June 2, 2001
BISHOP CONFRONTS ORTHODOX CHURCH
ACCOKEEK, MD --
Christ Church has quietly thrived in this rural town since 1698. Yet it
was the scene of an astonishing confrontation last Sunday between acting
Episcopal Bishop Jane Dixon and the unanimous opposition of the leaders
of Christ Church.
red and white robes and carrying a shepherd's crook, she strode up the
brick pathway past ancient tombstones to conduct the 9 a.m. service,
which had already begun inside led by Rev. Sam Edwards. He had been
appointed Rector (pastor) over her objection, partly because he opposes
female ordination. At the door, she was invited ''to worship with us,''
by Barbara Sturman, senior warden, the top lay leader.
Dixon said she
wanted to fulfill her canonical right to conduct a worship service.
''You cannot officiate or disrupt the service,'' said Sturman. Dixon
glanced at two men blocking the door, and suddenly marched over the
grass, past a rose garden, down a hill to a basketball court. Someone
unfolded a card table, produced four votive candles, some wine and
communion hosts. She announced, ''I am here to celebrate Mass.''
Stan Hubert, a
regular attender, shouted: ''We are in a basketball court. This is
dividing the church. We have a service going on in the church. I don't
see why you are starting a service.'' The bishop firmly replied,
''We will worship here.''
retired Episcopal bishop, Edward MacBurney, wearing a scarlet shirt
stepped forward to read a statement from Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker,
who wrote he was responding to the church's letter of May 22 that asked
for his ''Episcopal oversight and protection.'' He agreed to the request
''effective immediately,'' and said Rev. Edwards, ''will continue to
serve as Rector.''
''I am taking
this step'' because Bishop Dixon, ''in refusing to accept your Vestry's
call of Fr. Edwards as your Rector, is denying you that `sustained
pastoral care''' promised by the world's Anglican ''primates'' or
archbishops of 28 provinces. Iker cited a resolution adopted by the
primates in 1998 which ''calls upon the provinces of the Communion to
affirm that those who dissent from, as well as those who assent to, the
ordination of women...are both loyal Anglicans.''
voice, Bishop MacBurney underscored this point: ''The failure in
Washington to find a way to respect recognized theological positions
shared by many throughout the Anglican Communion is in danger of
breaking the peace and unity of the Church, and is depriving you of
necessary pastoral care. This I pray may now be rectified by my
It was the first
time in many centuries that a bishop of one diocese interfered with
another in the oversight of local churches. Dixon countered by inviting
Washington's retired Bishop Ronald Haines to serve as ''interim
text of Scripture appointed for the day, was John 17 of Jesus praying on
the night before he died that his followers ''may be one, Father, just
as you are in me and I am in you.''
maintains that since Dixon did not object to Edwards' appointment within
30 days, that she relinquished her right to intervene. She countered
with a list of 57 bishops who argue she is exercising her ''canonical
authority appropriately'' and charged that Edwards' ''agenda'' is to
''lead Christ Church out'' of the Episcopal Church.
What lies behind
this clash is far more than a disagreement over the ordination of women.
The Episcopal Church has overturned a 2000 year Christian position that
marriage is the sole appropriate place for sexual behavior.
At its triennial
General Convention last July, the church voted that both heterosexual
and homosexual couples ''living in life-long committed relationships''
could have a ''holy love which enables those in such relationships to
see in each other the image of God.'' It even asserted ''such
relationships will be characterized by fidelity, monogamy...'' when
massive independent research supports the opposite conclusion. And many
dioceses are ordaining gays and lesbians.
Christians are fleeing. The number of Episcopalians has shrunk from a
peak of 3.4 million in 1965 to 2.4 million.
This week St.
John's Episcopal Church in Huntington Valley, PA, became the
36thcongregation in nine months to join a new ''Anglican Mission in
America'' created by Asian and African archbishops. It offered to pay $1
million for the property but was turned down by the local bishop, though
he originally had proposed it.
confrontation and erosion will only grow with time, alas.
Copyright 2001 Michael J.
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