A council of war for conservative Episcopalians gets under way today, when 2,200 of them meet in Dallas to consider ways to protest the recent confirmation of a practicing homosexual priest as the new bishop of New Hampshire.
Episcopalians from all 50 states will meet until Thursday afternoon at the Wyndham Antole Hotel in Dallas to listen to speakers, pray and network together during a gathering labeled “A Place to Stand.” Conferees include 40 bishops, 729 priests, 43 deacons, 91 seminarians and 1,219 laity.
More than 75 media credentials — which is highly unusual for a denominational meeting that has no legislative clout — have been issued to reporters anticipating fireworks similar to those Aug. 5 at the Episcopal General Convention in Minneapolis. That was the convention that confirmed Bishop-elect V. Gene Robinson, who lives openly with a homosexual partner, as bishop of New Hampshire.
The conference is geared to showcase conservative resistance to Bishop-elect Robinson’s upcoming Nov. 2 consecration and show support for an alternative Episcopal province that could supplant or exist alongside the official Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA).
“We are seeing an incredible response for ‘A Place to Stand,’” said the Rev. David Roseberry, rector of Christ Church, a Plano, Texas, congregation that helped organize the gathering. “The number of priests who have registered is equivalent to roughly 10 percent of all active clergy in ECUSA and the overall number of registrants is larger than the number of ECUSA deputies and bishops who attended General Convention.”
According to media reports, many Episcopalians are either staging financial revolts against their bishops, leaving their parishes or threatening to do so unless an emergency meeting of 38 archbishops from around the Anglican Communion, meeting Oct. 15 to 17 in London, can discipline the Episcopal Church. ECUSA is the U.S. branch of the 70 million-member Anglican Communion.
Specifics of the split among Episcopalians are posted at www.cfdiocese.org, the Web site of the Diocese of Central Florida. Its bishop, the Rt. Rev. John Howe, was invited to a mid-September gathering of 11 conservative and liberal bishops at church headquarters in New York.
There, the group was given details on a “massive fallout” in the wake of the General Convention.
“Here in the Southeast, seven congregations in one of our dioceses are contemplating leaving the Episcopal Church,” Bishop Howe wrote. “In another diocese, a $5 million bequest that was to go to the Episcopal Church will now be going elsewhere.
“In still another, a $16 million pledge over the next four years, for the acquisition of new property, has been canceled. In many dioceses, capital campaigns like our own have been put ‘on hold’ or stopped altogether.
“In one diocese, the Welcome Wagon is no longer including brochures regarding the Episcopal Church in the materials they give out because of popular protest.
“One bishop said he has lost at least one family in every congregation, and eighteen families in one of them. In many congregations across the country, wardens and other members of vestries, and at least one rector, have resigned.
“A significant number of people are voting with their feet and with their pocketbooks, or they are threatening to do so.”
His own diocese, he added, typically has a $9,000 shortfall each August. This August, the shortfall was just under $73,000.
Two or three months of such shortfalls, “and we will be in a very difficult place,” he said.
“Many of our bishops … have said they simply cannot comprehend why [homosexual clergy] is ‘the deal breaking’ issue,” he wrote. “One bishop said, ‘We can go side by side to the Communion rail in total disagreement over capital punishment — whether or not it is right to kill a human being — so why is this the issue that is tearing us apart?’”
Bishop Howe is not the only bishop tightening the purse strings. During a Sept. 23 meeting at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia Bishop Peter Lee told 400 Episcopalians that one departing priest on his staff would not be replaced as a result of several parishes in his diocese withholding funds.
“Saint Paul disagreed with the theological views of the church in Jerusalem,” he admonished the crowd, “yet he raised money for it.”
However, even some of the staff in certain dioceses have had enough. Last month, Andy Figueroa, spokesman for the Diocese of Southern Ohio, resigned. Even though his diocese voted against Bishop-elect Robinson’s election, “I cannot pretend sin is not sin,” he wrote in an open letter.
In other conservative dioceses, whole groups of churches are looking to leave. According to the El Paso Times, all eight Episcopal churches in El Paso County, Texas, totaling about 3,000 members, are considering breaking away from the church. They belong to the Diocese of Rio Grande, based in Albuquerque, N.M., whose bishop voted against Bishop-elect Robinson’s election.