A Pastoral Letter from the Bishop of Central Florida
To be Read or otherwise Distributed in all of our Congregations
On Sunday, October 21, 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
The following agreed statement was released by all of the participants in a meeting held at Diocesan House on Thursday of this past week:
“On Thursday, October 18, 2007, the Rectors and Senior Wardens of seven Parishes of the Diocese of Central Florida and two Church Planters met with Bishop John W. Howe and representatives of the Diocese to discuss the possible scenarios by which all or part of the congregations may disaffiliate from The Episcopal Church.
“Each Parish will now enter a process of conversation and negotiation with the Diocese based on its particular circumstances. Bishop Howe reiterated his commitment to provide pastoral care both to those who leave and to those who wish to remain.
“All parties agreed to enter into these negotiations in good faith using Biblical principles in an effort to avoid litigation and scandal to the Church of Christ”.
As Bishop of the Diocese of Central Florida, and as stated above, I remain committed to providing pastoral care both to those who wish to leave and to those who wish to remain. Individuals who wish to leave the Diocese of Central Florida and form another congregation are to be honored as brothers and sisters in Christ. The Diocese will do everything in its power to make their departure from the Diocese of Central Florida and The Episcopal Church a peaceful one without rancor or recrimination.
At the same time the Diocese is bound to work within the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church which state that a Parish holds in trust all real and personal property for the benefit of the Diocese and The Episcopal Church. We have a solemn responsibility to protect the interests of the Diocese and the larger church. We cannot and will not abandon those who wish to remain as members of The Episcopal Church and we will work diligently to determine whether in fact there is a sufficient number of Episcopalians in a given congregation to constitute a viable continuing congregation able to meet and worship in its own current facilities.
We are developing a detailed protocol for dealing with those who wish to disaffiliate, and I will discuss it with the clergy at our annual Clergy Conference this week. Only after receiving their input will this protocol be finalized. For now, let me assure you that all of you will have a say in these decisions, and they will not be made by Rectors and Vestries acting alone.
This is a very painful time for many of us. I feel a great sense of personal loss in contemplating these departures, but I want to reassure you that the Diocese of Central Florida remains steadfastly committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority and trustworthiness of God’s word written, and the anointing and empowering of the Holy Spirit. As your Bishop I am committed to proclaiming the Gospel, to strengthening existing churches and planting new ones, and to raising up the next generation as faithful followers of Christ. The painful loss of some of our brothers and sisters in Christ will not divert us from any of these commitments.
I have said repeatedly that it is my desire to remain both an Episcopalian and an Anglican. In that regard, let me share something with you that the Archbishop of Canterbury has written to me just this past week: “Any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such”¦. I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the ”˜National Church.’”
We have a great and faithful Diocese, and with the help of the Lord himself, I am committed to making it even better. During this time of transition, I urge all of us to treat each other with great care and compassion. I ask your prayers for wisdom for all who will be involved in these discussions.
With warmest regards in our Lord,
(The Rt. Rev.) John W. Howe is Bishop of Central Florida
Important Update: I have contacted Bishop Howe directly and he has given permission for me to cite his response: “The longer version is correct.”