By David W. Virtue
Across the nation the actions of General Convention 2009 are beginning to sink in. Two resolutions that affirmed the right of every baptized person, especially and including LGBT persons, to all orders of ministry in The Episcopal Church and the blessings of same-sex unions is galvanizing orthodox parishes.
"People are MAD," said an activist layman in a 1,000-member congregation near Memphis in the Diocese of West Tennessee. "At church this week you could have shot a canon down the middle of the church. I ran into some other Episcopalians from moderate to liberal churches and no one is pleased. I bet we lose 25% to 30% of our diocese."
For liberal bishop Don E. Johnson, his nightmare is just beginning. His predecessor, the evangelical Alex Dickson may well have led his diocese out of The Episcopal Church. Johnson has no intention of doing that.
To date there have been two great exoduses out of The Episcopal Church. The first was orthodox parishes from liberal and revisionist dioceses. There have been some 700. Some have sued to keep their properties. Most have walked away taking their parishioners and leaving the empty or near empty buildings to revisionist bishops who will, over time, be forced to sell them. The second wave was four dioceses leaving TEC, with perhaps more to follow. Now a third wave seems set to begin - orthodox parishes from liberal, but mostly orthodox dioceses.
"West Tennessee is already in bad shape. It is the second smallest diocese in the The Episcopal Church behind Jeffert Schori's former diocese, Nevada, whose entire diocese could fit into Christ Church, Plano. People here are livid. I have talked to people in other parishes," said the layman.
"We have had liberal priests come to town and practically empty congregations and tear them apart preaching this inclusion mess. Now all of the liberal priests have been run off due to damage and the bishop goes and votes for the same thing that ran everybody off. Go figure."
Northern Plains Anglican blogger Fr. Tim Fountain wrote at his blog, "Thanks, General Convention. I'm already losing church members. First departures already underway from Good Shepherd, Sioux Falls, due to the actions of The Episcopal Church leadership. Lost a good Vestry member. At my request, he will be detailing his decision in a letter to be shared with the Vestry and sent on to the Diocese. Now, I have just lost at least three young families and a bunch of kids. A couple of these losses are families that were the first fruits of members taking the risk of evangelism - this is going to hurt morale very badly here."
One of them said, "I just can't see myself inviting other people, knowing what the denomination is really doing. So how can I stay?"
Two orthodox bishops at General Convention were cautious when asked whether they would consider taking their dioceses out of The Episcopal Church. "This pushes us away," said Peter Beckwith Bishop of Springfield. "If things don't change, there will ultimately be no orthodox expression in TEC."
"I don't have the power or authority or interest in taking the diocese out of TEC," said Beckwith, "I have been assisting people and I don't have the money for lawsuits."
When VOL asked Bishop William Love of Albany if a third great wave of leavers, that is, orthodox parishes form orthodox dioceses, will occur after GC2009, Love said the passage of D025 makes life difficult. "Our focus must always be on The Great Commission."
The Bishop of South Carolina, Mark J. Lawrence wrote to his diocese saying, "There is an increasingly aggressive displacement within this Church of the gospel of Jesus Christ's transforming power by the 'new' gospel of indiscriminate inclusivity which seeks to subsume all in its wake. It is marked by an increased evangelistic zeal and mission that hints at imperialistic plans to spread throughout the Communion. This calls for a bold response. It is of the utmost importance that we find more than just a place to stand. Indeed, it is imperative that we find a place to thrive; a place that is faithful, relational and structural-and so we shall."
What exactly is he saying with "This calls for a bold response"? What does he have in mind? Is he preparing his diocese to leave?
A bishop in the newly formed Anglican Church in North America told VOL that those remaining half a dozen orthodox TEC dioceses will be under enormous pressure now to do something. "When they start seeing parishioners leave, they will not be able to remain inactive. I will give them a year and they will be gone." We shall see.
The Episcopal Church is dying under its own weight. "We are losing members, churches and dioceses. It is a disaster and we need to name it for what it is. We are under God's judgment," concluded Bishop Beckwith.