Resolutions to allow churches to redirect funds to be considered in Southwest Florida

Southwest Florida
November 11, 2003

Diocesan convention delegates will gather in Bradenton Nov. 15 to discuss their place in the future of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. One of the first topics of discussion is expected to be two versions of a resolution that would allow congregations to protest recent actions by the national church by withholding money from the national church office. The diocese's annual convention was called into a recess after a seven-hour business meeting Oct. 11, with the intention of reconvening after several important events, including an emergency meeting of the leaders of the Anglican Communion and the Nov. 2 consecration of the church's first openly gay bishop. In his convention address, Bishop John B. Lipscomb said the convention would reconvene in order "to take counsel with you regarding the future of our common life." A tumultuous year In August, the Episcopal Church approved the election of the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest in a committed relationship, as bishop-coadjutor of the Diocese of New Hampshire. He was consecrated Nov. 2. Some Episcopalians who believe Robinson's elevation to bishop is contrary to Biblical teaching and church tradition have predicted the Episcopal Church will fracture over the issue. The diocese was also waiting for the results of the Oct. 15-16 meeting of leaders of the Anglican Communion in London. In a joint statement after the closed-door meeting, the leaders, called primates, warned if Robinson's consecration took place, we recognise that we have reached a crucial and critical point in the life of the Anglican communion and we have had to conclude that the future of the communion itself will be put in jeopardy. The American Anglican Council, a coalition of conservative Episcopalians, has called for the Archbishop of Canterbury to declare the Episcopal Church out of communion with the rest of the Anglican community and set up a new province in the U.S. They recently announced the establishment of a network of what they call Confessing Dioceses and Parishes in the Episcopal Church, a first component of the new realignment, said the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the AAC. In his convention address to clergy and lay delegates, Bishop Lipscomb repeated his stated opposition to churches withholding funding as a means of protest. "When we use money as a weapon, we flirt with the worship of mammon," he said. But he also conceded that a temporary option for congregations "to act in the integrity of their conscience" may be an appropriate pastoral response. He then proposed a resolution that would allow a congregation, in 2004 only, to request the percentage of its apportionment that would be sent to the national church to be redirected toward mission work in the Dominican Republic (see box above). Each congregation gives 10 percent of its total budget to the diocese, which in turn sends between 17 percent to 20 percent of its total budget to the national church. That translates to around 1.7 cents for every dollar put into a collection plate. The Rev. Fred Robinson, rector of Church of the Redeemer in Sarasota, spoke in favor of the resolution Oct. 11, saying he spends up to two hours a day dealing with parishioners' concerns that the church has strayed from Biblical truth. "They cannot, in good conscience, have any of their money go to the national church, which, they perceive, correctly or incorrectly, to be a great part of this problem." But the Rev. Tom Damrosch, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Naples, said more thought is needed before making such a decision. Also, he said, the resolution forces every congregation to consider withholding funds. "It puts the issue of financial blackmail on the agenda of my vestry meeting next month. I believe this resolution is jumping the gun," he said. After debate, a motion was made to postpone a vote on the resolution until the convention is reconvened. It was approved by voice vote. Committee offers conversation-starter At their Nov. 6 meeting, the diocesan Standing Committee submitted a proposed substitute to Resolution 2 that will be on the Nov. 15 agenda "as a vehicle for conversation, consideration and debate," the committee said. Like the original resolution, it would authorize the bishop to redirect funds from the national church in 2004. But the new resolution, called a "Statement of Consensus," also lays down some ground rules for future discussions of sexuality and the church. Specifically, the resolution acknowledges there is disagreement on human sexuality and the interpretation of Scripture. "It's an open statement that we have agreed to disagree," explained the Rev. John Adler, a member of the Standing Committee and original author of the resolution. The resolution would also commit the diocese to engage in a "meaningful dialogue" on those issues while "avoiding actions or statements that hinder that dialogue by dividing, rather than building up, the Body of Christ." Fr. Adler said this point is important. "We're going to get off this kick that prevents meaningful conversation," he said. "We're going to get off this kick of labels and name-calling -- 'conservatives' and 'revisionists' and 'Bible-beaters' -- and we're going to talk to each other like big boys and girls." The Standing Committee's resolution also proposes that clergy and laity: * agree that congregations should pay their full apportionment to the diocese and acknowledge the diocese has a policy to pay its full asking to the national church. "That was a button-pusher for some people," Adler admits;* agree to "embark on a meaningful education program that will provide the airing of a full range of views regarding interpretation of Holy Scripture and human sexuality;"* agree to educate the diocese about "church polity and governance"at all levels. "We recognize that we haven't done all we need to do educationally," said Fr. Adler. Another chance to be heard The recess and reconvening of convention is causing its own set of procedural problems, so the Standing Committee is stepping in to allow more voices to be heard. The diocese's constitution and canons state that only diocesan committees can submit resolutions less than 60 days before a convention. But with only 35 days between sessions, that rule prevents delegates from getting discussion-starters -- in the form of resolutions -- on the agenda. To help, the Standing Committee is offering to accept resolutions from clergy and lay delegates and submit them on their behalf. Any voting delegate wanting to submit a resolution to be considered on Nov. 15 must supply a copy of the resolution to the Rev. John Adler by noon, Tuesday, Nov. 11. The committee is offering to do this "to promote the consideration and deliberation of matters of concern to the Diocesan family," according to a letter being distributed to delegates. The Rev. Adler, who chairs the resolutions committee, asks delegates to limit the scope of resolutions to issues related to the relationships of congregations and dioceses with the larger church. "We're trying to keep people focused on why we're having a reconvention," he said. Other matters However, some unrelated agenda items were not taken care of in October and will have to be dealt with in Bradenton. Among them are six resolutions on a variety of topics including support for a nationwide boycott of Taco Bell restaurants to protest what some call the company's refusal to pay living wages to South Florida tomato pickers; a proposal to establish a committee on clergy and staff compensation; a resolution to encourage prayers for the people of war-torn Liberia; and a resolution supporting the addition of Deaconess Harriet Bedell to the calendar of saints.