Friday, July 13, 2007

Bp. Howe: "We Wish to be in the Episcopal Church"

There was an interesting meeting last month in the Diocese of Central Florida. As background, you may want to recall our previous discussions of their Bishop, John Howe. I offered a critical review of him, which was followed by a more positive one offered by a personal friend of mine. In January, Bp. Howe spoke out against border crossings. In March, we discussed the Bishop's positive comments about our new Presiding Bishop.

Bp. Howe is unusual among the Network bishops, in that he is not a follower. He is willing to row against the current, if he must. What happened at last month's meeting of the Diocesan Board and Standing Committee of the Diocese of Central Florida provides further evidence of the unique qualities of this bishop. Pat offers us some details, as well as a message from Bp. Howe explaining, from his perspective, what occurred. Here's part of that message:

...At last month's meeting of the Executive Council of The Episcopal Church a motion was presented by Bishop Stacy Sauls of Lexington that passed (with two negative votes), declaring that any legislation by Dioceses of this Church that have amended or withdrawn their "accession clause" to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church is "null and void"...

...One of the members of our Board proposed a resolution to respond to this action. It had three parts:

1) that the Board "declines to accept the limits on our qualify or withdraw our accession to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church in order to maintain our primary the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church of Christ."

2) that the Board "does not recognize...any trust between this Diocese and the general Episcopal Church...upon the real or personal property of this Diocese...." and,

3) "that in the event such trust has been...asserted...the Board...hereby specifically revokes any such trust."

Before allowing any discussion of this resolution, I asked our Chancellor, Butch Wooten, to give us his opinion regarding it. He said he believed it reached so far into the doctrinal and spiritual affairs of the Diocese - which according to our Diocesan canons are in the "exclusive charge" of the Bishop - that it could not be considered by the Board. Our Vice Chancellor, Bill Grimm, agreed with this opinion.

I then ruled, as Bishop, not as Chair, that the motion was "out of order."

The President of the Standing Committee, Don Curran, who is a member of the Board, ex officio, immediately moved to "over-rule" my ruling, and he was seconded by several members.

I would not allow the motion to over-rule to be considered.

It was a very difficult meeting for all of us. Several members of the Board and members of the Standing Committee, some of whom were present, believe that as Chair I do not have the authority to prevent the motion to over-rule and that our Chancellors were wrong in their judgment that this motion falls within the arena of the Bishop's "exclusive charge over the spiritual affairs of the Diocese." They have argued this forcefully, and (with only one exception), I believe entirely respectfully...

...To remove our accession to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church would be - in my understanding, that of our Chancellors, and that of the Executive Council - a matter of abandoning one of the requirements for being a Diocese in The Episcopal Church. The fact that other Dioceses have done (or attempted to do) this is irrelevant. (If something is improper, it simply should not be done, no matter how many others have done or tried to do it. And, if the Executive Council says their attempts are "null and void," have they actually done it, or have they not?)...

...The Board cannot act on this matter because we, the Diocese, wish to be a Diocese of and in The Episcopal Church, and those members of the Board who wish no longer to be such are free to leave, but they cannot decide for the rest of us that we are no longer part of The Episcopal Church...
It may be wise for us to keep this incident in mind. We cannot simply put all conservatives in the same box and be done with them. We may disagree on any number of things, but those who express their faithfulness to the Episcopal Church must be granted a place in our common life, if we like it or not.

This insistence on including our conservative brothers and sisters in Christ is not just my personal opinion. The leadership of Integrity share in this commitment. Consider these words from the Rev. Michael Hopkins, Past-president of Integrity:

We are absolutely committed to this Church and we are absolutely committed to the Continuance of as broad a diversity—including theological—as is possible for us to maintain together. This commitment is, in part, a commitment to continued messiness and frustration … Liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, must learn to live together in this Church or there will be no Church in which for us to live. But learning to live together must mean “mutual deference” not moratoriums or some insistence that we all convert to being “moderates”...
The Rev. Susan Russell, current President of Integrity, also expresses the same commitment:

As we struggle together as members of this beloved church of ours to find our way forward in mission and ministry it seemed a good time -- once again and for the record -- to restate a critical plank of Integrity's "platform" ... a key component of our "agenda." It involves the critical issue of where we stand on diversity of opinion and whether or not we believe there is room in the Episcopal Church for those who disagree with us.

In a word: we do...

...So please -- the next time someone writes or blogs or emails the urban myth that "both sides" are insisting on the expulsion of the other send them this "Message to the Church" -- or have them talk to me. I'll be happy to set the record straight...

Pray for the Diocese of Central Florida. Pray for the Church.


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