Executive Council endorses next steps in move of Church Center, addresses crisis in Mexican church

June 18, 2002

At its meeting on the campus of the University of New Hampshire in Durham June 10-13, the Executive Council heard encouraging reports on the potential move of the Church Center to the campus of the General Theological Seminary (GTS) in New York City, but also wrestled with news of an alleged misappropriation of funds in the Anglican Church in Mexico.

In a simple resolution that could have a dramatic, long-term impact on the church, the council authorized an expenditure of up to $1 million 'toward the shared costs of continuing the pursuit of the DFMS/GTS project, contingent on the satisfactory completion of phase I.' According to Russell Palmore of Virginia, the financial analysis is very positive but both parties are still weighing some aspects of their investment in the project.

The second phase calls for hiring 'the project architect, project manager, public relations support and such other assistance as may be required.' The GTS board has already approved its matching $1 million for this phase.

'The committee thinks that the project, in the long term, makes economic sense. The mission and program opportunities and long-term benefits to both parties outweigh the debt load and real estate risks,' Palmore told the council.

Treasurer Ralph O'Hara shared with council the figures provided by the financial analysis, based on a substantial renovation and lease of the property at 815 Second Avenue and the construction of new offices in partnership with GTS on the Ninth Avenue side of the seminary campus. Both parties would participate in creating a conference center on the 10th Avenue side of the campus. He said that initially the church was assuming a high load of debt, due largely to the seminary's contribution of the land underlying both offices and conference center, but that he and committee members were monitoring the equation that balances risks and rewards.

'I'm comfortable with how we are moving,' Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold said. In an interview at the end of the meeting, he said that he and the council saw 'a clear and positive desire to press ahead but with prudence' because there are still outstanding issues. 'My concern from the beginning is what best serves the mission of the church, what is the wise and prudent move given the resources of the church. We are obliged to keep the fiduciary issues at the forefront in our deliberations.'

Crisis in Mexican church

Council members were also greeted with news of a festering crisis in the Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico. The church's House of Bishops released a statement June 11 saying that it had 'discovered a shameful mismanagement of funds in the Dioceses of Northern Mexico and Western Mexico, which has led us to a grave crisis as an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion.'

The bishops and the Mexican church's Executive Council decided 'after the careful examination and study of the results of the audits recently carried out, to intervene in the financial and administrative areas of both dioceses.' They also decided to 'withdraw recognition of Bishop Samuel Espinoza as Primate of this church, and to withdraw and suspend the episcopal authority and privileges of Bishops German Martinez Marquez and Samuel Espinoza.'

Based on the reports, the Executive Council expressed 'sincere sympathy' with the Mexican church and affirmed them 'as they seek to remedy the situation' and as they 'seek to conduct and cooperate with appropriate investigations of the alleged misappropriations' and remedy any 'financial weakness found in the financial structures of their dioceses.' The resolution also called for an 'ongoing review' of the Episcopal Church's procedures 'to ensure sound fiscal dealings with all dioceses and institutions, domestic and foreign, with which we have covenant and other financial relationships.'

Since the five Mexican dioceses formed an independent province in 1995, the Episcopal Church USA has been supporting them financially through a covenant that provides the majority of the operating costs, about $700,000 a year. Those funds and others designated are 'custodial,' held in trust by the American church but under direct control of the Mexicans, the council was told.

'You don't have the tight controls that used to exist when these provinces were still part of the Episcopal Church,' the Rev. Pat Mauney of the Anglican and Global Relations office told The Living Church in an interview. 'I think it underlines the complication of monitoring fund transfers between provinces.' He expressed a deep concern for the vulnerability of the church. In addition to the two bishops under suspicion, two other bishops are retiring. 'There are big changes around the corner,' Mauney said.

'We have great concern for our brothers and sisters in the Province of Mexico and every hope and expectation that they will resolve the issues themselves, allowing their mission to go forward,' said Griswold in an interview.

Setting budget priorities

An attempt to produce some priorities for program and budget development provoked a spirited discussion among council members who sought to balance the church's traditional commitment on social issues with an emphasis on spiritual issues in line with the 20/20 theme of church growth. The final resolution identified six 'areas of energy in the life of the church which need to be expanded' and which should 'inform our mission and budget over the next triennium.'

Included as priorities were: reaching out to youth and including them in 'the thinking, work, worship and structure of the church'; 'reconciling and engaging those who do not know Christ'; revitalizing, transforming and starting new congregations and ministries; reaffirming the church's commitment to diversity at every level of the church, 'promoting justice and peace for all of God's creation and reaching out to the dispossessed, imprisoned and otherwise voiceless' in our society; and reaffirming partnership with the rest of the Anglican Communion and ecumenical and interfaith relations.

Griswold said that 'reconciliation will be the dominant theme of the Minneapolis General Convention,' as seen in the light of the church's mission. 'That allows us to use the vocabulary of justice and holiness, too often perceived as opposites.'

In other action the council:

  • heard the Rev. George Werner, president of the House of Deputies and vice chair of the council, describe his 11 years in the Diocese of New Hampshire. He also sketched the process for choosing a site for the 2006 General Convention, concluding that Columbus, Ohio, had superior facilities and would be the recommendation;
  • were welcomed by Bishop Douglas Theuner to the Diocese of New Hampshire which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this fall. 'This is a growing diocese, small but wonderful,' he said in an evening program that highlighted ministries in the diocese and the province.
  • participated in anti-racism training that uncovered some sharp criticism of the Church Center's hiring policies and practices, asking that council receive regular updates on the affirmative action personnel practices in the future;
  • opposed 'unilateral military action against Iraq for the sole purpose of overthrowing the regime of Saddam Hussein and supports efforts to implement UN resolutions on weapons inspections and military sanctions rather than the use of force to address the problem';
  • commended former Senator John Danforth, an ordained priest from Missouri, for his efforts as the president's special envoy to bring a ceasefire to the Sudan and stop the religious persecution by the Khartoum government, including the imposition of Islamic law in the south where most of the Christians live;
  • recognized the need for 'publicly acknowledged church communities where sexual minorities are welcome to participate fully in the life of the community respecting their dignity as children of God and their right to self-determination.'