Springfield synod’s debating goes into overtime

October 7, 2004

Tensions were evident at the 127th Synod of the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield, where a business session scheduled to end at 1:00 p.m. continued well beyond the original closing time, adjourning around 9:00 p.m. that evening.

Christ the King Episcopal Church in Normal, Illinois, hosted the gathering, held October 1-2, 2004. The Diocese of Springfield includes 40 congregations and, with approximately 7,000 members, is one of the smaller dioceses of the Episcopal Church. Forty-seven clergy and seventy-six laypersons were in attendance when the synod began.

Springfield Bishop Peter H. Beckwith welcomed Bishops Robert W. Duncan of Pittsburgh and Keith Ackerman of Quincy. Duncan, who is moderator of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (NACDAP) <www.anglicancommunionnetwork.org>, was the preacher for both Evensong and the Eucharist. Beckwith serves as vice president of the American Anglican Council (AAC) <www.americananglican.org> and chair of the AAC Bishops Network. The dioceses of Springfield, Pittsburgh and Quincy are members of the NACDAP.

Duncan thanked Beckwith for his clear leadership. "Clear leadership is sometimes wrong but it is always clear. I come with apostolic affection because I am to be your convention speaker. In the words of St. Paul: 'Be watchful, stay firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong; let everything you do be done in love.'"

In his sermons Duncan continued: "Repent—admit you can't do it alone. Be saved—receive the Holy Spirit of Jesus. Follow—do what Jesus did."

"Peace with the world is enmity with God," said Duncan.

‘Mortal crisis’ in the church

Beckwith began his synod address by welcoming new clergy in the diocese and naming the clergy for whom he had issued letters dimissory during the past year. Then he spoke of the current controversies in the church.

"The church is in a serious if not mortal crisis," said Beckwith. "To deny this is to be in deep denial or serious psychosis. The head, heart and soul of our church is sick ... After the dust settles, the Episcopal Church USA and the Anglican Communion will never be the same."

In his address, Beckwith also predicted that "the Episcopal Church could be reduced to observer status or receive some sort of reprimand" when the Lambeth Commission issues its report on October 18.

"It is tragic that all this could have been avoided if we had followed St. Augustine ... We should not fail to pray for our beloved church and that any action we take would not make the situation worse," said Beckwith.

He also urged the synod not to reverse itself on affiliation with the NACDAP. "I would hope that this synod would not change that as a resolution of this synod proposes to do. Ministry in this diocese will succeed if you work with and through the bishop rather than trying to work around him," he said. The Diocese of Springfield's Diocesan Council voted to affiliate with the NACDAP in a special meeting called two weeks after last year's synod.

During a question and answer period, Beckwith was asked whether the NACDAP was part of the Episcopal Church. "Absolutely," replied Beckwith. He was then asked if there would be a division of assets. "The Network is an informal organization just like other informal organizations of the Episcopal Church," he answered.

The Rev. James O. Cravens, rector of Trinity Church in Lincoln, responded that a parishioner told him that the NACDAP’s Web site stated that if your diocese is affiliated with the Network, then your parish is affiliated with it. "That is the angst in my congregation," said Cravens.

Resolutions go down to defeat

All resolutions submitted to the synod, except one, were defeated or withdrawn. An amendment to a resolution submitted by a delegation from St. George's, Belleville on the Diocese of Springfield's Understanding on Human Sexuality was tabled. A motion to return to the original text of the resolution was also tabled.

Resolutions were submitted by Springfield Via Media to affirm diocesan unity with ECUSA, "thereby overturning inappropriate action by Diocesan Council to affiliate the Diocese with the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, and to modify a discriminatory Diocesan Council resolution imposing restrictive freedom of choice provisions regarding the funding of the ministries of ECUSA."

Several resolutions establishing synod’s primacy over decisions of Diocesan Council were also defeated. "We need to feel that we have a voice within the church,” explained Harry Gore of St. Michael's in O'Fallon, who had submitted one of the resolutions on synod primacy. “When we have a synod in October which is followed by a special meeting of the Diocesan Council in mid-October (2003) that changes the decision of that synod, we are being disenfranchised."

A resolution to endorse historic Anglican doctrines and policies, submitted by the Rev. Dr. Desmond Francis, rector of the host parish, and the Ven. Shawn W. Denney, archdeacon, was also defeated.

Another resolution called for the Synod Journal to be printed and distributed to synod members, which has been done in the past. Treasurer Jim Donkin stated that anyone who wanted a copy of the Journal or Directory could contact the diocesan office and someone would make a copy of the electronic version. He stated that the information is being distributed now electronically as a means of saving money.

But Marilynn Belleville of St. George's in Belleville, who submitted the resolution along with Joe Hooten, said she did not own a computer and did not know how to use one. She asked that the diocese be informed in the Springfield Current—the diocesan newsletter—that a print copy of the Journal and Directory would be made available upon request, and the resolution was withdrawn.

Treasurer Jim Donkin reported that the diocese ended the year with a budget surplus of $59,900, mainly due to vacancies which resulted in about $30,000 in health insurance and $15,000 in grant savings. Among the budget items recommended by the Diocesan Council for 2005 were two grants for aid to diocesan mission congregations: a Darrow Deanery Team Ministry ($9,500) and a new Outreach and Programs Fund ($10,000). The purpose of the Outreach and Programs Fund is to provide missions the opportunity to begin new outreach or evangelistic programs they could not otherwise sponsor. To receive the grants, mission congregations would need to apply to the diocesan Department of General Mission Strategy for support of their initiative.

Third-party arbitration defeated

Cravens submitted resolutions directing the Standing Committee to retain a third-party church consultant from the Presiding Bishop's Office of Pastoral Development, or some other suitable church professional, to study the working relationship between clergy and congregations and the diocesan leadership. The process would include in-depth interviews with randomly chosen lay and clergy leaders across the diocese, and the study would identify areas of concern and suggest steps toward repair and reconciliation of these relationships."

"I think we are again dancing around the elephant," explained Cravens, who pointed out that he had known the bishop for a long time and had served in the Marine Corps with him. "There is a lot of distrust and uncertainty in this diocese. I think we are all responsible for it. It is about how power is exercised in this diocese. There is a feeling of disenfranchisement. It is a matter of relationships. The only way we can address the core issues is to seek outside assistance."

But Francis urged defeat of Cravens' resolution. "The issue is not power but one of world view and the authority of scripture," said Francis. "This situation is not something we created. It is something that was created by the Foreign and Domestic Missionary Society [sic] of the Episcopal Church USA…The church is not about democracy. It is about communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ."

"This is being directed at our spiritual father," added the Rev. Richard Swan. "The Holy Spirit elected him bishop. Where would we get the money for some fancy mediation team?"

"My resolution does not speak to the issue of a world view," answered Cravens. "If fixing the diocesan family is a priority we will find the money. My intention is to get to the core issue."

All five of Craven's resolutions calling for third-party arbitration were defeated.

Tedious voting process, feelings of disenfranchisement

Voting on resolutions and for diocesan offices was a slow and tedious process throughout the synod. For virtually every vote, someone called for divided balloting by lay and clerical orders. A motion for a secret ballot then followed that request.

As the meeting progressed, Archdeacon Denney began to call for a vote by orders on the motion for a secret ballot. This was followed by a call for a vote by secret ballot on the call for a vote by orders on the motion for a secret ballot. The diocese's parliamentarian ruled the request for a secret ballot on the vote by orders out of order. All subsequent votes thus were done as standing vote by orders.

Elections for clerical and lay deputies to General Convention were concluded on the 13th or even 15th ballot. The Rev. Donald Brown was re-elected secretary by secret ballot, but it was on the sixth ballot. "I have never been in a diocese where there was a contest over the election of a secretary!" remarked Duncan.

Most voting was delayed until late Saturday, when many lay people had left.

""In a vote where the clergy had to stand, there were few that were willing to disclose their vote," said Chuck Evans, a member of St. George's in Belleville and president of Springfield Via Media. "This was hardball politics and had nothing to do with Christian love or with God's church. They were skillful at their use of Robert’s Rules and their agenda, which stretched things out."

Margy Smith, a member of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul and vice president of Springfield Via Media, submitted a resolution ensuring retired clergy a vote at synod. The measure failed.

“My father, the Rev. Canon William M. Turner, has been an Episcopal priest for more than 36 years and canonically resident in the Episcopal Diocese of Springfield since 1982,” she said. “My father never received a phone call or a letter notifying him that his vote had been stripped. I discovered his name was missing when I received my synod packet. Our newly retired dean, Warren Raasch, was not granted a vote either. There were others removed from the list as well."

Asked during debate about the discrepancy, Beckwith replied that he could go into a long explanation but didn't think it was "appropriate."

Lay-clergy divide

"If you look at all the votes, in almost all you had a significant majority of lay persons voting in one direction, and the clergy voting in the other direction," observed Evans. Lay votes were running about 2/3 to 1/3 in opposition to positions favored by the bishop, he said. "A lot of clergy have seen the fight is lost. To me it's a diversion of passion and energy of what we are supposed to be about…The bishop and his supporters do not care about the overall health of the diocese. They are concerned only with achieving their goal of realignment with the Anglican Communion. I disagree not so much with the theology but with the divisive leadership in the diocese."

"This synod reminded me of the first one I attended when there was an ‘old boys network’ that was elected to every office,” complained Belleville, who served eight times as a lay deputy to General Convention. “Every church had them 30 years ago. We had no women. I feel like we are going back and wiping out everything that was good in this diocese."

An ENS reporter’s request for an interview during the synod was rejected by Beckwith.