FORT WORTH, Tex. (DPS, June 8) -- Determined to build a new
coalition of traditionalists opposed to the ordination of women and
committed to combating the alleged erosion of episcopal and biblical
authority, the Evangelical and Catholic Mission (ECM) meeting in Fort
Worth (June 1-3) established a "church within a church," the Episcopal
Synod of America, and elected Bishop Clarence C. Pope, Jr., head of
the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth, as its president.
The ECM gathering, attended by some 1,500 people, took place
in Pope's diocese, a diocese divided over its bishop's insistence that
women may not be ordained to all orders of ministry. The conference
was called by six bishops in late 1988 after the election of the Rev.
Barbara C. Harris as suffragan bishop of Massachusetts.
"That was the final straw," Pope told an opening press
conference at the Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, site of
the meeting. "We reacted."
Supported by 22 active and retired bishops from within the
Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion, including the Rt.
Rev. Graham Leonard, the Bishop of London, the six ECM bishops took
pains to distance themselves from the appearance of becoming a
schismatic movement. But the adoption of a constitution and
resolutions defining the purpose of the Episcopal Synod, and the
establishment of a House of Bishops and House of Deputies, made for an
uneasy and sometimes tense atmosphere.
ECM bishops, clergy, and laity alternately encouraged and
played down a tone of defiance in sermons and speeches, which were
frequently interrupted by loud and sustained applause. The Bishop of
Albany, the Rt. Rev. David S. Ball, celebrated the opening Eucharist.
Bishop William L. Stevens of Fond du Lac presided at the closing
service. Bishop Edward H. MacBurney of Quincy addressed the meeting
and compared the prejudice he felt was leveled at traditionalists to
the treatment of Europe's Jews in the Holocaust.
The three other ECM diocesans, the Rt. Rev. William C.
Wantland of Eau Claire, the Rt. Rev. David M. Schofield of San
Joaquin, and Bishop Pope acted as spokespersons for the new Episcopal
Synod of America and were joined by Bishop A. Donald Davies, retired
bishop of Fort Worth, in legislative sessions at the Travis Avenue
Baptist Church. Open hearings were conducted by the ECM at the
Humor and thinly veiled anger marked plenary debate over equal
support from the ECM for both the 1928 and the 1979 editions of the
Book of Common Prayer. The Dean of All Saints' Cathedral, Albany, New
York, the Very Rev. Gary W. Kriss, objected to the inclusion of The
Prayer Book Society (which is dedicated to the preservation of the
1928 edition of the Book of Common Prayer) in the conference, stating
that his cathedral parish had been under fire by that organization for
having recently begun use of the 1979 Prayer Book. Advocates of the
1928 Prayer Book responded that recent liturgical reforms embodied in
the 1979 book advocated women's ordination and homosexuality. The
debate was deferred until more appropriate language supporting use of
both Prayer Books was adopted.
Anglo-Catholic members of the ECM extended their new
inclusiveness to clergy representatives of the Episcopal Church's
evangelical wing, and to members of The Prayer Book Society. The
gathering welcomed observers from independent splinter groups,
including the Anglican Church of North America, which left the
Episcopal Church in the 1970s during the initial conflict over Prayer
Book revision and women's ordination.
The heart of the argument for the new voluntary organization
was episcopal oversight for clergy and congregations in the Episcopal
Church who do not accept the ordination of women. Bishops Pope,
MacBurney, and Schofield decried what they viewed as the abandonment
of scriptural authority relating to questions surrounding homosexuality, inclusive language, marital fidelity, personal morality,
and what Pope called "the dangerous and unstoppable influence of
radical feminist theology."
But the need for financing "Episcopal Visitors" from ECM
ranks, and a warning from Davies, executive director of the new
Episcopal Synod of America, that ECM bishops would undertake
sacramental acts in dioceses where they have not been invited, shift
the focus of the Fort Worth discussions of localized rejection of
women's ordination to a national level. How the House of Bishops of
the Episcopal Church, meeting in Philadelphia this September, responds
to the new group's initiative will begin to determine whether or not
the Episcopal Synod of America will remain within the Episcopal
In his opening address on the first afternoon of the Fort
Worth meeting, Pope alluded to the possibility of conflict should the
Episcopal Church refuse to accept the establishment of the new
organization that he and Davies had spearheaded. "This is a measured
and carefully planned approach," Pope said, "which has the real
potential for meeting our needs without disturbing jurisdictional
boundaries of any diocese or violating the Constitution or Canons of
the Episcopal Church." Pope said the ECM was "free to associate with
whom we please and so to organize if we desire."
But he also stated that if "the goals set forth through the
emerging structure of this synod be thwarted by forces who might wish
to see us disappear, we shall immediately reassess our position and
take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the succession of the
historic episcopate and to carry out our mission as stated."
Pope refused to comment on actions he and other bishops
contemplated if efforts by traditionalists to gain financial and
numerical support were blocked. But Davies said at a press conference
that a resolution on episcopal authority passed by the Episcopal Synod
of America "gives bishops warning that we are coming." Asked if he
were going to cross diocesan lines uninvited, Davies said, "We have
to, or else we have no future. There really may be bad feelings at
this point, and we want to avoid that."
Schofield and Wantland emphasized during the Fort Worth
meeting that the ordination of some 1,200 women priests and one bishop
in the Episcopal Church is "provisional" and not binding on the Church
at large. The resolution on episcopal visitors adopted by the
Episcopal Synod of America states their belief that "bishops have a
duty of being guardians of the Faith by virtue of the mission given by
consecration and must obey God rather than men, especially if those
men are bent on denying the admitted provisionality of women's
ordinations and refusing to provide a pastoral alternative for those
who do not accept such ordinations." The resolution preserves the
orthodox line of apostolic succession for male priesthood and
Expanding on the group's intention, Schofield told a press
conference that if bishops don't allow Episcopal visitors, "in extreme
situations I would act as a bishop of the Church of God and take the
consequences." He went on to explain the ways in which he saw the
climate in the Church changing in favor of those opposing women's
ordination. "No one wants schism," Schofield said.
The Bishop of San Joaquin emphasized his understanding that
the recently released Eames Commission report and the response to it
from the 27 Primates of the Anglican Communion meeting in Cyprus
underline the tentative nature of women's ordination. "We are in a
state of provisionality," he said. "We do not know that this is of
God, that this is right." He said that the Church of England "is now
two votes away in the General Synod from rejecting women's ordination.
In Ireland, the Bishop of Dublin says it is inappropriate. We are
seeing things go in a very different direction."
Schofield's analysis proved contradictory. Two legislative
measures are currently before the General Synod in England pertaining
directly to the ordination of women. They must be accepted by a two-thirds majority on each of three readings. The second and third
readings have yet to take place, and there are significant majorities
in favor of women's ordination both within the General Synod and the
Church of England at large.
The Church of Ireland, according to the Church Times of
London, has approved legislation by 73 percent in the clergy order and
86 percent in the lay order that eliminates legal obstacles to women
in their desire to be ordained to all orders of ministry.
In his address to the Episcopal Synod of America, the Bishop
of London, the Rt. Rev. Graham Leonard, said, "We look to you to take
action at this moment. Fear not, for those that be with us are more
than those that are with them." As if to quell the anxiety over
schism, Leonard said, "We have to stay in the Anglican Communion. We
must stay and be the salt which gives the savor. And we must be
prepared to face the cost. We have to find a way of staying within
Leonard acknowledged his criticism of the Eames Commission
report, and said its acceptance by the Primates of the Anglican
Communion is a further step in "the separation of communion from
truth." From the earliest days of fellowship given by God, Leonard
said, implementation of communion "has always been inextricably bound
up with the responsibility of witnessing to scriptural and apostolic
truth." Reception, the act of evaluating a doctrine by the Church as
a whole, "can't apply to sacramental actions which either have
happened, or haven't. You cannot live in the kind of provisional
situation which is created when you do not know whether the sacraments
can be trustworthy."
Leonard brought the crowded nave of the Travis Avenue Baptist
Church to its feet in a prolonged response when he said, "I will
remain in communion with you, come what may." When the applause
ended, he continued, "Provided you remain faithful, too. I've said
just that to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and I will remain in
communion with him."
The Eames Commission neglected two important points, Leonard
said. "One role of the bishop is to enable the people to come to the
sacraments without presumption. We come because the Church has been
faithful in the power and promise of God. That is the bishop's role,
to enable people to come in that way. That is why the bishop has the
responsibility which cannot be taken away from him. It is part of his
mission as a bishop, and has nothing to do with his jurisdiction."
The state of impaired communion resulting from disagreements
over the validity of women's ordination produced communications from
the new Episcopal Synod of America to the Archbishop of Canterbury and
Pope John Paul II. The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the
Most Rev. Edmond L. Browning, in a Pastoral Letter to the Episcopal
Church on the eve of the Fort Worth meeting [See DPS 89099], stated
his intention to support the right of the ECM to call the conference,
even though he disagreed with many of the positions the ECM bishops