RECONCILIATION IN VIRGINIA:
A MODEL FOR SOUTH CAROLINA?
The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and the schismatic parish of Truro Church, Fairfax, VA, have announced a sort of reconciliation, or at least a first step. What might this mean for the schism in South Carolina?
Truro Church was a center of anti-Episcopal Church movement even long before Gene Robinson was confirmed as a bishop in 2003. Diane Knippers was based there. She was the head of the right-wing PAC, Institute on Religion and Democracy, and a founder of the American Anglican Council in 1996. The AAC was arguably the heart and soul of schismatic movement in the Episcopal Church. In 1997 it staged the first conference tying together the reactionary (anti-homosexual-rights) Episcopalians in America and equatorial African Anglican bishops in 1997 as a prelude to the Lambeth Conference of 1998 that passed Resolution 1.10 denouncing homosexuality. The Most Rev. Peter Akinola, primate of Nigeria, the most important of the equatorial African bishops and a very vocal critic of the Episcopal Church, developed a missionary outreach and consecrated Martyn Minns, rector of Truro, as a bishop of the Nigerian Anglican province. Akinola was highly outspoken in his opposition to rights for homosexuals. In 2006, Truro voted to leave the Episcopal Church. In all, 12 Episcopal churches in Virginia voted to break away. They formed the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, under Nigeria. In 2009, GAFCON and reactionary schismatic Episcopalians formed the Anglican Church in North America. Truro became part of ACNA. The property issue went to court.
In 2010, the Virginia supreme court ruled in favor of TEC. In 2012, a circuit court ordered Truro to return all property to the Episcopal bishop. The bishop began temporarily leasing the property to the breakaway congregation. For more info on Truro see Wikipedia here .
Talks went on between the Episcopal diocese and Truro for three years. These resulted in an agreement on a new initiative announced this month, "The Truro Institute, A School of Peace and Reconciliation." See a description of the Institute here . The Institute will operate under a board with equal representation of the Episcopal Church and Truro and support of the Dean of Coventry and the Archbishop of Canterbury who labeled it "the Peace Centre at Truro." According to the announcement from Truro: The ministry will work with seminarians and other young people to send our respective denominations with a new generation of peace makers, by teaching them and letting them live into the challenging work of reconciliation, just the fact of the joint involvement of EDV and Truro Anglican is a living testament to the work the Institute hopes to accomplish.
Bishop Shannon Johnston, of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, said in a letter of April 23, 2017 ( here ) that Truro's vestry had unanimously approved of the deal. The arrangement sets up a tree year trial. If successful, the bishop will grant the parish a 50-year lease on the property that will will remain in the ownership of the Episcopal diocese. The bishop said: We in the Diocese will not only participate in the Institute, but also will have continued access to the property for office space, events and services to ensure a long-term Episcopal presence at Truro. Johnston made it clear the Episcopal Church/Diocese will continue to own and control the property.
While the people of Truro were happy with the "peace and reconciliation" initiative, their bishop and archbishop were not, to say the least. In fact, the Anglican bishop was furious and the archbishop could reasonably be described as livid. After all, the Truro congregation (but not the property) is in the Anglican Church in North America. The ACNA's whole raison d'être is to replace the Episcopal Church as the legal and legitimate Anglican province in the U.S. This remains, even though, as we know, the GAFCON/Global South primates abandoned ACNA in the primates' gathering of January 2016. ACNA calls itself a "province" but it is not now, and almost certainly never will be a province of the Anglican Communion. ACNA's whole trajectory is to diminish the Episcopal Church. Any peace or reconciliation would be counter to their stated goals.
The Anglican Bishop of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, John A.M. Guernsey, issued a letter he posted on the Internet making his feelings of the deal known. He blasted the Episcopal Church and his flock, "the Truro leadership," in no uncertain terms: Because of the false teaching of the Episcopal Church, I asked them not to enter into a joint ministry with the Episcopal Diocese. The issues that divide us are of first importance and to partner with the Episcopal Church is to give the mistaken impression that these concerns are merely secondary. ( ...) The Truro leadership has chosen to proceed in joint ministry with the Episcopal Diocese in spite of my opposition. I am deeply grieved by this, and I hope Truro will reconsider.
Guernsey's letter paled in comparison with the hair-on-fire epistle from the ACNA archbishop, Foley Beach. He was beside himself. Find his letter here . First he blasted TEC for sin and heresy: Unfortunately, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has not been reconciled with the revealed Word of God, and is therefore not an appropriate partner for such a project. Their leadership continues to promote teaching and practice that is contrary to Scripture---teaching that, if followed, would keep people from an eternal inheritance in the Kingdom of God [!] ( ... ) Therefore, until there is repentance by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, there can be no true Gospel partnership with them. Then, Beach turned his raging ire on the leadership of Truro Church: I am disappointed that they [Truro] have not just ignored our counsel. In doing so they have entered into a legal relationship with the Episcopal Church that makes them unequally yoked. ( ... ) The decision to partner with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in this way is not in harmony with the Bible's instruction in dealing with false teachers, ( ... ) It is ironic to begin a "Peace and Reconciliation" center when you are not at peace with your own bishop and archbishop. ( ... ) It is my hope that they will uphold that heritage, resist counterfeit versions of "reconciliation," and fulfill their calling among the leading congregations of the Anglican Church in North America. The abundantly obvious lack of "peace with your own bishop and archbishop" came from the bishop and archbishop, not from the vestry of Truro which had voted unanimously to approve the deal with the Episcopal bishop. Apparently, Guernsey and Beach want the Truro parishioners to leave their home property rather than make any deal with the Episcopal Church. The people of Truro have made a sensible, reasonable, and faithful decision.
Two observations of Guernsey's and Beach's letters: 1-they continue the demonization of the other side; and 2-they contradict ACNA's claim of local rule. One of the major claims ACNA leaders advanced was that local congregations would make their own decisions. In fact, a cursory glance over the ACNA constitution and canons shows an authoritarian system controlled by archbishop/bishops almost to the exclusion of the laity. The people of South Carolina are forewarned before they join ACNA. In fact, ACNA is a house of cards that is becoming more fragile all the time as shown in these letters.
What might all of this mean for South Carolina? Is any kind of "peace and reconciliation" possible in SC?
The Virginia case came about only because the breakaway parish of Truro lost in court. This deal allows them long-term use of valuable Episcopal Church-owned property. It does not necessarily mean a rejoining of Truro to the Episcopal Church. Nowhere in the agreement is there a requirement of reunion. However, everyone would have to admit this is a promising first step toward reconciliation whether one thinks that would be good or bad. Guernsey and Beach obviously thought it was quite significant, and, judging from their tone, very bad.
There are several signs in South Carolina moving in the direction opposite of reconciliation. In the first place, the diocese cleverly bound up 35 parishes into the lawsuit against TEC, the only one of the five schismatic dioceses to do this. The parishes in SC cannot make independent deals. In the second place, TEC offered a generous settlement in June of 2015 that would have given the local churches their independence and the local property. DSC flatly and angrily rejected this. In the third place, the SC circuit court found all in favor of DSC. While the state supreme court justices apparently discarded this decision, they have not yet revealed their own decision(s). It is possible they will render verdicts that in effect leave DSC the winner. In the fourth place, DSC has continued to develop along fundamentalist lines as shown in the work of the Marriage Task Force of 2015-17. They set up a rigid, authoritarian, and intolerant system of control that institutionalized rejection of equal rights for homosexuals in the diocese. This moved the DSC even farther away from mainstream classical Anglicanism. In the fifth place, they are rushing headlong into joining ACNA.
As I see it, the only hope of "peace and reconciliation" in the near future in SC, would come from a TEC/ECSC victory in the state supreme court. If indeed, the court rules that they are the owners of the property, DSC might be wiling to talk, as Truro did. Otherwise, the 35 congregations face expulsion from the properties. The Episcopal Church side has already signaled that it is willing to let the local congregations in SC keep some sort of control over the local properties.
I continue to believe that in the long run all of this will come to an end in a reunion of the old diocese of South Carolina. However, the way things are going, it will indeed by a long time and will require some difficult, complicated, and creative ways of thinking about relationships. We have to think anew about how we live together as a community embracing all of our differences in brotherly and sisterly love. If history is a guide, it will happen in SC. The so-called Schism of 1887 came from a problem that seemed hopelessly insoluble at the time, post-Civil War deeply ingrained racism. After one hundred years, whites finally agreed to allow blacks equality in the diocese. Thus, what may seem permanently divisive now is not. There is every reason to believe that, in time, the old diocese will reconcile and give full equality to another mistreated minority. Much to the over-the-top chagrin of the schismatic leaders in ACNA, we may well be seeing the first small step in Virginia. If it can happen in Virginia, it can happen in South Carolina.