What makes a church?

The leadership of the Episcopal Church of America is finding that Biblical authority trumps church authority in the home of some of its oldest, largest and most influential churches. Over the weekend eight Northern Virginia churches, upset with the denomination’s decisions to ordain a gay bishop and sanction same-sex marriages, voted overwhelmingly to leave the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and affiliate with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), under the authority of a Nigerian bishop.

The departing congregations comprise about 10 percent of the diocese’s 90,000 members and about 17 percent of the 32,000 people in the pew on an average Sunday. Virginia Episcopalians have been in an ecclesiastical civil war since the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an active homosexual, with the support of Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee.

“I wasn’t at all surprised,” said Kim Cooke, a former vestry member. “This church has always made a point of being faithful to the Scriptures and God. When faced with a choice between man and God, it was an easy choice.”

“I am thrilled at the results,” longtime member Judy Thomsen said. “I think we need to move on.”

Doctrine is at the heart of the matter, but there are issues of authority and insubordination … and some very expensive real estate. The Episcopal Bishop of Virginia struck a strident note, saying there are “Nigerian congregations occupying Episcopal churches.” With respect to the bishop, next week it will be the same people sitting in the same pews as last week, inside the same buildings that have been there for decades (centuries in some cases), reading from the same Bible of the ages. The only thing that has changed are the philosophies of the denominational leadership that believes the will of God is determined by ballot rather than scripture; in turn their flocks have voted with their feet.

No doubt it will get ugly. According to Robert at The Llama Butchers, the Denomination is taking a hard-line with its rectors, insisting on obedience, with lawsuits, salaries and pensions at stake. Robert is a vestry-member at his Episcopal church in the Washington, D.C. area and his rector wants nothing to do with the dispute. Nevertheless, Rob feels he has to make a stand:

The Church has reached the point where each and every Episcopalian has to know exactly what is going on, in order to make for him- or herself a fully informed decision about where he or she is going to go. “Eyes front, mind your own business and do what you’re told,” is not, I think, the tone the Rector ought to be taking. And I also don’t think the parish should be relying on the Official Party Line as served up by the Rector as its sole source of news and opinion.

So. At tomorrow night’s meeting, I am going to propose that a committee be set up, the purpose being to gather and collate news and opinion pertinent to the Church’s ongoing controversies and to find means by which to disseminate such news to members of the congregation. I’m going to insist that such committee be independant of the Rector’s oversight or control and that its membership be politically and theologically balanced.

I am also going to get shot down in flames, of course. But I’m beginning to get angry enough that I don’t really care. If I can’t get official sanction for such a project, then I’ll do it off my own bat. And if I get threatened with personal liability as a vestryman for spreading alarum and confusion, I’ll quit and carry on as a private parishioner.

The Rector mentioned in an email to me the other day that he wanted to make sure my energies as a vestry member were being directed to areas for which I felt a passion. Well, dammit, I think I’ve found just the ticket.

God bless.

Leave a Reply