By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Thursday, March 09, 2006
[ENS] The Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, meeting March 6-9 in Philadelphia, advised members of the church to follow the call of the Baptismal Covenant to "seek and serve Christ in all persons" in ministering to illegal immigrants, despite any laws that would criminalize such assistance.
The council also agreed to allocate $100,000 from short-term reserves to provide seed money for a "national coordinated defense" for dioceses and congregations faced with efforts by congregants and clergy to take real and personal property belonging to the Episcopal Church with them if they choose to leave and affiliate with other Anglican bishops or church bodies.
The council declared "strong opposition" to any legislation that would make it unlawful for faith-based organizations to relieve "the suffering of undocumented immigrants in response to the Gospel mandate to serve the least among us and our Baptismal covenant to seek and serve Christ in all persons."
The council accepted Lexington Bishop Stacy Sauls' request to amend the resolution (NAC 044) so that it "calls upon the people of the Episcopal Church to act on their baptismal covenant without regard to such unjust legislation."
House Resolution 4437, sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr., an Episcopalian from Wisconsin, and Rep. Peter King of New York, would expand the definition of "alien smuggling" in a way that could include such actions as working in a soup kitchen. The bill would classify undocumented aliens as "aggravated felons," thus making it a crime to aid them.
Sauls said the council resolution is "one of the most important resolutions that have come before the Executive Council in this triennium." Bishop Wilfrido Ramos-Orench of Connecticut said the resolution was true to the church's call to be prophetic.
Episcopal Migration Ministries director C. Richard Parkins reminded the council that it called for comprehensive immigration reform in June 2005 and that this resolution is part of that effort. "We have spoken boldly, often and eloquently on this subject," he said.
As a case in point, a letter from Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno was read March 8 to the Los Angeles City Council prior to its vote to oppose H.R. 4437. He wrote that he sees "a great and irrational fear overtaking our country" in regard to homeland security.
"An outcome of this fear is making scapegoats of millions of members of our immigrant population with measures reminiscent of the rounding-up of Japanese immigrants in this city during World War II or the hatred and blame cast at the Jewish community prior to the horrors of the Holocaust," Bruno wrote.
"I am a Bishop in a faith tradition that calls us, through our sacred Scriptures, to welcome and embrace the strangers in our midst, for in them we see the face of Christ," he wrote.
Bruno said that Los Angeles' economy would collapse if legislation such as H.R. 4437 is signed into law. Immigration reform is needed, Bruno wrote, but this bill is not the way to do it.
The council resolution says in its explanation that the church also supports other faith-based bodies who have expressed similar opposition to the immigration measures. On Ash Wednesday, Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles said that he would tell his priests and lay Catholics to defy any law that would make it a crime to shield or offer support to illegal immigrants.
Defense fund aims to coordinate efforts
The House of Bishops' Ad Hoc Task Force on Property Disputes proposed resolution AF 112 in part because of a concern that some Episcopal dioceses and congregations could face future litigation placing "their financial existence, integrity and stability" in jeopardy.
The coordinated defense would include the collection of legal memoranda, briefs and decisions from dioceses which have already faced such issues. It would also organize the preparation of draft "white papers," response timelines and talking points "in the event of widespread and serious litigation."
Sauls, a member of the task force, said that it is important to be prepared in case there is an increase in the number of property disputes and to have a clearinghouse of information for dioceses and congregations. "In the Diocese of Lexington I would not be able to litigate for long if I have to start from scratch," he said.
Sauls also said that the task force feels that a coordinated effort is needed to help reduce the chance that an unfavorable court ruling in one state could be used as a precedent elsewhere.
Council member Kim Byham said the coordination project will serve to "calm" those who worry that the Episcopal Church is not doing anything substantive about efforts to remove congregational property from diocesan rolls. Ramos-Orench said that the effort will give hope to the entire church and especially to dioceses that are "agonizing with increasing legal costs."
The Rev. Carl Gerdau, canon to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, told the council that the church spent $500,000 in 2005 to defend congregations and dioceses in such disputes. Griswold pointed out that such an expenditure is evidence that the coordination effort is "building on what has already occurred."
The effort would also "develop a more permanent organizational and financial structure" for the defense work. The task force anticipates raising money beyond the initial $100,000 "through its own efforts and sources." California Bishop William Swing convened the task force after an initial meeting prior to the House of Bishops meeting last October, and that diocese will establish an account for the seed money and any future income.
The resolution's explanation notes that "a few parishioners and clergy have expressed an intention to leave...and affiliate with other Anglican bishops," and "in violation of Canon Law...in some cases seek to take with them to their new affiliation the real and personal property belonging to The Episcopal Church." Such actions fail to protect and "make certain that this property is available to those who presently and in the future wish to worship in an Episcopal Church."
The explanation also notes that there may be times when recourse to the judicial system may not be best, and so the task force wants to examine mediation as a way to resolve disputes.
Sauls said that the task force will ask the House of Bishops meeting next week at Kanuga to make it a committee of the house. The council resolution calls for the group to report regularly to the council on its work.
The council also heard from Bishop Michael Ingham of the Anglican Church of Canada's Diocese of New Westminster, who praised them and the Episcopal Church at large for living out what he called "the six marks of an authentic church in the Anglican tradition": to be at once catholic, evangelical, liberal, prophetic, missionary and inclusive.
Its catholic nature, he said, is shown in its being centered in the sacraments and the value placed on living an ordered-but not narrow-life. "It seems to me that what you want to preserve is a spacious order," he said.
It is evangelical because it is rooted in the Gospel, he said, and tries "to maintain the priority of the Gospel before the priority of the church."
The church is liberal in the sense that it is attentive to God's Spirit "from whatever direction" the Spirit may be speaking, he said.
Ingham sees the Episcopal Church "working hard to be a truth-telling church," and thus prophetic. It is missionary, because it is not just concerned about its own survival. "You know this is a Gospel you simply can't keep to yourselves," he said.
And, he concluded, the church is "unique in the Anglican Communion" for the inclusive diversity of its leadership and for regularly inviting members of other Anglican provinces to its meetings.
The Executive Council carries out programs and policies adopted by the General Convention and oversees the ministry and mission of the Church. The council is comprised of 38 members, including bishops, priests or deacons, and lay people, 20 of whom are elected by General Convention and 18 by provincial synods.