ECM Meets in Fort Worth; Unveils Episcopal Synod of America

Episcopal News Service. June 8, 1989 [89106]

Stephen R. Weston, Communications Officer for the Diocese of Dallas and Editor of Crossroads

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 Worthington Hotel.

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 Church.

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 episcopacy only.

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 without compromise."

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 were taking.

[thumbnail: The opening Eucharist at...] [thumbnail: Executives confer. The pl...] [thumbnail: ECM elected Bishop Claren...]