Anglican Congress meeting tests Atlanta hospitality

December 10, 2002

'I have experienced more spiritual warfare in the runup to this conference than in anything I've ever done,' Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan told the December 4 opening plenary of the US Anglican Congress.

At least one of those skirmishes was more physical than spiritual, involving the location where the theologically conservative gathering was held: the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, a parish and a diocese that welcome and include gay and lesbian Christians.

The congress was originally scheduled to be held at a church in the Dallas, Texas, suburb of Plano in June 2002. That fell through, said organizer Richard Kew, due to complications resulting from the terrorist attacks the previous September. Atlanta had been the site of a previous meeting related to the planned congress, and, forced to seek another venue, Kew and steering committee chair William Bugg approached the cathedral--ironically, Bugg's former parish home--for help.

Cathedral dean Samuel Candler told reporters in an impromptu press conference that, at first, it wasn't clear to him what the congress was to be about. 'It was very vague as to who was included, who wasn't, who was going to be invited, who wasn't,' Candler said. 'I knew some of the groups who were going to be represented' were disaffected with the Episcopal Church, but 'I believe in reconciliation.' So he decided to host the group on the condition that it was made clear the cathedral was not sponsoring the event.

Resolution of welcome

That decision sparked expressions of concern from within the cathedral and the diocese, especially from members of Atlanta's chapter of Integrity, 'a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender justice ministry in and to the Episcopal Church.' Past president Bruce Garner, a lay alternate to General Convention, and four others submitted a resolution to the diocese's annual council welcoming the congress to Atlanta. Candler presented the resolution to the council using words similar to his later sermon before a sparsely attended congress worship service.

'My intent was to demonstrate that even though the Congress would not welcome me as a gay man, I had no intention of responding in kind,' Garner wrote. 'I could not respond in kind and remain true to my Baptismal Covenant. I have repeatedly stated that the table of God is large enough to accommodate all and that I will always do my best to see that all have places at that table, whether I agree with them or not and whether they would do the same for me or not.'

Atlanta bishop Neil Alexander read the council's resolution to the congress during welcoming remarks on Thursday evening.

'My main concern is this group is not mainstream, but they are portraying themselves as such, and they're delusional,' the Rev. Michael Hopkins, president of Integrity USA, told an Atlanta gay community newspaper, Southern Voice. 'I certainly do not begrudge the cathedral for offering them hospitality, though. It certainly makes it easier for us to have access.'

Access proved to be an issue nonetheless.

Access issues

Candler said the cathedral agreed to serve as host on two conditions--that he be allowed to address the assembly and that his name be listed on the main agenda as the preacher for one of the worship services.

'I wanted folks to know that the host parish, in the spirit of what I consider orthodoxy and the gospel of Christ, was allowing a group to meet here that was not always, in my estimation, fully in tune with the Episcopal Church,' Candler explained.

On one of the first versions of the agenda and in the official worship booklet, Candler's name did appear for a service located at the cathedral. But the schedule included in the registrants' official packets listed an alternative service at another location instead. As a result, most participants never heard Candler's sermon.

Candler called the switch a 'betrayal.' He told reporters that he was disappointed and that he considered it 'a broken agreement.' Although Kew apologized, no reason was given, Candler said, except that 'the steering committee didn't want that to happen.'

Pittsburgh bishop Robert Duncan, who was on the congress steering committee, explained that Kew overstepped his authority in accepting Candler's second condition. 'Our convenor, Richard Kew, went further in making an arrangement than the steering committee had agreed to, and indeed after Sam spoke clearly in the council of the Diocese of Atlanta some of our bishops were unwilling to have their people, sit [in worship] under a teacher who had so clearly spoken what they considered to be falsely about sexuality,' said Duncan. 'So we were not trying to be rude in any way to Dean Candler.'

Candler's sermon was printed and made available along with other recent sermons at display tables in the cathedral.

Rumors and spin

Other rumors spread that worship events had been moved from the cathedral because of objections by Alexander. Candler said that, while it was the bishop's prerogative to decide such issues, the more pressing concern was scheduling.

'I said that we would not take any parish event that had already been scheduled by the cathedral off the calendar,' he said. 'We've had to change the date twice, and it was hard to find three days anywhere that would work.'

'The pan-Anglican Eucharist happened [at the Baptist church across the street] because the cathedral had an event,' confirmed Duncan. 'I don't know whether they would have been comfortable with what we did and so it's probably providence that we got moved over here. People spin all kinds of things, but that's not what we're up to here.'

Another rumor circulated that the Rev. David Moyer, recently deposed by the bishop of Pennsylvania and then licensed by Duncan in Pittsburgh, had been barred from officiating at a service of Evensong in the cathedral.

'The steering committee asked David to be the officiant because we wanted to say that, in our view, he is a priest of the Diocese of Pittsburgh,' Duncan explained. 'But the reality is that we asked David because I knew he could sing, and so it was right for him to have the cantor's role. Somebody interpreted that as a put-down to David. I don't believe that happened.'

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