Dissident Church Survives Synod

Episcopal News Service. November 9, 1978 [78322]

DALLAS, Tex. -- Like the famed old aircraft, the "Spruce Goose" of World War II and Howard Hughes fame, the fledgling denomination made up of dissident Episcopalians has had its maiden flight. And, as with that noble experiment in aviation there is some doubt just what effect this flight will have.

The opening gavel at its Constitutional Assembly no sooner sounded (in mid-October) than a motion was made for a "secret session" so that the assembly need not "discuss red hot issues in front of the public and press." It was passed, and the ballroom of the Sheration-Dallas Hotel was cleared.

From vantage points backstage, a huddled group heard what some called personal attacks on divorced priests and a group of so-called "troublemakers." The outcome was a motion to oust the Southwest Diocese (Texas and Missouri) on the ground that it had not been properly organized. When the bishops split down the middle on their vote, the delegates voted to uphold the report of the credentials committee to permit the Southwest Diocese to have full status.

This prompted two dioceses, Christ the King and Southeastern United States, to stage a walkout. The two delegations marched to a room on the floor above and began deliberating the possibility of constituting a "Continuing Anglican Church" on their own.

Bishop James O. Mote of Denver, prelate of the Diocese of the Holy Trinity, and a couple of priests and laypersons began moving between the two factions, attempting a reconciliation.

Finally, Bishop Mote told the walkout dioceses, "It is unconscionable to sabotage a Catholic constitution for the sake of one diocese. I will change my vote if that is the only way. I will vote not to seat the Southwest Diocese if you believe they have not fulfilled the necessary conditions."

Led by their prelates, Bishops Peter Watterson of West Palm Beach, Fla., and Robert Morse, of Oakland, Calif., the two dioceses then returned to the ballroom. But they brought with them a "4-Point Mandate" that called for the bishops to take the chair of the meeting, to dissolve the assembly and convene a synod, to give the diocese of the Southwest a voice but no vote, and to agree to vote by orders.

Charles Bucy, a delegate from Dallas, said, "This is an issue of raw, naked power, with you saying 'If you don't play the game my way, we're leaving.' We (Southwest) seem to be the sacrificial lamb of the proposed compromise. But we are not sheep. We are the children of God, and we intend to fight the good fight. "

But by a vote of 77 to 69, the "4-Point Mandate" was put into effect.

For the next 24 hours, the meeting was bogged down in a sea of parliamentary procedures and political maneuvering. The issue under contention seemed to be whether the authority of the Church would be in the episcopacy or shared with the parish clergy and laity. The walkout dioceses were accused of being "too Catholicminded," while they charged others are not Catholic enough in their theology.

It was not until the third day of the Assembly that the delegates got down to the business of dealing with a draft constitution, prepared by a special committee over several months. By midnight on Friday, it appeared there would be insufficient time to complete the debate and voting, item by item, by the Saturday noon adjournment deadline.

However, when the Assembly went into its final session the next day, a resolution was offered to adopt the portions of the document which had been debated and approved, and to adopt provisionally the remainder until the 1979 General Synod could deliberate.

After much debate, the Assembly requested the four bishops to offer their guidance before the vote was taken.

Bishop Watterson of the Diocese of the Southeastern United States said that, although he believed that "we were not ready to do what we are doing," he also felt that "we need to go away from here with something in our hands and as united as God will allow."

Bishop Mote of the non-geographical Diocese of the Holy Trinity said he favored the resolution. "We are never really ready to adopt a constitution and canons, and politics don't bother me if it ends up good," he explained. "Besides, there isn't anything in this document that isn't Catholic."

Bishop Morse of the non-geographical Diocese of Christ the King, commented only that "God writes straight with crooked lines. "

Bishop Dale David Doren of the Diocese of the Midwest offered no comment, but when the vote came, he joined with Bishops Watterson and Mote to approve the document. Bishop Morse abstained from voting.

Overwhelming approval was given by the lay delegates and also by those in the clerical order.

The document will now be sent to the seven dioceses for discussion and ratification or rejection in their synods. When four dioceses have ratified, it will become effective as the law of the Church.

The only major alteration in the proposed document made by the Assembly was the name of the Church, which has been unofficially called the Anglican Church in North America. The final selection was the Anglican Catholic Church.