Date: Sat, 27 Dec 1997 15:50:00
Dear Friends in Christ:
In view of the firestorm of publicity in the religious press over the Trustees of the Protestant Episcopal Church, my own role in that action, and the impact this has on the whole Church, I feel it extremely important to state clearly what has happened, what has not happened, and where, hopefully, this may all lead.
For a number of years, there has been a real feeling on the part of many bishops, other clergy and laity in the Church that nationally, the Church has been moving away from the foundations of the Faith we have all embraced. In the last twenty years, a third of Episcopalians have left the Church. Some dioceses have seen declines of 40%. At the same time, previously held positions of virtual universal acceptance have been changed or even rejected. Already, at least five dioceses have agreed to the blessing of same-sex unions. More are ordaining practicing homosexuals, in spite of condemnation by the official resolutions and policies of the Church. Those engaged in these practices are not even considered as in error, much less in violation of the Faith.
In the wake of all this upheaval, various groups have come into being. Some have been centered on a primary issue, such as women's ordinations (ECM, ESA), or revisions of the Prayer Book (Prayer Book Society). Others are more concerned with a broader range of issues that threaten to divide the Church (Episcopalians United, Concerned Clergy and Laity of the Episcopal Church, American Anglican Council, First Promise).
Further, many have actually left the Church to form other bodies, such as the Anglican Catholic Church, United Episcopal Church, American Episcopal Church, Anglican Church in America, and others. In addition to clergy and laity leaving the Episcopal Church for the "Continuing Church", a number of clergy and laity have joined the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Churches.
For a number of years, I have been deeply concerned for both the unity of the Church and the wholeness of its Faith. Could there be a way to give traditional Episcopalians a place to stand within the Church? Could there be a way to allow people to retain the Faith of their Fathers (and Mothers)? Most Episcopalians do not want to leave the Church they know and love, but they don't want the revisions to the Faith which seem more and more to be the rule of the day.
A little over two years ago, several clergy and laity were discussing how we might keep a place in the Church for those who were feeling more and more disenfranchised. We discovered several things. The first was the fact that the National Church had begun to remove from the Church Constitution and the Book of Common Prayer all references to the old title "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America", and substituting instead the new name "The Episcopal Church". That change was virtually completed by the end of 1979. The second was that the official incorporation of the Church was under the name of "The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America".
If the Faith was to be preserved, if the people in the pew (and at the altar) were to have a place to stand within the Church, without leaving, that place should be identified, not with the "Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society" of the Episcopal Church Center in New York, nor even with the revised name, "The Episcopal Church". As the old name was abandoned, so the old Faith has been abandoned. Recovery of the old name would be directly related to conservation of the old Faith.
On that basis, it was determined to incorporate that name, "The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America", so that name could be preserved for those who embrace the "Faith once delivered to the Saints", the Faith and Order that has been the mainstay of Episcopalians for almost 400 years in this country. With the name incorporated, Trustees could be chosen to hold the Faith in Trust, and the heritage of the Church in trust. This was seen as an umbrella for orthodox individuals, organizations and parishes.. A Declaration was drawn up which affirms that Faith in Trust, and a copy is attached.
Having established the Trustees of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, Inc., about a year and a half ago, it was also felt that the corporate structure should be authorized to function in the various States of the Union. As that process was being completed, it was then felt that the Trustees should make a public statement of this umbrella, so that individuals and groups desiring to do so could associate with the umbrella, using the Declaration as the reference of unity. As we were beginning to take this action (I had mailed out information to the clergy of the Diocese of Eau Claire, and was beginning to share information with interested laity), the Presiding Bishop became aware of what we were doing. While we had not advised him, it was a matter of public record, and in the process of becoming more public.
His immediate reaction was one of anger, and misunderstanding. He called me on December 10, alleging that the Trustees were planning schism, and were trying to steal the name of the Church. He threatened publicity to "destroy our ministry", and possible suits, as well. He demanded that the corporate structure, just then in place to be used, be dissolved within 48 hours. I tried to explain to him that I could not make any unilateral decision for the Trustees, and that even if I could, or if the Trustees were willing to do so, it could not be accomplished that quickly. Legal action could take up to 60 days.
Of course, the Trustees did NOT intend to leave the Church or split it. This was made clear to him, but he would not hear of it. We have been concerned, however, with the recent threats by Primates of Anglican Churches in Africa, Asia and elsewhere to seek the ouster of the American Church from the Anglican Communion. In view of these very real threats, we were concerned to be sure that there remained in this country an Anglican Church still associated with the rest of the Anglican Communion. When it became obvious that we could not get the Trustees together within the time given, the Presiding Bishop did agree to allow a meeting to take place the next week to consider his demands.
The Trustees met on December 17, 1997, and seriously considered what the Presiding Bishop had said. In fairness, I must say that the corporate charter was copied from the more than 30 year old charter of the Diocese of Eau Claire, and some of the language was not appropriate to what we were about. The Trustees were fully willing to amend the Articles of Incorporation to make it crystal clear that we were not laying any claim to the programs or funds of 815. However, since thousands had already accepted the umbrella organization, it would be impossible to comply with the demand to dismantle the organization.
The purposes of that umbrella, as expressed in the Articles of Incorporation, are:
(T)o engage exclusively in religious, educational and charitable activities. Further, it shall exercise a stewardship in the Gospel to insure that there always remains in the United States a Church which "is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion . . . upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer" (Preamble to the Constituation).
As stated to the Presiding Bishop, "the Trustees are not leaving the Church". It is not the intention to split the Church, but to give a solid place for orthodox Episcopalians to stand together. It is also not the intention of the Trustees to confuse this structure with the National structure, with the Presiding Bishop's office, or the Episcopal Church Center in New York. All of this was communicated to him. We have also communicated with the Presiding Bishop-elect.
The Trustees include Bishops John-David Schofield and Alex Dickson, as well as myself. In addition, outstanding Church leaders, such as Fr. Jon Shuler of NAMS, Fr. Chuck Murphy of First Promise, Fr. Larry Hall, Rector of St. John the Divine in Houston (one of the largest parishes in the American Church) and Dr. John Rodgers, retired Dean of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, are serving. Serving locally in Wisconsin are Canon Larry Rowe and Eunice Muenzberg.
Sure enough, the publicity barrage threatens to destroy our ministry. Some of it is totally out of touch with reality, such as claims that this is a movement to divide the Church over the ordination of women. A majority of the Trustees favor the ordination of women, and that is not an issue. Nonetheless, I have been attacked for my connection with ESA, and several bishops have written to claim this as an ESA plot. One report even claimed that this was an announced "formal split", even though we have all made it abundantly clear that it is not.
Other reports, related to the Presiding Bishop's statement, imply that it is simply a scheme to get money from unsuspecting people. While we have indicated that gifts can be given that are tax-deductible, no real request for funds has been made yet. One report from 815 even attacked me for using my home address rather than the diocesan address, the implication being that this was some shady operation. It was a conscious decision on my part to use my office at home (where my computer, FAX and personal communication system is) rather than involve the diocesan office.
It is indeed unfortunate that such controversy has arisen over this effort.
I am hopeful that the matter can be resolved amicably, and that hope has been communicated to the National Church leadership. The last thing I want, during the final year of my active episcopate, is constant controversy. Nonetheless, having received literally hundreds of letters and calls from people throughout the Church in deep pain over the drift of the Episcopal Church further and further away from biblical truth, I have felt compelled to join with others in carving out a place for them to stand together, with some assurance that the Church they have known and served will not be taken away form them.
Some of you will applaud this effort, and some will be dismayed by it. I regret this division and pain. However, it is a matter of conscience, arrived at by much prayer and deliberation. Indeed, we have been working on this structure for a year and a half, in consultation with many persons who wish to remain in the Church, and who see no other way.
I ask your prayers. Know also that I pray daily for you, for the Church and most of all for the grace and wisdom to discern God's will and conform myself to it. I am not infallible, I do not know everything, and I am certainly not all-wise. I am striving simply to do that which seems the right, but difficult, thing to do in this time of crisis of faith.
+William Eau Claire
We affirm the definitions of the faith of the Church as set forth in the Nicene Creed, the Apostles' Creed, An Outline of the Faith commonly called the Catechism, and the Historical Documents of the Church as contained in the Book of Common Prayer.
We proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, who became incarnate, lived, died and rose again for us in accordance with Scripture, and who draws us into personal relationship with Himself, with the Father, and each other by the Presence and power of the Holy Spirit, as the minimum standard of the faith of the Church.
We affirm the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity and worship a Triune God as expressed in the persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
We affirm our commitment to confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and to following Him, conforming our lives to His example and teaching, by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
We affirm our commitment, by the grace of the Holy Spirit and as God enables us, to seek to shape our lives and our congregational and diocesan witness in conformity to biblical principles and commands interpreted and applied in the light of Jesus Christ within the arenas of the public life of our national and local communities.
We affirm the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, containing all things necessary to salvation, and we commit ourselves to regular Bible study and to biblical preaching and teaching as part of our witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ.
We affirm Jesus Christ as the revealed Word of God, Holy Scripture as the written Word of God, and the Apostolic Witness as the proclaimed Word of God.
We affirm our belief in the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, that he is the full revelation of God, and we commit ourselves to be witnesses to Christ to all persons, locally regionally nationally and internationally.
We affirm that biblical social commandments and Christian ethical principles are foundational to the well-being of every society, and we commit ourselves to seeking ways of expressing these commandments and principles in the public life of our communities, our state and our nation without violating the constitutional provisions of separation of Church and State as institutions.
We are committed to extending the welcome of the Church and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all persons regardless of race, gender, social status, economic status, sexual orientation, or past behavior.
We affirm that sexual intimacy and intercourse is intended by God to be an expression of the mutual love, affection, and lifelong commitment of husband and wife, and for the procreation of children as the Lord may lead and enable us. Therefore, we affirm that sexual intimacy and intercourse is appropriate only within the context of heterosexual, monogamous, marriage and further affirm that God enables us as Christians to live within these boundaries.
We believe and affirm that marriage is intended by God to be a lifelong commitment and mutual belonging of husband and wife: one man and one woman, and we recognize that divorce is always tragic and rarely appropriate. We affirm that the roles of father and mother are God-given and profoundly important, and that where children are given, the family is to be the chief place for their godly belonging and instruction.
We concur with and support classical, traditional Christian doctrine and Anglican polity regarding discipline and worship in our congregations, and we will strive by all means possible to protect the rights of all like believers in live and minister in obedience to Holy Scripture, to Anglican tradition, and to Christian Conscience.
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