When representatives of 12 grassroots groups of Episcopalians gathered in Atlanta recently under the umbrella of Via Media USA, they were following a 400-year-old precedent in Anglican life.
“The term ‘Via Media’ comes from the 16th-century Anglican theologian Richard Hooker, whose work established Anglicanism as a ‘middle way’ between continental Protestantism and Catholicism," said the Rev. Edward Copland of Southwest Florida Via Media Episcopalians, the newest Via Media group. "Via Media groups in the Episcopal Church provide a balance to the American Anglican Council and Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, whose Web sites and publications call for criticism of the Episcopal Church and its presiding bishop,” Copland explained.
Countering a rightward tilt
The first of what became the Episcopal Via Media groups, known as The Gathering, started about ten years ago in the Diocese of Dallas. "We began as a support group for clergy and laity concerned about the leanings of diocesan leadership," said convener Dixie Hutchinson. "We were more or less successful through the years in electing some moderates to diocesan positions, but now find ourselves largely outnumbered." They plan to make an effort to field some moderate candidates for diocesan Executive Council, Standing Committee and General Convention deputies at their annual convention in October.
Responding to an email request for comment on The Gathering, Bishop James Stanton of Dallas stated: "No one has contacted me. I have no knowledge of such a group. I have met with persons on the many sides of the issues facing our Church. I am wondering what 'middle way' this purported group has found between them?"
Working out differences within the church
"The E-Way Via Media organization (San Diego) grew out of a group that has met under various names, such as First Tuesday or Clergy 2000," said the Rev. Andrew Green. The current group has been meeting sporadically since 1999, when their goal was to send a unified deputation to General Convention in Denver.
"The hope was to elect a deputation that could unequivocally support the ministry of women in all orders. We were successful," said Green. "Since GC 2003 we have felt the need to represent a position that is focused on working out our differences within the Episcopal Church. We believe that this represents a significant majority of our diocese. “As we move toward the election of the fourth Bishop of San Diego, we hope to offer candidates who can respond to the call of the whole diocese. We, like the bulk of our diocese, seek a bishop who will bring us together for Christ's mission. We do not minimize the pain that members of the diocese and the church at large are currently experiencing and we sincerely desire to walk through this together," said Green.
A more permanent voice of opposition
The Pittsburgh Via Media group has gone through several incarnations. "In August 2002, deputies to Pittsburgh's Diocesan Convention received notice of 'Resolution One', which would be voted on at the November 2002 convention," said Dr. Joan R. Gundersen, vice president of policy and planning for Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP). "This measure called into question a number of changes in the church since 1975, and positioned the diocese as opposed to any acknowledgment of homosexual relations. A group organized to oppose this resolution. The group was named TORO (Those Opposed to Resolution One).
“While unsuccessful in blocking it, the group was successful in raising interest in forming a more permanent voice for liberals and moderates in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Conversation resulted in the March 13, 2003 formation of a group, which with a slight change in name became Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP). By May 2003, steps had been taken to draft a mission statement, and the group began plans to be present as an alternative voice from Pittsburgh at General Convention. PEP opened a Yahoo group (PEPChat) in July 2003. Following General Convention, membership grew rapidly as Bishop Duncan called a special convention to discuss six resolutions in opposition to the actions of General Convention and as he emerged as the leader of a schismatic movement," said Gundersen.
Gundersen said she believes that Bishop Robert Duncan does not know quite how to respond to the opposition. "He has made no overt act to completely silence us or punish us,” she said, though she feels he has exerted political pressure in diocesan meetings and has “circumvented search processes in liberal parishes.”
“Since the diocesan council, standing committee, and the trustees all have been sued in equity by an individual and Calvary Parish asking that the courts order diocesan leadership to follow the canons, any action that might be seen as directly separating himself from the ECUSA or alienating property now has legal ramifications," she said.
Return to respectful dialogue
"After General Convention 2003, Bishop Terence Kelshaw and others in the Diocese of the Rio Grande began inviting parishes to take the name 'Episcopal' off their signs and letterheads," asserted the Rev. Brian Taylor of Via Media Rio Grande. "They assured members of the diocese that no money would be going to ECUSA, and that if parishes wanted to leave ECUSA, the diocese would help them do so. The bishop and other diocesan leaders also were active participants in the American Anglican Council meetings. People of our diocese were very polarized over divisive issues, and there was talk about a possible split with ECUSA. In this atmosphere many of us came together who shared common goals.
“We were committed to remaining under the canonical authority of and in communion with all in ECUSA, retaining diocesan and parish property, and respecting the different voices within our diocese. We had two large public meetings (over 340 attended) where, in addition to raising these concerns, many expressed relief that this was the first opportunity in many years to talk in a respectful dialogue."
But the respect wasn’t necessarily returned, said Taylor. "A February 6, 2004 letter from our Standing Committee mailed to all members of our diocese included a letter which Via Media sent to all bishops and standing committees of the Episcopal Church which asked them to withhold consent for the election of a new bishop in our diocese, and cited the reasons for this request,” he related. “The Standing Committee included their letter of response which they sent to all bishops and standing committees. In this letter they emphasize that they are duly following canonical process, have no intention of splitting from the Episcopal Church, and defend their decision to not meet with us as something that would have contributed to a politicization of the process of discernment. They say that they are following the guidelines of the Presiding Bishop's Office of Pastoral Development.
“In regards to Via Media, they claim that 'misunderstanding about this process' has led us to 'attempt to block the election.' Further, they called our attempts to subvert the due process of the election 'reprehensible, destructive of the life of the diocese." Bishop Terence Kelshaw responded to an email request for comment on Via Media Rio Grande, but said he preferred to absent himself from the discussion.
Disengaging from the Network
Fort Worth Via Media started in November 2003. "Bishop Jack Leo Iker was the issue that led to the formation of the group," said spokesperson Barbi Click. "Our goal is to disengage ourselves from the stronghold of the NACDP (Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes)." Fort Worth Via Media's Web site states that it is "an organization of ordained and lay Episcopalians in the Diocese of Fort Worth who are going to remain within the Episcopal Church of the United States of America."
Language of divorce
"After General Convention Bishop (John-David) Schofield called an emergency meeting with eight deputies to report to members of the diocese," said the Rev. Rick Matters, co-chair of Remain Episcopal, San Joaquin. "That report included statements/opinions from the bishop and others that the Spirit of the Lord has left the Episcopal Church in those people who voted in favor of the consecration of Gene Robinson. At that time, very much in line with the AAC, they were talking about a parallel or separate province and using the language of divorce. One person asked whether the diocese needed to use the word 'Episcopal' in its name.
“Nancy Key, a layperson and co-chair of Remain Episcopal, and I spoke publicly in favor of the convention votes. We met afterwards and realized we were a minority but recognized there were probably others who thought like us,” Matters recalled. “At our October diocesan convention the language of divorce had disappeared but there was a lot of condemnation, not from the bishop but from other people in convention, including the keynote speaker and others who thought differently."
In fact, Matters said, the bishop has discouraged such behavior. “At the diocesan convention, Schofield spoke about his own experience as an evangelical in a more liberal diocese prior to his election and consecration and asserted that he wanted everyone to have a voice in this diocese. So we have been accepted and tolerated, and I think he is honoring his stated openness,” Matters said. “There are passionate feelings, of course, strong feelings, and as I said, there was a lot of condemning during our diocesan convention which was unpleasant, but it was not from the bishop; it was from others."
Resisting a divisive force
Episcopal Forum of South Carolina started following a special diocesan convention held in October 2003. "EFSC was organized on December 20, 2003 by five founding Episcopalians,” said spokesperson Lynn Pagliaro. “EFSC's goal is 'to insure the continued existence of an Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina that is in full participation with ECUSA, its constitution, canons and leadership.' EFSC states that 'it cannot support the Diocese's intention to join the Network because by its own current self-definition the Network is a divisive force within ECUSA.’ If Network membership is sustained by the Diocesan convention, members of EFSC intend to exclude themselves from Network participation 'because the Network represents a particular advocacy to the exclusion of others held by a majority of ECUSA dioceses, parishes, clergy and members.'"
Contacted by email, Bishop Edward Salmon of South Carolina reported that he and Bishop Suffragan William Skilton met with five members of EFSC in February. "Their stated purpose is unity, their actual purpose is to support the consecration of Gene Robinson and same sex blessings," said Salmon. "We have those in the diocese who do support it and they have always been supported by me, even though we don't agree."
Salmon said that the diocese does not have a policy to deny anyone appropriate news coverage and that the group's events could certainly be listed in diocesan publications. He said he knows who the members of EFSC are, since "I have been bishop here for 15 years."
Salmon also was adamant about his commitment to staying in the Episcopal Church, saying “my family has been it for generations." He said that every diocese he knows is made up of diverse groups. "The fact is that the Via Media group is not nearly as diverse as the diocese. In fact it has almost a singular point of view,” he maintained. “I am impressed that Via Media groups are found only in 'conservative' dioceses and nowhere else. Dioceses like Pennsylvania and others who have persecuted orthodox Episcopalians have no such groups."
Staying in communion
According to Albany Via Media's Web site, the organization was founded when Bishop Daniel Herzog, a board member of the American Anglican Council, and Bishop David Bena, a member and leader in the AAC, spoke of realignment and impaired communion with the Episcopal Church USA following General Convention. "Since any realignment or impaired communion with other dioceses of the Episcopal Church affects our lives and our ministries, binds our consciences and violates the ordination vows of our clergy, Albany Via Media ... was created to keep the Diocese of Albany in communion with the Episcopal Church USA."
"The Diocese of Albany called a special convention on September 20 to vote on five resolutions responding to General Convention 2003," said Andrew Grimmke of Concerned Episcopalians of the St. Lawrence Deanery (CESLD), another Via Media group in the Diocese of Albany. "Four of the founding members of CESLD were in attendance and found the proceedings unfair and one-sided." The mission of CESLD is to gain support for the Diocese of Albany to remain in full communion with all churches in the Episcopal Church, USA and resist efforts for Anglican realignment.
Striving for unity
Episcopal Voices of Central Florida was formally formed in December 2003 by a group of laity and clergy. "We were concerned about statements being made by leaders in the diocese and by resolutions adopted at a special September convening of our diocesan convention that pointed toward a potential break with ECUSA,” said spokesperson Leslie Poole. “Although we are of differing opinions about sexuality issues within the national church, Episcopal Voices represents the voice of many moderate Episcopalians in Central Florida who do not want a break with ECUSA and the Anglican Communion. We are striving for unity, despite differences of opinion, and are committed to remaining in communion with ECUSA and the Anglican Communion."
"Bishop John Howe and our diocesan leadership have not opposed Episcopal Voices," said Poole. "However, there have been a number of 'untruths' about Episcopal Voices spread throughout the area by others."
Refocus energies on mission
Springfield Via Media (SVM) was formed January 30, 2004. Betsy Rogers, media director for the group, stated that SVM has three overall purposes: "to keep the Diocese of Springfield within ECUSA; to open the channels of communication and disseminate balanced information in the diocese; and to refocus our energies on the mission and ministry of Christ to which we are all called."
"The members of Springfield Via Media are confident that they represent the majority of laity and clergy within the Diocese of Springfield," said Chuck Evans, president of Springfield Via Media. "We believe that the voice of the laity has been suppressed and that only by organizing into a coordinated coalition can we regain our democratic voice and be effective in thwarting Bishop (Peter) Beckwith's drive to move the diocese into the AAC and the Network." (Beckwith did not respond to an email request for comment.)
Withholding funds and support
Southwest Florida Via Media Episcopalians, formed in mid-March, 2004, is the newest Via Media group. "Concerned clergy began meeting after our October diocesan convention when Bishop [John] Lipscomb introduced the idea of withholding funds from our giving to ECUSA," said the Rev. Edward M. Copland, convener of the Southwest Florida group. "We had another convention and achieved some compromise, but there was no clear leadership support for ECUSA. This concerned many of us. In December the Diocese of Southwest Florida was erroneously named as part of the Network, and our bishop acknowledged he had been one of the authors of the Network's 'theological statements.' The concerned clergy decided to form Southwest Florida Via Media Episcopalians."
Lipscomb of Southwest Florida said he had learned most of what he knows about the development of the Via Media organization in his diocese from the media. "One presbyter who is a founding member contacted me. I have not seen a roster of members and do not know who gave their assent to the formation of a so-called Via Media organization in this diocese.
“It is unclear what the real agenda of the Via Media organization might be,” Lipscomb went on. “I am not sure that the current group calling itself Via Media represents the Anglican concept of a middle way as expressed in classical Anglican theology and practice. I am also unclear how this organization understands the authority of Holy Scriptures and the role of the wider communion of faith. I believe the new globalization of the Church requires us to look beyond our own borders when we take actions that depart from the accepted teachings of our Communion.” He said he has not been invited to meet with Southwest Florida Via Media Episcopalians, but is ready to do so when they request such a meeting.
Bishops Howe (Central Florida), Iker (Fort Worth), Duncan (Pittsburgh), Schofield (San Joaquin), Beckwith (Springfield), and Herzog and Bena (Albany) did not respond to email requests for comment on the Episcopal Via Media groups in their dioceses. As of March 23, 2004, the dioceses of Central Florida, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Rio Grande, San Joaquin, South Carolina and Springfield had voted to join the Network.
CONCERNED EPISCOPALIANS OF ST. LAWRENCE DEANERY (CESLD)
Andrew Grimmke (firstname.lastname@example.org)
E-WAY, SAN DIEGO
The Rev. Andrew Green (email@example.com)
FORT WORTH VIA MEDIA
Barbi Click, Press Contact (firstname.lastname@example.org)
PROGRESSIVE EPISCOPALIANS OF PITTSBURGH (PEP)
Lionel Deimel, President (email@example.com)
Joan R. Gundersen, Ph.D., Vice President, Policy and Planning (firstname.lastname@example.org)
REMAIN EPISCOPAL, SAN JOAQUIN
The Rev. Rick Matters, Co-Chair (email@example.com)
SOUTHWEST FLORIDA VIA MEDIA EPISCOPALIANS
The Rev. Canon Edward M. Copland (firstname.lastname@example.org)
THE GATHERING (DALLAS)
Dixie Hutchinson, Convener and Media Contact
VIA MEDIA RIO GRANDE (VMRG)