in some situations, but it should be clear that I may well be wrong - which is why I earlier took the "cowardly cop out" option.

RalphM said...

"Cowardly" was an unfortunate use of words by Outahere.

Fr. Weir is simply going to defend the actions of TEC and DioVA regardless of what they do. That is his choice, but it is indicative of mindset that is destroying TEC from within.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

Actually, until Schori, anyone who had grown up with PECUSA and was familiar with White's treatise would have thought that the hierarchy only went up to the diocesan bishop, who could pretty much do as he wished, overseen by the diocesan standing committee. The national constitution and canons were a thin overlay of polity with a "presiding bishop" who was the equal to the diocesan, not an archbishop as I believe Schori has occasionally styled herself.

There has been a clear movement to change that under Schori and her chancellor. I wondered why the bishops allowed it, and I can only imagine that when the assumed authority was directed at the orthodox, they did not mind. Now that it is occasionally directed at others, such as Anderson, they may have some second thoughts, but it is may be too late unless the bishops opt for a PB who will roll it back next time and are willing to revisit the direction of canonical changes, which is a tall order.

Arthur

Daniel Weir said...

Two comments:
I fail to see how refusing to comment on actions of leaders in TEC can be seen as defending them no matter what.
Diocesan Bishops have never been free to do as they please. The Canons enacted by General Convention both prescribe and prohibit actions. I find no more evidence of the freedom that some want to see

Daniel Weir said...

A thought about groupthink in TEC: that accusation seems inconsistent with the accusation that in TEC anything goes.

Daniel Weir said...

The idea that a Bishop's council of advice oversees the Bishop's actions is an odd one.

Steven in Falls Church said...

Clearly Fr. Weir is craven for appearing on this website using his actual name, accompanied with a smiling picture, and with respectful comments.

Anonymous said...

As to the prior comment, one might think so, but certainly in the diocese I have been familiar with, the standing committees have hardly been rubber stamps, pushed back when they felt necessary, and often prevailed.

And I would also say that, prior to 2003 or so, or maybe the Righter trial before that, the national canons and constitution were just not that important. They mainly deal with national church interests and rarely intruded on diocesan activities with the possible exception of the occasional Title IV matter. Certainly the presiding bishop rarely dabbled in diocesan matters. Now the PB and the national canons are premier. It has most definitely changed.

Arthur

Daniel Weir said...

I have to admit that, not using it recently, I had to look up "craven" to be sure that it meant cowardly. I trust that Steven meant to include "not" as all the evidence he cites would not support the conclusion that I was cowardly in posting my opinions.

While the Canons of TEC do not deal with such matters as diocesan mission priorities, they do place limits on a Bishop's actions in the matter of ordination, and they do require audits of financial records, for both dioceses and congregations. There is a level of freedom, but not freedom this is unlimited.

Standing Committees do, in a number of areas, share authority with the Bishop, including the aporoval of ordinations. They do not, in my experience, have any say, except that of requested advice, in such matters as mission priorities, staff appointments, or the confirmaition of the election of rectors. In these and other matters the Bishop need not seek the Standing Committee's advice.
TE

peggy38 said...

Daniel,

You said,

"Diocesan Bishops have never been free to do as they please. The Canons enacted by General Convention both prescribe and prohibit actions. I find no more evidence of the freedom that some want to see"

But earlier you said that the disposition of property was for the Bishop to decide. You just changed your story.

So which is it? TEC is a democracy but only until that is incovenient and then it becomes a top down dictatorship? The local bishop is the ultimate authority but only until the PB decides that he is not?

The only facts there are to know is that departing groups negotiated in good faith with their bishops and offered to pay fair market value of their parishes. Schori then ordered the end of these negotiations and forbid the sale of these properties to the departing congregations. In the case of Good Shepherd Binghamton, the diocese refused to sell the building for 300K to the congregation. Now keep in mind that the excuse was that the dio had a sacred duty to keep the building in the diocese to honor the ancestors or something (as if cash money would not be the same thing) Then within a year, the building was sold to a Muslim group for 50K.

What facts could there be? What could have happened for this congregation to have merited such treatment which ended with the near total loss of the building in that it was sold outside the dio for a fraction of what it was worth?

In what moral universe are these actions not wicked and wasteful? How can this be reconciled at all with Christian conduct? There comes a time when we have to get off the fence and stop enabling the vengeful spirit that has been brought to bear on fellow Christians by the national church.

Steven in Falls Church said...

Fr. Weir -- I most definitely intended my comment as tongue-in-cheek (i.e., not craven), so apologies if there is any confusion.

Daniel Weir said...

My comments on the limits to diocesan freedom did not include any mention of the alienation of property, which has long been a matter for dioceses to decide. In New York there is also a requirement of a court's approval, in addition to that of the Bishop and Standing Committee. Although I do not know much about the reasons for the decision in Central NY, my initial response was that it was a poor decision, but, lacking details about the situation, I could well be wrong and there may have been very good reasons for the diocese's decision.

I need to repeat my earlier caveat. I am unwilling to make judgments based upon very limited information. I am also not here in the role of defender of TEC. I continue to be a cleric who is thankful for TEC's mover towards marriage equality, as I was thankful when TEC began to ordain women. My only intention in commenting here is to challenge what I take be inaccuracies, misinterpretations of TEC's polity, and the rare instance of rudeness.

peggy38 said...

@Daniel

When you find a good reason, other than pure spite, for a $250,000 loss to the Dio of CNY, you just let me know.

There must be any number of good reasons to sell the building to a Muslim group. And any number of good reasons why Schori didnt step in to forbid that sale. There is just no telling what happened. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then we shouldn't judge because it might be some other animal that just looks and quacks like a duck.

Daniel, thy name should be Denial.

Anonymous said...

It was very clear to me that Steven's comment at 1316 was intended to be ironic, humourous, good-natured and generous toward Father Weir. The problem was in outahere's language at 0709.

Scout

Daniel Weir said...

Peggy's post reminded me of how difficult t sometimes is to try to discuss these issues. There is a lot of anger around this, much of it, I would guess, justifiable. People have made decisions which result in hurt. I have had to sit and watch my Bishop verbally abused. People can no longer worship where they have for years. TEC has been accused of promoting a satanic religion. And in a forum where I am seen by some as the enemy, I get to be a target. I understand that and accept it. What I do not accept is the burden of defender of every TEC action, some of which I find very questionable. Having made some very stupid decisions in the past, I know how easy it is to do that, especially when stress is high. My experience of wrong steps leads me to be very circumspect in my judgments of others and to refrain from criticism except directly to persons with whose actions I disagree. There is, I recall, a Gospel mandate for such a practice and I will follow it. Being a Monday morning quarterback about TEC decisions may be emotionally satisfying , but it doesn't change anything.

peggy38 said...

Daniel,

It seems to me that you may be missing my point. I am not expecting you to defend the actions of TEC. You are actually under no obligation to do so. Actually it would make me very happy to see you come to a decision to do something about these actions to change the course that has been taken, to take a stand against it. The time to act is not after an institution has gone past saving but before. Its clear that you don't consider TEC to be so bad. You have expressed pride in it. But I sense that you have at least picked up on the stench being generated by the treatment of departing congregations. That makes me think you are not past hope or I wouldnt bother. But it also seems like you don't want to face it and are hiding behind excuses. The Christian injunction against judgement does not mean to refrain from addressing serious threats to the church whether that is from within or without. I have always taken it to mean that we should not condemn others not that we should do nothing for fear of judging the actions of others.

I would like for you to acknowledge the danger to the whole institution when a PB's administation acts as this one has. You seem to think that nothing can be done about things already done. Can't you see that is actually not true? You can do alot about the course TEC has taken. All of us reasserters would be more than happy to see more people in TEC get upset enough at the vengeful spirit that has come to dwell in TEC so that it can be dealt with. It would be best for everyone if that happened. For your side, it doesnt really matter whether that vengeful spirit is a fact or just a perception, it harms the institution anyway. Those who want to remain in TEC should be very concerned about it and more than that, they should actually do something about it.

peggy38 said...

Actually, I could have said my bit about judgement a little more clearly.

The Christian injunction against judgement does not mean that we should not judge the actions of others. Sometimes it is necessary to judge the actions of others for the good of everyone. What it means is that we should not condemn the whole person as if they are a house that is beyond repair.

In Christ noone is beyond repair, but we are all in need of it. It is even better when our Christian brothers and sisters help us out with those repairs.

Daniel Weir said...

Let me be honest about my assessment of the situation. I think that there have been actions by both the departing congregations and the remaining dioceses that I would not have supported had I had a say in any of those institutions. I did not and there is nothing that I can do to change those situations. I am, as should be apparent to those who have read my earlier comments here and elsewhere, convinced that the Denis Canon is right and that dioceses cannot secede. In the diocese in which I am canonically, but not physically, resident, the only diocese in which my opinion would have had much weight, the treatment of those who decided that they could no longer remain in TEC was, IMV, as good as one might expect. I should also be clear, if I haven't been, that I support the direction that TEC is taking on the matter of same sex relationships. From that I am unwilling for TEC to change direction.

BTW, I was not referring to the "judge not" injunction but to the injunction to deal directly with thos whose actions offend us. This forum would not be an appropriate place for me to deal with any issues that I might have with the Presiiding Bishop. If others think it is, I think they ae wrong.

Anglicat said...

For my take on this sad situation:
http://anglikin.blogspot.com/2012/02/cathedral-closing-another-symbol-bites.html