My Dearly Beloved Brothers and Sisters,
Most of this letter was written two weeks ago, but I did not believe it was timely to send it. I think that the Protocol has now been adopted by the Diocesan Board it may be right to do so.
Not a single one of you has asked the question: “Bishop, why are you allowing these rectors who want to ‘disaffiliate’ the space to pursue their objectives? They are clearly in the process of abandoning the communion of this Church. Why are you not moving against them by inhibition and deposition?”
Here is my answer to the unspoken question: I am deeply sympathetic to any who believe that the current leadership of The Episcopal Church has greatly compromised the “doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this Church has received them.” And I am extremely reluctant to discipline those who, for conscience sake, are finding they MUST “disaffiliate.”
I believe that many of our clergy and lay leaders have attempted to be completely loyal to our received heritage, and have tried to reform a Church that is in many ways errant. And they have finally concluded that such reformation is not going to be successful. They want to “protect” the members of The Episcopal Church entrusted to them from any further spiritual incursions against them.
I am not convinced we have come to a point of no return. But I understand why they may believe we have done so. I believe it is still possible to be a faithful parish, or a faithful diocese, within The Episcopal Church. And I am still eager to hear what the Archbishop of Canterbury has to say about all of this.
Some of our people have expected and hoped that I would attempt to “lead the Diocese out of The Episcopal Church.” (They are, frankly, deeply disappointed in me!)
I do not believe that is possible, though I recognize that some of our Bishops are attempting to do precisely that. I do not think they will be successful. They can leave, and they can take any number of clergy and laity with them. They can affiliate with some foreign jurisdiction such as the Southern Cone.
But there will be a remnant who will NOT want to leave, and that remnant will constitute the continuing Diocese of Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, Fort Worth, etc.
I expect that millions of dollars will be spent in lawsuits that will ultimately fail as far as those who wish to leave are concerned. And I cannot be part of that.
Nor can I be part of litigation against those who, for conscience sake, believe they must leave The Episcopal Church. These are faithful brothers and sisters who only want to remain true to what we have always been: orthodox Anglican Catholic Christians.
We have spent two months (four meetings, approximately twelve hours) attempting to craft a Protocol (a page and a half) which is finally in place – to deal with those who wish to “disaffiliate.” This Protocol does not spell out the whole process. It merely brings to the threshold of being able to deal with those congregations. I want to state again my gratitude for the prayers of so many, and my particular gratitude for the members of the Board, the Standing Committee, the Special Task Force, and especially our Chancellors. We could not pay them for the time they have invested on our behalf!
The Protocol does not guarantee success. If the leaders of some congregations offer unreasonable proposals, and we cannot possibly accept them, and if I and the Board offer counter proposals that these leaders cannot accept…there is no guarantee whatsoever that somebody may not do something that the other side will find litigious. I believe that nobody wants to go there. But we may not be able to avoid it.
The Church of the New Covenant attempted to transfer title to a separate non-profit 501 (c)(3) corporation, and forced our hand four years ago. We had to file suit, and we did so. Something like that could occur again. I pray it does not.
On one level, I think the honorable thing those who wish to “disaffiliate” would be to simply walk away.
That is what happened at St. John’s, Melbourne, and Shepherd of the Hills, Lecanto. And it appears that is what is about to happen at St. Edward’s, Mount Dora.
But, on another level, I believe that there is a validity to the argument of some who wish to ‘disaffiliate” that it is they who have been faithful, while the national leadership of The Episcopal Church has increasingly abandoned the very heritage we have all sworn to protect.
So, I want to try to work with these brothers and sisters if it is at all possible. (It may not be.) We have received proposals from three of these congregations so far. In all honesty, I do not think any of the three are realistic. But now that the Protocol is in place, we can begin to discuss these proposals.
Each church’s situation is unique, and each will have to be dealt with on its own merits. My life, since October 18, has been totally consumed with all of this, and I can tell you there is not a shred of joy in any of it. (Ernie [Bennett]’s, too.)
I will attempt to keep you apprised of where we are as this process unfolds.
My warmest regards in our Lord,
(And yes, you may post off the list so long as you post the whole thing.)
–(The Right Rev.) John W. Howe is Bishop of Central Florida