The Living Church

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The Living ChurchJanuary 3, 19991998 in Review 218(1) p. 10-12

"This call for resignation stands by itself in the nature of the motivation and is one of the most extreme actions taken in the history of the Episcopal Church." - The Rt. Rev. Joe Morris Doss

An event which took place far away from the Episcopal Church wound up creating more of a stir among Episcopalians than any other news event during 1998. The Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of bishops of the Anglican Communion, a meeting which usually generates little news, produced the major news of the year with its resolution affirming traditional views of sexuality.

That resolution, adopted near the close of the three-week meeting in Canterbury, overshadowed such events in the Episcopal Church as a change in Presiding Bishops, tensions between some congregations and their bishops, and other domestic happenings. It was the Lambeth resolution on sexuality, which has no canonical status in the 38 separate Anglican provinces, which had Episcopalians talking most.

Following two weeks of peaceful discussions and presentations at the University of Kent, the 739 bishops spent some time dealing with resolutions. Most were dealt with quickly, but the legislation on sexuality was marked by arguments, raised voices and acrimony. The amended resolution adopted "upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage." It also rejects "homosexual practice as incompatible with scripture," and states it "cannot advise the legitimizing or blessing of same-sex unions nor the ordination of those involved in such unions." In addition, the resolution commits the bishops "to listen to the experience of homosexual people" and condemns "irrational fear of homosexuals."

The adoption of the resolution was not surprising to most observers, but the vote totals were more one-sided than expected. Led by African and Asian bishops, the vote was 526 in favor and 70 against, with 45 abstentions.

Many American bishops voted against the resolution, and a sizable number of them issued statements or pastoral letters reminding persons in their dioceses that the resolutions of Lambeth are not binding. Bishop Ronald Haines of Washington distributed a pastoral statement intended for lesbian and gay Anglicans, promising "to listen to you and reflect with you theologically and spiritually on your lives and ministries. It is our deep concern that you not feel abandoned by your church and that you know of our continued respect and support." The statement was signed by more than 180 bishops, including eight primates.

From Chicago to New York

The Episcopal Church had a new primate in 1998 when the Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold was installed at Washington National Cathedral in January as Presiding Bishop. Following his election at the General Convention in 1997, Bishop Griswold moved from the Diocese of Chicago to the Episcopal Church Center in New York City. The early months of his ministry have been marked by a willingness to engage in conversation with persons on all sides of various issues, and to visit a number of dioceses.

One of Bishop Griswold's early tasks was to preside at the Convocation of Interim Bodies held in Minneapolis in March. Members of national boards, commissions and committees participated in the three-day event during which a plan to double the church's membership was announced. The Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism revealed the plan, called "20/20: A Clear Vision." It calls for "creative strategies for evangelism" and identifying and training new leaders.

'New Reformation'

Bishop John S. Spong of Newark, no stranger to controversy, created a stir in May when he called for debate on such topics as the nature of God, the divinity of Christ, the virgin birth as biology and the use of heaven and hell as tools of behavior control. Bishop Spong posted 12 theses on the Internet, sent them to Christian leaders with invitations to debate, and said this is "a new Reformation far more radical than Christianity has ever before known." More than 50 American bishops later "disassociated" themselves from the theses.

In July, shortly before the opening of the Lambeth Conference, Bishop Spong became embroiled in more controversy following an interview published in the Church of England Newspaper. In the interview, Bishop Spong said African Christians have "moved out of animism into a very superstitious kind of Christianity" and have "yet to face the intellectual revolution of Copernicus and Einstein." Later, a group of evangelical Anglicans apologized to some of the African bishops.

Calls to Resign

Newark's neighboring diocese, New Jersey, also had its share of controversy. The Rt. Rev. Joe Morris Doss, Bishop of New Jersey, under pressure to resign from a sizable segment of the diocese, continued in office. At New Jersey's diocesan convention in March, Bishop Doss said he has no intention of resigning, despite calls from the standing committee and diocesan council.

"This call for resignation stands by itself in the nature of the motivation and is one of the most extreme actions taken in the history of the Episcopal Church," Bishop Doss said in his convention address.

Two months later, the Rt. Rev. George Hunt, retired Bishop of Rhode Island, appointed by the Presiding Bishop to assist in New Jersey, issued a report in which he urged the diocesan council to work toward resolving the differences between Bishop Doss and the governing bodies of the diocese. Bishop Doss has been charged with being an ineffective leader, lying, using discretionary funds inappropriately, racist behavior, alcohol abuse and other things.

World Relief

Episcopalians were involved in relief efforts from natural disasters, both in this country and in the Caribbean. Devastation from hurricanes plagued the Dominican Republic in September, and Honduras, Nicaragua and other parts of Central America in November. In January, ice storms caused power outages in several northeastern dioceses, and autumn floods were especially severe in the Diocese of West Texas. Parts of the Diocese of Florida was ravaged by wildfires when drought conditions became severe in July, and tornadoes caused heavy damage to two churches in the Diocese of Tennessee in April.

Seminaries made considerable news with four of them choosing new deans. The Rev. John Kevern was installed at Bexley Hall, R. William Franklin at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, the Rev. Ward Ewing at General Theological Seminary, and the Rev. James Lemler at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. General also became involved in a covenant relationship with Lutheran Theological Seminary of Philadelphia.

In Opposition

Tensions between bishops and parishes made news in some dioceses, particularly Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. In Massachusetts, the rector of Holy Trinity Church, Marlborough, the Rev. Judith Gentle-Hardy, and her congregation informed Bishop M. Thomas Shaw, SSJE, that they were no longer in communion with him and asked for alternate episcopal oversight. At issue was the support of the ordination of non-celibate homosexual persons and the blessing of same-sex relationships by Bishop Shaw and Bishop Suffragan Barbara C. Harris.

In Pennsylvania, Bishop Charles Bennison, who became the diocesan in May, was at odds with several congregations over the same issues. The matter became particularly difficult when Bishop Bennison said he would make an episcopal visit to three congregations which had told him he would not be welcome - St. James the Less, Philadelphia, Good Shepherd, Rosemont, and St. John's, Huntingdon Valley. Bishop Bennison decided not to visit St. James' and Good Shepherd, but said he would go to St. John's in December.

Similar situations were reported in other dioceses. In Texas, the Church of the Advent, Stafford, asked Bishop Claude Payne for alternate episcopal oversight. St. Andrew's, Little Rock, Ark., an independent congregation, affiliated with the Rt. Rev. John Kabango Rucyahana, Bishop of Shyira, Rwanda, after Bishop Larry Maze of Arkansas failed to recognize the congregation.


A group of traditionalists came under fire when they filed articles of incorporation for an organization called the Protestant Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., Inc. (PECUSA). PECUSA, Inc., was incorporated in 44 states, founded "to engage exclusively in religious, educational and charitable activities," as an "umbrella for orthodox individuals, organizations and parishes" concerned over the liberal drift of the General Convention and church leaders. The dioceses of Newark and New Jersey filed suit against the organization, alleging six violations - four under federal law and two under the laws of New Jersey. The Rt. Rev. William C. Wantland, Bishop of Eau Claire, is the president of the organization.

Bishop Allin Remembered

The church lost one of its best-known bishops when former Presiding Bishop John M. Allin, 77, died March 6 in Jackson, Miss., of lung cancer. Bishop Allin had been the church's 23rd Presiding Bishop, serving from 1973 to 1985.

"He was a leader in a time of a lot of a growing diversity," said his successor as Presiding Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Edmond L. Browning. Other retired bishops who died during 1998 were: Francis Lickfield, Quincy; Quentin Primo, Chicago, suffragan; Roger Blanchard, Southern Ohio; Girault Jones, Louisiana, and Harvey Butterfield, Vermont.

Bishops consecrated during 1998 were: Charles Jenkins, Louisiana; Wayne Wright, Delaware; John Rabb, Maryland, suffragan; Harry Bainbridge, Idaho; Barry Howe, West Missouri, coadjutor; Dan Herzog, Albany; Chilton Knudsen, Maine; Mark Sisk, New York, coadjutor; and John Croneberger, Newark, coadjutor.

Elected but not yet consecrated were the following priests: Charles vonRosenberg, East Tennessee; Keith Whitmore, Eau Claire; William Persell, Chicago, and J. Michael Garrison, Western New York.

The Rt. Rev. F. Clayton Matthews, Bishop Suffragan of Virginia, was named director of the office of Pastoral Development, succeeding Bishop Harold Hopkins. Among other appointments made by the Presiding Bishop, the Rev. Rosemari Sullivan, of Alexandria, Va., was named secretary of General Convention, and Pat Mordecai, of Washington, D.C., was appointed assistant to the Presiding Bishop for administration.