Virginia Episcopal Bishop Peter J. Lee has ejected 20 of his former clergy from the priesthood after they quit the denomination in December over the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who is openly homosexual.
In a document signed Aug. 1, the bishop defrocked 18 men and two women, saying they had “abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church.”
The widely anticipated document came seven months after 11 churches — along with their clergy — voted to leave the diocese and the denomination. Bishop Lee retaliated Jan. 22 by issuing an “inhibition” order forbidding 21 clergy affiliated with these churches to function in his diocese as Episcopal priests and giving them six months to change their minds.
Although their health benefits were terminated Jan. 31, they were allowed to retain their pension benefits, although as of this week they may no longer contribute to them.
One of the 21 clergy, the Rev. Nicholas Lubelfeld of the Falls Church in the city of Falls Church, is remaining in the denomination. He will be transferred to the Episcopal Church of Our Redeemer in Aldie, Loudoun County, as an associate priest.
Patrick Getlein, the diocesan spokesman, said the priest changed his mind after a conversation with Bishop Lee and retracted his decision to leave in a June 30 letter to the diocese.
Mr. Lubelfeld could not be reached for comment, but the Rev. John Yates, rector of the Falls Church, said Mr. Lubelfeld never left the denomination in the first place.
“When we voted to leave the Episcopal Church, he did not support that decision,” Mr. Yates said. “He wanted to stay in the Diocese of Virginia. We were all shocked when his name was among those inhibited, but Bishop Lee said Nicholas was an employee of a Nigerian church so he had no choice but to inhibit him.”
The Falls Church had offered to reserve one of its Sunday services — with Mr. Lubelfeld officiating — for about 127 parishioners wanting to remain Episcopalians, the rector added, “but the bishop said ‘no.’ ”
Most mainline Protestant denominations, including the United Methodist Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, take the opposite tack by defrocking sexually active homosexual clergy. Sources in the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV), a new church body formed by the departing churches, said the Episcopal defrocking of theological conservatives will have no effect.
“This announcement from the Diocese of Virginia is like an employer trying to fire someone who has already quit,” said ADV Vice Chairman Jim Oakes. “Our clergy have remained steadfast in their faith, and have fully embarked on their journey with the worldwide Anglican Communion by joining ADV and the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.”
The latter, known as CANA, is under the auspices of the Anglican province of Nigeria. On July 23, Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola wrote the soon-to-be-defrocked clergy, saying Bishop Lee’s action “is meaningless and appears to be rather mean spirited.”
He added, “These are very strange times and sadly, this letter is one more example of the confusion in our beloved church.”
Five Episcopal bishops with the Anglican Communion Network, a conservative group, issued a statement yesterday announcing their support for the defrocked clergy.
“Because these Virginia priests are priests in good standing in the provinces of Uganda and Nigeria, respectively, the deposition is, in fact, of no effect,” they said. “Each is recognized as a priest in good standing of the Anglican Communion. Therefore, we welcome them to exercise their sacerdotal ministries in our dioceses.”
The five bishops are Keith Ackerman, Quincy, Ill.; Peter Beckwith, Springfield, Mo.; Robert Duncan, Pittsburgh; Jack Iker, Fort Worth, Texas; and John-David Schofield, Sacramento, Calif.