CENTRAL FLORIDA: Bishop recognizes parishes' 'new beginnings'

Convention approves first reading of Constitutional amendment affirming Anglican Communion membership
February 3, 2008

The Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, meeting for its 39th annual Diocesan Convention January 25-26 at St. James Episcopal Church in Ormond Beach, Florida, approved the first reading of an amendment to its Constitution that explicitly states its membership in the Anglican Communion.

Central Florida Bishop John W. Howe, in his Convention address, updated the diocese on recent events in seven parishes and two church plants where the rectors and senior wardens had stated their intention to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church:

* Good Shepherd, Maitland has elected a new vestry as the rector and a portion of the congregation are planning to leave.

* Gloria Dei, Cocoa plans to become an independent community church. The diocesan board has agreed to rent facilities to them for three years.

* Grace, Ocala has an interim rector in place to serve if the current rector and portion of the congregation disaffiliate as planned.

* Holy Cross, Winter Haven has a vestry and interim rector in place.

* St. Anne's, Crystal River will not disaffiliate.

* St. Edward's, Mt. Dora has an interim rector in place and several parishioners are returning.

* St. Nicholas, Poinciana: The church planter and congregation have disaffiliated. No property is involved. They plan to return $25,000 given by the diocese to start the Episcopal mission in 2007.

* St. Philip's, Lake Nona: The church planter and congregation have disaffiliated. No property is involved. They have given to the diocese a $10,000 "tithe" of the start-up money they had raised.

* Trinity, Vero Beach (trinityvero.org): The rector and a portion of the congregation are considering disaffiliating.

"In all of these situations I am very pleased we have been able to avoid litigation or acrimony," Howe told Convention members. "We are very conscious of the fact that we remain brothers and sisters in Christ with those who have felt the need to leave The Episcopal Church. This is a sad time, in many ways, as we part company with folks with whom we have worked and worshipped. But we bid them Godspeed, and I would like to ask all of us to think of this as a time of new beginnings rather than endings."

The Diocese of Central Florida has 89 parishes and missions in 15 Florida counties.

Howe acknowledged that there are those who "simply have to leave The Episcopal Church for conscience sake. I understand that. I don't agree, but I don't believe we should punish them. We shouldn't sue them. We shouldn't depose the clergy. Our brokenness is a tragedy. The litigation that is going on in so many places is a travesty."

In 2007, the diocese called eight new rectors and new assistants; ordained five persons to the vocational diaconate, and nine to the transitional diaconate and priesthood; and supported 11 seminarians, moments Howe described as "historic highs."

Deacon Jacquie Guernsey described to the Convention the diocese's newest mission, Corpus Christi Episcopal Church in rural Okahumpka, Florida, which is an outgrowth of Holy Trinity, Fruitland Park, Florida. The new mission has its roots in a group of mostly retirees who dubbed themselves the "Southern Saints" after coming together more than five years ago.

"We're only 15 minutes from numerous retirement communities and we're in a real church building," Guernsey said. "We're looking forward to becoming contributing members of the Northwest Deanery, the Diocese of Central Florida and The Episcopal Church."

Several delegates spoke for and against an amendment to Article III of the Diocese of Central Florida's Constitution, which passed on first reading by a majority of votes by order. In order for the proposed amendment to be adopted, it must pass by a two-thirds majority vote by orders at the next Diocesan Convention.

The text that would be added to the diocese's Constitution is: "The Diocese of Central Florida is a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a Fellowship of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces and regional Churches in communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer."


-- The Rev. Lisa B. Hamilton is Episcopal Life Media correspondent in the dioceses of Provinces I and IV.

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