In the ongoing drama of the realignment of American Anglicanism, most of the attention over the last few days and weeks has been focused on Virginia, and the 15 congregations (including two of the largest and oldest in the diocese) that have voted to shift their allegiance to the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a mission of the Nigerian church.
Outside the media glare, however, are quiet tragedies playing out, I’m sure, all over the country, that are just as much casualties of the Anglican-Episcopal wars as when there is a clean break. I ran across the following from a parish website. I have a passing familiarity with the place, having had an interest in one aspect of the ministry of one of its previous rectors some years ago, and having worshiped there once on a Sunday when visiting the area. As recently as two years ago, it was a large and vibrant congregation in an urban area of a diocese that has no reputation for being particularly liberal or particularly conservative. What follows is a letter from the Senior Warden. I’ve taken out all the names. Read it and weep. I did.
Lest anyone here missed a few of the turns, let me remind you that a year ago at this meeting, we had five clergy associated with this parish – three full time priests, a vocational deacon, and a priest associate. Our Associate Rector N.N. retired last Christmas, our Rector N.N. and Deacon N.N. left during Lent, our Associate N.N. left this October, and our then Assistant now Interim Rector N.N. will follow this Christmas. With great hope, we hired a new transitional deacon in July, only to have him leave “St Swithun’s” and the Episcopal Church in September – on Rally Day no less. In addition, in early summer we canceled our contemporary worship service, and released two staff members, N.N., our Contemporary Worship Music Director, and N.N. who led our youth. In March, N.N., our long-time Office Manager, retired, and N.N., our Christian Education Director, will depart this Christmas with Fr. N. It has been a heck of a ride.
Our lay leadership and membership were also in transition. The national issues associated with the 2003 and 2006 General Conventions prompted three members of our Vestry to leave “St Swithun’s.” Senior Warden N.N., and Vestry members N.N. and N.N. left us and the Episcopal Church. I transitioned from junior to senior warden on July 1st, and N.N. accepted my former role. Later, N.N. and N.N. were selected to replace two of the Vestry members who left us. Since June, about 70 parishioners have left “St Swithun’s”, with most of those leaving the Episcopal Church. In terms of both attendance and finances, the third quarter of this year was probably the worst our parish has experienced in decades.
This almost literally makes me ill. To see a thriving witness to the Good News of Christ, a robustly healthy parish community, be ripped apart by dissension not because of what’s happening within, but because of varying responses to what’s happening outside the congregation, is heart-wrenching. This is not a “heretics vs. orthodox” parish conflict. It’s a battle between those with very traditional theological views. It’s a firing squad assembled in a circle. It makes me angry with the self-styled “progressives” who have militantly prosecuted their agenda without any regard for the larger ecclesial context. “St Swithun’s” is an innocent bystander in the culture wars. It also makes me angry with many self-styled “orthodox” who are apparently much more formed by the values of American (Protestant) individualism than by the organic Catholic ecclesiology of their Anglican inheritance. Kyrie eleison.