Friday, September 14, 2007

Trying to buy a bishop



Something stinks in the Diocese of Central Florida, and it isn't just the fish.

A couple of priests reported from a clergy meeting Sept. 10.

One said,"The information is shocking to many of us. The short summary is that an effort has been made to 'buy out' the Bishop or give him a 'golden parachute' to retire in an attempt to take the Diocese out of the Episcopal Church. The information we have from our meeting last week is that five of the Anglican Communion Network Bishops are preparing to take their dioceses out of the Episcopal Church after October 1, 2007. The other five Anglican Communion Network Bishops (including Bishop Howe) are not leaving. Bishop Howe has also said that he has no plans to retire.

Another priest reported the bishop didn't come to the Sept. 10 meeting of priests who want to stay Episcopal, held at the diocesan retreat center, so priests could speak freely, but he will be present at future meetings with this group.

Canon Ernest Bennett was at the meeting, and made a presentation. He had consulted with Bishop Howe on his talk before the meeting.

Canon Bennett referred to "those who see things differently" as "the
Twenty."

"He went into some detail about how we need to speak respectfully," the report stated.

It went on:

"15-22 Rectors and Vestries in the Diocese have talked in one way or
another about leaving the Episcopal Church (ECUSA). 17 Central Florida Anglican Communion Network (ACN) parishes are thinking of leaving ECUSA on October 1. The Bishop is now being told that there is no firm date to leave, which is technically true. When asked if they will leave, the answer is, 'Not Yet.' Canon Bennett indicated that this is like one spouse saying to another, "I will not divorce you yet.'"

"The Chancellor (Butch) [Wooten] has said that congregations cannot leave, that
clergy and parishioners can leave."

"An overall strategy of 'The Twenty' has been to always deal at the highest level possible first. The justification given is that this strategy would spare parishioners in the pew from making hard choices to leave. They could simply be told by the "higher level" that their church was re-aligning. They sought and succeeded in controlling the Diocesan Board and the Standing Committee. There has been an attempt to join with other ACN Dioceses in separating from ECUSA. 'The Twenty' were very disappointed that the Bishop would not do this. There was an effort to change the Constitution of the Diocese to eliminate the 'accession clause.' the clause that states that the Diocese accedes to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church."

"The Bishop ruled this out of order."

"There has been an attempt to move out of the Episcopal Church as a 'block.' This proposal was for 'The Twenty' to pay a block amount of money so that all the departing parishes would exit with their property at the same time. The Bishop has said that he will not negotiate with any 'block' but is ready to negotiate with any individual in good faith."

"A group of four persons, including members of the Standing Committee, approached the Bishop to ask him to retire. They offered to pay off his mortgage ($335,000) plus give him the difference between his salary and retirement income if he had served until age 72. The Bishop was born 11/4/42; he is 65 years old. (His yearly compensation according to the Journal of the 2007 Convention is $131,700)."

"The Bishop refused this 'golden parachute' or 'buy-out' for two reasons: (1) He
wants to be there for those who are staying in ECUSA and (2) He wants to be there for those who are leaving ECUSA."

"There have been efforts to get vestries to act on behalf on congregations (rather than congregational meetings) to remove congregations from ECUSA. The Canons of the church Title I.17.8 prevent this, as does Florida state law which states that when you cease to be a member of an organization, you cannot act on behalf of that
body."

"What is the role of the National Episcopal Church? ECUSA has said that it will not intervene in a diocese unless a Diocese refuses to enter into good faith negotiations or unless the diocese attempts to transfer property to another part of the Anglican Communion."

"Plans are already underway in some congregations to lay the groundwork to leave. In at least one instance money that has been pledged in a particular congregation is being channeled into a separate corporation and current expenses are being paid from Memorial and other accounts."

"Canon Bennett stated that Vestry members have been asked by the rector
to resign for not going along with this plan."

"Bishop Howe is sad right now, but is completely committed to those who remain in the Episcopal Church. He has no immediate plans to retire, but the option is tempting given the health of his wife. If he were to announce his retirement it will be orderly, announced at Convention with a future election of a Coadjutor Bishop who would serve under Bishop Howe for a time."

"'The Twenty' asked Bishop Howe to fire Canon Bennett. Bishop Howe does not plan to do so.The Diocese is not preparing a budget yet for 2008 as there is great uncertainty and the likelihood that several parishes may leave reducing diocesan assessments. They know that there will be a financial impact, but it is not yet predictable."

"Canon Bennett urged the clergy present to think about elections in the upcoming Diocesan Convention particularly the ones involving the Standing Committee and the Diocesan Board."

"Canon Bennett and Bishop Howe are in complete agreement, but have come
to this from different perspectives."

"There may be a need for retired clergy to help the diocese by serving,
perhaps without pay, in situations where priests will be needed."


Episcopalians were asked to keep Bishop Howe and Canon Bennett in their prayers, and send them both notes of encouragement.

I will keep them in my prayers, and I thank God the bishop and canon will remain in the church.

As for the diversion of funds within a parish, that certainly seems a violation of trust.

I would say more on the topic, but I have to go now.

27 comments:

Caminante said...

Just curious... how many of your GC deputies 2006 are part of the 20? I can imagine a few, given what they've said on the floor (always astounded when it's a woman priest part of these machinations since they seem to go utterly against her well-being).

BTW, I have posted a comment on the previous thread about your mother's death. Do take care of yourself.

cradlepiskie refugee said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Saint Pat said...

This is a notice to trolls and nasty people: don't post comments on this blog.

I won't put up with attacks on my friends. I'm grieving on several levels right now; I'm cranky, and I won't put up with it.

Go shovel you *stuff* at Virtue or somewhere friendlier to you.

Saint Pat said...

Camininante, I would have to do some research to answer your question, but I'm guessing most of them were members of the 20. They keep a low profile in the diocese - you can't even find a list of members of the Diocesan Board and Standing Committee anywhere!

Saint Pat said...

And, Caminante, thanks for your kind thoughts. You and all my friends in the blogging community are a blessing to me.

Caminante said...

"They keep a low profile in the diocese - you can't even find a list of members of the Diocesan Board and Standing Committee anywhere!"

So I have noticed. It always strikes me as the height of irony that certain folks scream for clarity and transparency on the part of TEC and then can't even let their names be on the diocesan website for an appointed or elected position that presumably is public knowledge.

As for someone countering me that I don't use my name for my blog, it is a blog and a blog is not a public office.

Charlotte said...

There's also a good bit of overlap between the membership of the Central Florida Diocesan Board, the Standing Committee, the CFL representatives to the Network and local officials of the American Anglican Council, but again, it is not easy to find out who is what or how they got the position.

Network representatives are appointed by one of the first two (or perhaps both) -- but in any case, there is no way to influence who becomes a representative to the Network, though it could be argued that they are the real powers in a Network diocese.

Pat, here is the most depressing part, to me: ""What is the role of the National Episcopal Church? ECUSA has said that it will not intervene in a diocese unless a Diocese refuses to enter into good faith negotiations or unless the diocese attempts to transfer property to another part of the Anglican Communion."

This has meant that a Network diocese such as ours will be turned over and abandoned to the Network. The National Church has given no support to faithful Episcopalians and until recently made no attempts to counter Network propaganda. That's a failure of leadership on the national level that will come back to haunt the entire church.

But after all, just as we have been abandoned to the Network by the National Church, so has the Archbishop of Canterbury abandoned the Episcopal Church to the incursions of irregular, newly-minted bishops. So now everyone knows what it feels like. Doesn't make it feel any better.

Pat, sometimes I just don't know what to say. I am grieving with you on the loss of your mother and rejoicing with you on her birthday into eternal life.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Dear Pat, I'm sorry about the loss of your mother. May she be blessed in the realm of Light, free from pain and sorrow, and may our Lord comfort you.

Barnabas said...

I too am sorry for your loss.

In regard to your Diocisian comments, I would respectfully ask that you put yourself in the place of those who out of good conscience feel they cannot stay in the Episcopal Church. I was one of these, convicted that I could not raise my children in a church where its Bishops and other leaders were in disarray in regard to foundational issues, such as the physical resurrection and the atonement.

I agree with you that a Priest or Vestry should not push a sharply divided parish out of TEC. However, in my church the orthodox members constituted the vast majority and for years, both in numbers and financial support. In instances such as ours where an overwhelming majority—say over 80%--reach a decision after an appropriate discernment period that they wish to align with another part of the Communion, why would you or others seek to deprive them of their facilities? The end result of such a short-sided policy, even if successful, is an empty church building. It’s a policy of mutually assured destruction, one that makes no sense.

In such instances, it would be far better to do as Virginia was doing until the national church intervened, and negotiate a mutually acceptable, fair financial arrangement wherein the departing parish compensates the Diocese. That would allow parish to continue to meet as a Christian body, and the Diocese to use the money to plant a church where it can flourish.

A little Christian grace on both sides of this debate would go a long way. Let these parishes go, with prayers that they serve the cause of Christ. Ask for their prayers in return. And then concentrate on the Great Commission.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Pat, may your mother rest in peace and rise in glory. My sympathy and prayers to you and your family.

Charlotte, I agree that TEC could play a larger role in a diocese such as yours. They seem to leave Bishop Howe in a lonely place as he tries to do the right thing.

Saint Pat said...

Barnabas, I look at is as someone who's the recipient of a trust.

For example, let's say my great-great grandmother owned jewels of intense color, clarity and beauty, and she wanted to make sure they stayed in the family lines. So, she set up a trust, specifiying they would go to her daughter, granddaughter, etc. They would not belong to the recipient; the recipient would only have use of the precious jewels during her lifetime. She couldn't sell them or use them as collateral for a loan or give them away. That's the terms of the trust. They stay in the family.

If I don't like jewelry, or would like some other kind of jewelry instead, I can refuse to accept the bequest and buy my own. If I accept the bequest, then decide later I want some other kind of jewelry, I can return it to the foundation to be passed on to the next generations.

I can't sell, hock or trade the jewels. I can't leave them to anyone in my will. They don't belong to me.

And it's so with our churches. We are the temporary trustees, using them now, but holding them in trust for future Episcopalians.

If we're really unhappy being Episcopalians, we can certainly go off and start our own versions of the church or join other churches, but the property of the Episcopal Church stays with the Episcopal Church for succeeding generations of the great Communion of Saints.

Who knows -- your kids may want to come back to the Episcopal Church.

As for the atonement and the Resurrection, there have been a number of discussions about this at Father Jake's, and all those "liberal" priests believe in them. In a large and diverse body, one can always find a couple of exceptions to hold up, if one looks hard enough.

I believe in the power of the cross and the empty tomb. I believe my mother has just begun a new part of life eternal.

Thank you for your condolences.

Charlotte said...

Barnabas, I can see the position you are in and know it very well -- from the other side, having been, while in Central Florida, an unwilling spectator to exhibitions of bigotry and hate from the pulpit that shocked me to the depths of my cradle-Episcopalian soul. Unfortunately, and it has been with great pain and much less resignation than I ought to have displayed, I have remained Episcopalian even here, because I take the traditionally Episcopalian high view of the Church.

The Anglican Churches retain the form of organization of the early Christian Churches. They have never been organized along the congregationalist lines you describe in your post.

Our ancestors in Ecclesia Anglicana, the Anglo-Saxons of the Venerable Bede's time, had a saying which in modern English is "Life is on loan." They thought that God loans us even our lives, let alone what we moderns call our possessions.

The Early English Christians thought we ought not to hoard treasure for our own purposes, however noble they may seem to us to be. We ought freely to give them, and gifts are not gifts if they come with strings attached. Beowulf, which was read in English monasteries, tells us that those who hoard their treasure will turn into dragons. It is a quaint legend, but one with a Gospel message.

It is our modern consumer culture that teaches us to say: "This church is mine; I paid for it." But the Church has always been called to be counter-cultural, and, hard as it is, faithfulness to the Church requires that we do not demand the Church do as we wish it to do, no matter how much we "pay" for it.

This Diocese has been a very hard school for me. I grieve at its closed-mindedness, its bigotry, its clannishness, its unwillingness to open itself up to the Gospel. All these things are contrary to the precepts of Christ. Yet even when a Diocese is as far gone in error as the Diocese of Central Florida is, it must be upheld and strengthened, not robbed and plundered, even when the claim is made that the spoils will be devoted to the service of God.

Paul said...

Pat,
Prayers for you, for the diocese, for Bp. Howe (whom I admire for behaving honorably), and all concerned arise as I type. Difficult days lie ahead but grace abides.

johnieb said...

Charlotte,

a very fine post; my prayers continue for all sisters and brothers in such circumstances.

Pat,

I had noticed you had not been as "present" online in the last few months, and even that your mother was very ill. My mother died August 28th, so I don't remember noticing when you lost yours. I sympathize.

My prayers for y'all also.

johnieb said...

I guess I'm more out of it than I thought; I meant not noticing the date, though I noted the event itself. A closer look at your earlier updates gave me the answer.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Pat, Charlotte, yours are both wonderful responses to Barnabas.

Simply, Barnabas, the property does not belong to the congregation. Anyone can leave the Episcopal Church, from the lowliest pew-warmer to a bishop, but they cannot take the property with them. That is the reality, majority or minority of the congregation wanting to go does not matter. That's the way it is. Why is that so hard to understand?

sharecropper said...

What a great analogy, Pat, about church property. You always have such insightful comments, and I enjoy your blog.

My sympathy and my apologies. I grieve with you on the death of your mother. Even though my Mom and I walked different paths, I miss her. And, I apologize for not knowing this sooner. I've been busy with lots of visitors this summer.

Charlotte said...

A new thought, and I don't know whether it's a good one or not. Pat, tell me what you think about listing "the Twenty" (give or take) on your blog?

There was a proposal some time ago to list non-Network churches in CFL on the Voices website. Too controversial, it was thought.

Would this also be too controversial? Or would it be acceptable to parish organizations that plan to leave the Episcopal Church?

I drove by a church this afternoon which called itself, on its sign, "Anglican Episcopal." I assume that church is among the Twenty. Their Rector had also been prominent in the American Anglican Council, another reason to suppose so. But perhaps not?

Charlotte said...

There are (I think) 20 CFL churches listed as being members of the American Anglican Council on the Florida AAC web page. Note that the list includes churches from other Florida dioceses and churches now affiliated with one or another African province.

http://www.cflaac.com/

Saint Pat said...

Charlotte, your link to the AAC Web site is probably as valuable as a post. I was going to say, I don't know with certainty who all the twenty are, but I imagine that would be a very close list. Thanks.

And thanks, everyone, for your support on this thread, and your kindness about my mother's death.
JohnnieB, don't feel bad. It's hard to keep up with what's going on with everyone, when we're dealing with so much in our own lives. God bless your mom and you.

Sharecropper, my walk with my mother was often difficult. I can sympathize with your difficulties with your own mother.

Pisco Sours said...

Pat, I'm sorry you have to go through these multiple messes and pains right now.

And good criminy, Network parishes trying to pay off loyal bishops? I'm just shocked. Shocked, I say. Have I mentioned how shocked I am? Because I am. Shocked, that is.

Anonymous said...

It would be better if Bishop Howe were honoring his vows to God. If he would take up his staff and lead his flock in a Godward direction and out of the Episcopal church. Does property matter more to our Bishop than God these days? I wonder.

Saint Pat said...

It seems to me that Bishop Howe has been taking heed of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps anonymous should ask him/herself just who is obsessed with getting property.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that TEC has been obsessed withgetting property. And of late, Bishop Howe seems hell bent on property. Perhaps if he kept his eye more in a Godward direction. And if he were to pick up his staff and lead his flock out. We would follow. The Standing Committee told him that in June. They were right. But follow Bishop Howe deeper into TEC, I think not. It's time to pull this diocese out.

Saint Pat said...

You don't have to follow Bishop Howe anywhere. You are free to leave any time.


Again, who is obsessed with getting property?

Saint Pat said...

I think Bishop Howe went to the edge of the precipice and looked before he leaped. What he saw there, down in the pit, made him back away. He had the sense to do it, instead of going forward, out of pride.

I don't Bishop Howe suddenly turned liberal or changed his views. But he had the courage to turn from a path that led to disaster.

PseudoPiskie said...

I see that Howe was among the Common Cause folks. Guess his "efforts" to keep your diocese in TEC are not just suspect.