Tuesday, April 10, 2012

National Public Radio: A Church Divided

From here:

St. Stephen's Church, Heathsville, VA
Tale Of Two Churches: The St. Stephen's Church in Heathsville, Va., has been at the center of an ugly custody battle between the St. Stephen's Episcopal Church and the newly affiliated St. Stephen's Anglican Church.

On a bright Sunday morning in the tiny town of Heathsville, Va., Jeffrey Cerar surveys the church he's preached in for the past 15 years — its 130-year-old wooden pews, its stained glass windows, its paschal candles, its cross.

"Virtually everything you see here is going to stay; the high altar, the credence table, the hymnals and books of common prayer will all stay," he says. "The Bibles will go with us."

Cerar, rector of St. Stephen's Anglican Church, is leaving, along with his congregation. They're handing the keys over to their theological rivals, the St. Stephen's Episcopal Church. Earlier this year, a judge ruled that seven conservative Virginia congregations that had split with the Episcopal Church must hand over almost everything they own. It's like the end of a marriage, with people moving out and splitting up assets — even its own long, ugly battle.

The Heathsville Schism
When Cerar leaves the Heathsville chapel, he'll be taking some happy memories with him.
"It's a beautiful place," he says. "And when it's full and people are singing — and they do in our congregation — they just raise the roof."

In 2006, most of the St. Stephen's congregants voted to leave the American Episcopal Church after it elevated an openly gay man to be a bishop. They decided to affiliate with the Anglican Church in Nigeria instead, which bars gay clergy, and they renamed the congregation the St. Stephen's Anglican Church.

Jan Beckett, a conservative parishioner, says the liberals and conservatives tried to stay together, but at some point the rift became too wide.

"We had two churches in one building," she says, "and we were beginning to experience that tension. Not that it was something you talked about, you just knew it was there."

Lucia Lloyd, rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, says in some ways it was like a divorce: "We never wanted this split to happen and would have done anything to prevent it from happening."

After the vote, Lloyd says about three dozen of the more liberal parishioners left. Meade Kilduff, 93, was one of them. She describes the split as traumatic.

"My head was going around and around, and I thought, 'Well this is a good time for me to get a stroke,'" Kilduff says. "I got home and just got on the bed and just cried and cried and cried."

The liberal parishioners restarted St. Stephen's Episcopal Church down the street and sued to get their old church back. Lucia Lloyd shows off the rented house that has served as their makeshift church for the past few years. A dresser serves as the altar, a pillow case as the altar cover and a keyboard replaces the organ.

In January, after a bitter, five-year legal battle, a judge ruled that the Episcopal Church owns St. Stephen's and the Episcopal congregation can finally go home.

Parishioner Ellen Kirby says the legal judgment is a victory and a tragedy.
"I have mixed emotions, more sadness than happiness," Kirby says. "We're a small community; we see each other all the time, at the post office or the grocery store; and we know the hurt and what it feels like to be out of a church and a space that you love."

'A New Sheriff' At The Episcopal Church
Cross from Church of the Apostles heads for storage.
Virginia is at the epicenter of the Episcopal schism. Heathsville is one of seven churches — including two of the largest and most historic in the country — that broke away from the denomination in 2006. Now that they've lost their lawsuit, they all have to find new homes.

Church of the Apostles is one of the seven breakaway churches. At its home in Fairfax, a half dozen men wrestle with a 360 pound cross, panting as they remove it from its moorings in the sanctuary. Parishioner Wayne Marsh says the cross is going into storage and the church is being shuttered.
The church will be shuttered and, eventually, sold by the Episcopal Diocese. 
"It's sad and heartbreaking, and it's a tremendous loss," he says, "but God has just given me a peace to understand this is his will and we're going forward with it, not knowing exactly where we're going."
But underneath those gentle words is an acrimonious history. According to David Harper, rector of Church of the Apostles, "The Episcopal Church has developed a scorched-earth policy."

Harper says that in late 2006, when the seven churches decided to leave, they worked closely with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to do what had been done in other states — figure out a way to stay out of court and pay the diocese to stay in their church. But one day, Harper says, the negotiations fell apart. The Episcopal bishop told him, "There's a new sheriff in town."

That newcomer was Katharine Jefferts Schori, though she says she wouldn't exactly call herself a "sheriff." Schori had just become presiding bishop of the national Episcopal Church in late 2006 when she told the Diocese of Virginia to stop negotiating.

"The reality is that the intensity of the conflict escalated after I was elected, and it was clear that several bishops were attempting to lead dioceses out of the church and it was time for a church-wide policy," Schori says.

Within weeks, the Diocese of Virginia and the national Episcopal Church sued the Anglican churches. Initially, the judge in the case ruled in favor of the breakaway congregations, but after being reversed on appeal he awarded almost everything to the Episcopal Diocese.

'God Is On Everyone's Side'
"When I got the news, I felt as though the stuffing had been knocked out of me," says Church of the Apostles' David Harper.

Now, Harper says, his church owes the diocese about a million dollars that was in its bank account in 2007. It has to hand over the land it bought to build a new sanctuary in the future and it's also relinquishing the building itself, which he estimates is worth more than $5 million. But unlike the situation in Heathsville, Harper says there is no congregation to take its place.

"I don't know what the diocese will do with the property, but we do not have a shadow congregation," he says. "There's no group from Church of the Apostles that want to come back and gratefully reenter the building."

That means the building will likely be sold, with the money going to the diocese. In recent years, breakaway church properties have been sold to Baptists, Presbyterians, Jews and one church in New York was sold to an Islamic awareness center. According to Katharine Jefferts Schori, the only people who can't buy the buildings are the Anglicans.

Read it all here.

17 comments:

sophy0075 said...

Jeff Cerar is a wonderful, Godly gentleman. Blessings upon him and his faithful congregation!

RWK said...

For me, the great blindspot for the Presiding Bishop has always been her belief,"that we not be in the business of setting up competitors that want to either destroy or replace the Episcopal Church."

The quote evidences a captivity to American business and competitive culture rather than that of the church - i.e. our survival depends upon a monopoly of the franchise.
To my mind there is plenty of harvest for both churches and the idea of competitors is not valid. It strikes me these statements are borne out of spirit of fear, as if the Episcopal Church could not survive even the presence of what she has previously described as a "tiny minority".

I contrast this with a high school friend who is an Assemblies of God pastor in Washington state. I told him ACNA was sending a church planter there and he said,"Great! I love having more Christians." He then offered to help them as best he could.

Anonymous said...

The Presiding Bishop sounds like the Presiding Bishop. Father Cerar and Father Harper are clearly unhappy - as well they should be. The Diocese of Virginia person sounds reasonable, as do their clergy.

Let's hope this is all over soon.

It's time to move on.

Anonymous said...

"The Presiding Bishop sounds like the Presiding Bishop."

Yes, Anon at 8:49, you are absolutely right. Unfortunately, that is not a positive thing.

Anam Cara said...

'Lucia Lloyd, rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, says in some ways it was like a divorce: "We never wanted this split to happen and would have done anything to prevent it from happening."'

Well, anything EXCEPT not to ordain gay clergy.

"According to Jefferts Schori, the only people who can't buy the buildings are the Anglicans."

Let's see. A recent argument I heard about the properties was that they are "consecrated ground" so they can't be used given up to the Anglicans. And yet anyone EXCEPT an Anglican can buy the property, including non-Christians. I don't understand....

'"I don't know that 'unseemly' is a word I would use, but it is regrettable," he says. "It's also regrettably necessary. The diocese has had very little choice, frankly, as we've moved along this path."'

Uh, yes you did. You could have sold the properties to the Anglicans and saved yourselves a ton of money!

'"I think God is on everyone's side on this," he says, "but he may be a bit disappointed."'

Maybe he's right. I'm just not sure about that one.

Anonymous said...

From the other side of the pond I always saw Episcopalians as the Anglicans of the New World - where has the use of Anglicans by those who are not Episcopalians come from? I checked my UK sources and do not see the Episcopalians as having been taken off the Anglican rroles by the ABC or others. It is normally considered lying to call oneself a member of a group when one is not officially recognized as such. Being in relationship with an African province does not automatically make the recognized branch of Anglicanism become a nonentity - it only reflects poorly on the subverters.

Andy said...

Prayers continue Father's Cerar and Harper, their faithful flocks and all local bodies effected by this unfortunate ruling.

BabyBlue Anglican said...

Anon at 11:19 am - I believe it has to do with the official legal names of the two entities - The Protestant EPISCOPAL Church of the United States of America (TEC or PECUSA) and the ANGLICAN Church in North America (ACNA).

But even with that being said, the Church of England officially recognizes the desire of the Anglicans in the the ACNA to remain (not become - but remain) Anglican. So not only is it the legal name of an entity but also the organic identity of the members.

The Episcopal Church is a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion but traditionally identify themselves as Episcopalians in the United States. The first candidates for bishop sent from post-American Revolution congregations to be consecrated were not sent to the Church of England but to the Episcopal Church of Scotland. So that is where the name Episcopalian comes from and is used to differentiate that entity from the ACNA.

Hope this is helpful.

bb

Anonymous said...

Episcopalians are, of course, Anglicans. They perhaps should emphasize those bloodlines more prominently than they do lest the term "Anglican" become a kind of distinctive brand that separates, rather than unites churches in the United States with strong historic and liturgical ties to the Church of England. It probably wasn't something that was a real popular approach in the late 18th century in Virginia, but it should be made more apparent now.

RE some of the earlier comments: I think the hand of the PB was very much forced by the occupations. If the departing parishioners had left and thrived, and the continuing groups had stayed and failed, I suspect that some arrangements (sales, leases etc) could have been undertaken. The problem facing diocesan bishops and the national church is that many of these people made a decision to leave, but simply stayed put and then indicated (with varying degrees of enthusiasm and commitment) that htye might consider paying for the premises they were occupying. That just isn't a very useful road to go down. It makes it very attractive for parish leaders (clergy or vestry) to advocate for departure and hold out to those trying to decide what to do that they may be able to depart but stay in their regular worship surroundings at little or no cost. Moreover, there is absolutely nothing in the governing documents of the Church at parish, diocesan or national level that would have permitted a seizures such as those that happened in these Virginia parishes.

There are still a lot of loose ends, and it may be that the recent appeals will stay the course of the transition back (I doubt it, but who knows). Nonetheless, I think Mr. Burt's attitude is a quite correct one: This has been tough on everyone, it's hard to see God being very pleased with what has happened from any perspective, but let's get on.

Scout

RalphM said...

The PB's hand wasn't forced. She intentionally used it to backhand those on both sides who were trying to negotiate an honorable settlement.

Anonymous said...

Most of the world's Anglicans, both in numbers of provinces and members, of course, do not recognise The Episcopal Church in the US as Anglican. They recognise the Anglican Church of North America as Anglican. Many in TEC and some in the Church of England have a problem with that, but that is where things stand.

Arthur

RalphM said...

I think it would be more correct to say that many provinces are in broken or impaired communion with TEC. I do not recall any of them saying they do not recognize TEC as Anglican.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps. But they don't recognize them as part of the Anglican Communion (excepting South Carolina and some other portions), but do recognise the ACNA as part of the Anglican Communion.

Arthur

Always hobbits said...

Scout, though I made a vow of sorts to stay out of this with you a while ago, I must confess that your continued deception (self at least, public at worst) about what Bishop Lee had agreed to and when, and the role that "the new sheriff" had in reversing the agreement, is simply and profoundly against history. Repeatedly you have written something on this blog, as you have here again. It did not happen, and your continued public protest doesn't change history. The "PB" came in and insisted on a scorched earth policy, to the shame of Bishop Lee and his diocese who refused to stand against her petulance. And millions of dollars and a long history have been lost because of those two. I am not their judge, but God and history will someday make it clear that "time wounds all heels"-- a bit crassly put, but there it is.

Anonymous said...

From Anon at 11:19 AM
So.....is there an Anglican group headed by Canterbury that does officially recognize TEC as Anglican and another (?amorphous) group that defies Canterbury?? If so why does the second group not officially start a new church (? the Church of ACNA or something else?) Why deride TEC if it is the officially recognized branch of the Anglicans in North America and ACNA is really only the understudy that is waiting hopefully in the wings --hoping the lead dancer will break a leg tho that has not happened and shows no signs of happening as far as Canterbury is concerned (especially with a new ABC about to be elected who promises to be even more congenial to TEC if my sources are correct in reading their Earl Grey tea leaves correctly)?

BabyBlue Anglican said...

http://babybluecafe.blogspot.com/2012/01/church-of-england-takes-steps-forward.html

Also, the ACNA and the Church of England are exchanging clergy just as you would find between TEC and the Church of England. There are other things as well, but that one is one of the most public.

Not sure what leaves you are reading, but might want to check with your sources again Anon at 7:13., especially the one very concerned about Her Commonwealth.

bb

Anonymous said...

AH - I was slow to notice your comment. I said nothing about the "Protocol" in my earlier comment. Suffice it to say, regardless of your or my viewpoint on that subject, it is a matter of no relevance these days. Truro ended up about where it would have under the Protocol, I imagine. There was nothing in the Protocol that provided for departing parishioners to take the properties without compensation, or to oust those who chose not to depart. Even under the most expansive interpretations of the Protocol that I have seen bandied about, I don't think anyone was contending that they would have permitted departing groups to do more than to make offers for property. Truro and TFC, because of their historic relationship to the Diocese of Virginia, would never have been sold to re-affiliators, with or without the protocol. In any event, the Protocol is not relevant to my earlier comment and it is not relevant to the legal question of how can a group of parish members purport to leave to become another religion or another denomination and contend that the property transfers with them. There is no good answer to that question (once the Division Statute issue was taken away), and the court was so constrained to find.

Scout

Scout