Saturday, December 16, 2006

Exodus :: Washington Times

Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee, head of the nation's largest Episcopal diocese, could lose almost 10 percent of his flock tomorrow if several conservative parishes carry out their threats to leave the church. He is denying reports that pressure from denominational leaders in New York is forcing him to take a hard line with the nine churches that want to leave the denomination....

"The diocese owns their property," he said in an interview with The Washington Times. "It was developed by generations of people who were faithful Episcopalians and who are buried with these churches. We have a fiduciary responsibility not to let a current generation of leaders -- who are mistaken -- to take away the property of the church."

The loss to the 90,000-member Virginia diocese would be greater than the defections suffered at once by any U.S. Episcopal diocese. . . .

Although the bishop struck a deal with All Saints in Dale City, the vestries, or governing boards, of the other eight churches received a threatening letter from him on Dec. 1, reminding them they could be sued. The letter shocked conservatives, who said the diocese had secretly agreed over the past year to let them depart under the guidelines of a "protocol" whereby they buy their way out of the diocese.
. . . .
"I met the wardens and rectors of the Falls Church and Truro on Oct. 16 and told them I supported the so-called protocol and, at the same time, said it did not exhaust the consequences of their decisions," he said.

"I have not changed at all. I have for the last three years tried to accommodate and listen," going so far as to allow former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey into the diocese for confirmation services "when they would not receive me.

"So they got the impression I would not live up to my responsibilities and that I would not protect the wider church. But I have sworn to uphold the canons of the church."
The article mentions lots of numbers, but it does not mention that these churches have withheld their financial contribution to the diocese for several for years.

I've not heard the argument made before of a duty to the faithful departed Episcopalians. Many are probably rolling in their graves -- some aligned with the diocese and some with the current membership of these churches.

Speaking of faithful departed, there are also living faithful departed. Episcopalians tend to self select into congregations that fit them. Some congregations become concentrated with conservatives, others with liberals. Others have a large group in the middle.

UPDATE: Sunday's NYT has an article, too. Some extracts:
the secession effort in Virginia is being closely watched by Anglicans around the world because so many churches are poised to depart simultaneously. Virginia has become a central stage, both for those pushing for secession and for those trying to prevent it.

The Diocese of Virginia is led by Bishop Peter James Lee, the longest-serving Episcopal bishop and a centrist who, both sides agree, has been gracious to the disaffected churches and worked to keep them in the fold.

Bishop Lee has made concessions other bishops would not. He has allowed the churches to keep their seats in diocesan councils, even though they stopped contributing to the diocesan budget in protest. When some of the churches refused to have Bishop Lee perform confirmations in their parishes, he flew in the former archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. George Carey, a conservative evangelical, to take his place.
My emphasis.

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