Episcopalian Church Remains Open after Vestry Leaves
- Friday, June 25, 2004
Church Remains Open after Vestry Leaves
Episcopal News Service
By Matthew Davies
Parishioners and vestry members from the Church of the Redeemer,
Rochester, New Hampshire, decided June 23 to leave the Episcopal
Church rather than acknowledge the authority of the Rt. Rev. V. Gene
Robinson as their bishop. The parishioners' decision to break away
from the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire followed more than two
hours of debate with Robinson at the church.
Robinson, who became the first openly-gay priest to be elected bishop
in the Anglican Communion last November, said he was "heartbroken"
with their decision despite his ongoing attempts to reach
Supporters of the action described current provisions for delegated
Episcopal pastoral oversight (DEPO) as inadequate, citing concerns
about the "hurt, frustration and distress" that some parishes are
According to Robinson, the congregation has a decades-long history of
conflict with his three predecessor bishops. Most of the congregation
have been overtly opposed to Robinson's consecration and consistently
refused to accept his jurisdictional authority, requesting that a
bishop from another diocese be invited to provide oversight.
"I went to the congregation April 5 to hear from them what it was
they wanted in terms of delegated Episcopal pastoral oversight,"
Robinson said. "I waited until after the House of Bishops meeting [in
March] so that we would have a process."
Robinson sent 22 names of bishops whom he knew to be conservative on
the issue of sexuality or had voted "no" at General Convention on
consent to his consecration. "The only thing I was asking was the
smallest thread of a relationship because DEPO is founded on the
notion that this is a temporary measure in order to restore
reconciliation between the bishop and the congregation; and that kind
of reconciliation can't happen if we never meet," he said.
The vestry demanded that Robinson either give them and a conservative
Anglican network complete control of the church or force them to
resign. Robinson refused to force their resignations while, he said,
also "upholding my vows as a bishop and my responsibilities under the
canons of the church" by not delegating all authority to a visiting
bishop from the conservative network.
Robinson offered to invite Bishop Daniel Herzog of Albany, New York,
a member of the recently formed conservative network, to assume
pastoral leadership of the parish with the provision that Herzog "not
do anything to undermine my authority as the bishop diocesan of New
Hampshire and do nothing that would assist Redeemer in leaving the
Episcopal Church." In conversations prior to the meeting, Robinson
said that Herzog had expressed "his willingness to work with me on
meeting the needs and desires of Redeemer."
Robinson also offered to reinstate their former priest-in-charge, the
Rev. Don Wilson of Maine, whose license to officiate was revoked by
Robinson's predecessor, retired Bishop Douglas Theuner. Wilson had
expressed a willingness to agree to the terms of the proposal. "It is
clear to me that Don loves and cares for the people of Redeemer,"
said Robinson, adding that Wilson had also agreed "to take my calls
and speak with me."
Highest level of communion
In his proposal, Robinson requested the "highest level of communion
possible," adding that he was hopeful that an arrangement could be
reached "so that you and I may stop spending time on our divisions
and get on with bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world
that needs and longs to hear it."
In exchange for inviting Herzog and reinstating Wilson, Robinson
asked that the parish allow him to fulfill his canonically required
responsibility to visit the parish at least once every three years
and to consider meeting informally with him once a year for a "pot-
luck supper" or other non-liturgical event to provide opportunities
for establishing a relationship.
The DEPO document states that "We expect that the first priority in a
relationship between a diocesan bishop and a congregation is striving
for unity. As such, it is incumbent upon both the bishop and the
rector of the congregation to meet, to find ways to work together."
Robinson described how it had become very clear over the course of
the evening "that they were not even willing to settle for the
tiniest thread of a relationship and so I pointed out to them that
what they were saying to me is that they didn't want to be
Episcopalian." He noted that "we are called the Episcopal Church
because we have bishops and we are an association of congregations
through the bishop. Without a relationship with the diocesan bishop,
it's not the Episcopal Church."
Referring to support he had received from the Archbishop of
Canterbury and Archbishop Robin Eames, Primate of All Ireland and
Chair of the Lambeth Commission, in response to his offer of 22
names, Robinson said that he had wanted them to know that what they
had been told--that liberal dioceses were persecuting conservatives
within their diocese--is simply not true.
Cynthia Brust, director of communications for the American Anglican
Council (AAC) said that the actions taken by the Church of the
Redeemer are "a local response to their hurt, frustration and
distress in inadequate episcopal oversight." She added that the AAC
is "very sympathetic to the difficult experience of Church of the
Redeemer and has maintained--since General Convention--that episcopal
oversight must be adequate in the eyes of those who are to receive
"We have consistently said that if local bishops have veto power, the
concept of Adequate Episcopal Oversight is pointless," Brust
said. "We are distressed that the crisis in ECUSA is resulting in
congregations leaving and pray the Primates will address the dire
situation in which we find ourselves."
Brust said that the AAC will not be issuing any statement as this was
a meeting between the Church of the Redeemer and Robinson.
Dean William Murdoch of the Northeast Convocation of the Network of
Anglican Communion Parishes and Dioceses (NACPD) also offered support
to what he called a "beleaguered" parish.
As for the future of the parish, Robinson said, "I don't worry for
the future of Redeemer; this is God's church and God will take care
of the future. All we have to do is follow him as closely as we
can ... Now we can move ahead with the reinvigoration of that
Robinson announced that Sunday services will be held this week at
Redeemer and invited former members and persons seeking an open and
affirming church to "come back" to the parish.