‘Please Don’t Box Us In’

By Matthew Townsend

The Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Relations deliberated at length Monday morning on a resolution calling for eventual reunion with individuals who formed the Anglican Church in North America.

The committee heard testimony from deputies and visiting chancellors from reconstituted dioceses — including Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, and San Joaquin. They called on the committee to revise Resolution D056 heavily, expressing their concerns that the resolution poorly reflected the needs of the continuing dioceses.

D056 calls for explicit paths for reunion and amnesty for clergy who left the Episcopal Church. The Resolutions Review Committee has deemed it inconsistent with the Constitutions and Canons — a point the testimony echoed.

Kathleen Wells, former chancellor of the Diocese of Fort Worth and now assistant chancellor for litigation, shared her concerns that D056 could hinder active litigation.

“Any resolution that comes out of General Convention has the potential to have the big old ‘exhibit’ sticker on it,” she said, explaining that any such resolution would require careful wording to avoid such legal effect. “Do not, please, use the word or even suggest amnesty, for all the obvious reasons. This is a local decision.”

Wells added that reconciliation has not gone far in Fort Worth — that Anglicans were not lining up to rejoin the church, and that reconciliation took time. The Rev. Carlye Hughes, rector of Trinity Episcopal Church in Fort Worth, agreed.

“The more room you give us to work with, it allows us to take the time — in some cases generations — to do the work of reconciliation,” she said.

Progress on reconciliation in San Joaquin has come through relationships and contact in small towns. Despite several efforts, it has not led to reunion. Chancellor Michael Glass said the resolution presumed no efforts had been made for reconciliation, which is not the case in San Joaquin.

Glass agreed with Wells, saying the resolution would almost certainly be used as a court exhibit.

Deputy Cindy Smith, who served as president of San Joaquin’s standing committee after the split, said none of the more than 60 priests and deacons who left the diocese have tried to return — but that conversations happen at movie theaters or grocery stores. While church is not discussed, people are talking. “The path to reconciliation will not be legislated by a task force, but rather will be traveled by those who call a place home and know their neighbors,” Smith said.

The experience in the Diocese of Pittsburgh has been different.

Joan Gundersen, an alternate lay deputy from Pittsburgh, spoke of seven clergy and four parishes that have resumed a relationship with the diocese, mostly through Title III provisions.

Another representative from Pittsburgh, Nancy Walker, served as a standing-committee member after the diocesan reorganization. She said a foundation for reconciliation is not needed because it already exists.

“Since 2008, we have endeavored to act in ways that have encouraged people to return,” she said. “Having General Convention set explicit paths for reunion is likely to lack nuances specific dioceses need.”

Walker agreed that language about amnesty could be harmful. “Those who left think they have not done anything wrong, so it is an irritant, not a bridge.”

Walker introduced an alternative resolution, which the committee decided to accept. This resolution, which may need to go through hearings again, calls for acknowledging local efforts and supporting those who wish to go through existing steps of reconciliation — whatever those are locally.

“Please don’t box us in and take away our ability to do what God needs us to do in our own dioceses,” she said.

Image of representatives from reconstituted dioceses by Matthew Townsend

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