Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Story Time

On July 3rd I posted a piece on the court decision ruling in favor of the Diocese of Los Angeles in the property dispute with St. Luke's, La Crescenta.

A commenter named "Jim" wrote: "It seems to me that there has been little of what might be called Christian charity in any of this prior to the filing of lawsuits."

In response I replied, "If you'd like to email me I'd be happy to give you some of the "back story" of just how far backwards this diocese bent to keep the litigation from happening. What 'seems to you' is not all there is to the story. "

"Jim" did write ... and I filed the email away "until I had time" and today realized I'm never GOING to have time so I might was well just answer it now. And I might as well just answer it for all ya'll. So let's have "Story Time."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Once upon a time there was a diocese getting ready to elect a new bishop. The Search Committee presented four candidates -- any one of whom would have made a perfectly FINE bishop -- but there were some people in the diocese who thought they needed more diversity in the slate so two other candidates ... both of whom would make perfectly fine bishops ... were persuaded to allow themselves to be nominated from the floor of the Electing Convention.
One of those was a priest named Jon Bruno. I remember returning to town from some meeting or the other to the news [a] that Jon had agreed to stand for election and [b] that David Anderson (then Rector of St. James, Newport Beach) was supporting him in the election.
So I called Jon ... who I'd known for many years in Stewardship and Cursillo contexts ... and left him a message that I had a question for him.
He called me back. My question was ... well, to put it bluntly ... blunt.
"I heard that David is supporting your candidacy and before I can figure out who I'm supporting need to know from you whether you've cut some kind of Griswoldesque deal with him that involves the word "abstain." (This was not long after Lambeth 1998 when +Frank Tracy famously abstained on Lambeth 1.10)
Jon's answer was he had not cut any kind of "deal" -- that David knew where he stood on the issues they disagreed about and the only thing he'd promised was that there would always be a place at the table for people who disagreed with him. And he asked me for my support. And I gave it to him.

So +Jon Bruno became Bishop Coadjutor in 2000 and Bishop Diocesan in 2001 and set about trying to make sure that there was a place for everybody. Even people who disagreed with him. And he brought together people who disagreed with EACH other to try to bridge the gap. I wrote back in May about some of my experience with that process.
Here's a bit from that post about "... the once-upon-a-time when the Bishop of Los Angeles was longing to hope that if he brought together clergy leaders from his diocese for conversations about faith and theology we'd learn that we had more in common than we did in difference and we'd find a way to heal the breech between us. So we did. Eight of us. Four "liberal" and four "conservative." We met for a year. Twelve months. Once a month.
We brought sack lunches and sat around a round table in our Cathedral Center and read the Catechism together -- the Outline of the Faith from the Book of Common Prayer. And we talked about it. About God. About Jesus. About the Holy Spirit. About the Church. About the Sacraments. About Sin.
And we prayed for each others' children and grandchildren. And we found we did indeed have a lot more in common than we did in difference. And in the end three of the four "conservatives" left the Episcopal Church. David Anderson to Nigeria. Bill Thompson to Uganda. Ron Jackson to I-can't-remember-where."
And how much harder could +Jon Bruno have worked to keep that from happening? Where was "Christian Charity" when we could have used it -- back before the lawyers and the courtrooms and the countersuits?
Here's what I know. On Diocesan Dodger Night +Jon took me aside and -- over peanuts and a beer -- told me that he had that very week met with "our brothers" and offered them Delegated Episcopal Oversight (DEPO) from the bishop of their choice. "It breaks my heart, Susan," he said, "that at this point none of the bishops of Los Angeles can meet their sacramental needs. But we have to realize that this is just where we are as a church right now and give them what they need so we can put this fighting behind us and get on with the mission and ministry of the church."
And he said he would keep me posted. And the next thing I heard that "our brothers" told him didn't want another bishop ... that +Jon was their bishop and they loved him. And the following Monday (the bishop's day off) letters were presented at the Cathedral Center saying they were leaving for greener Anglican pastures. Oh -- and they were taking the property that belonged to the Diocese of Los Angeles with them.
And here we are. Story time doesn't have a "happily ever after" ending today, I'm afraid. The bishop who promised that there would always be room at the table for those who disagreed with him before he even WAS a bishop still has a place set at the table for those who have left -- and in my index of gifts and graces that would certainly be listed under "Christian Charity."
I couldn't agree more that the lawsuits are a sad distraction from and a significant drain on the resources we have been given to do mission and ministry.
And I wish with all my heart there had been a way for us to work through our differences or -- lacking that -- to come to a mutually agreeable separation agreement.
And it seems to me that the chance for that was somewhere inbetween "thanks for the offer of DEPO but we want you to be our bishop" and "these are our lawyers."
And the responsibility for that lies firmly at the feet of the ones walking out the door with the silver, the linens and the deeds stuffed in their pockets -- not at the feet of the one still setting a place at the table for everybody.


Anonymous said...

It is important to remember that those intollerant of GLBT people condemn us utterly and absolutely and have no tollerence for any who tollerate us, and less for those who welcome us. There is now, and always has been only one thing acceptable to them, and that is the expulsion of all GLBT people from the church. They say it and they mean it. It's us or them. We stayed, the straight Episcopalians didn't kick us out, so they're going. Either the church lets them steal it blind in the process or protects the legacy of the faithful to the future faithful and makes them leave empty handed. It really is that simple. There is nothing to discuss and they are not listening.

Jim Costich
Rochester, NY 2Saints

Lindy said...

Nicely done.
An important post.
Linda McMillan

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Russell:

As I am the one who prompted the question I will first tell you I appreciate the answer, even if I still don't see any Christian charity in the diocesan response.
In previous posts I have mentioned that I do NOT support those of us who are opposed to the GC2003 innovations on theological grounds leaving WITH the property.
Cleverly, the Dennis Canon was established to hold maximum control over thought and dispute and I still don't see or believe that a diocese who contributed little (or in some cases nothing) to the support or purchase of a church can now claim ownership.
That aside, the Biblical Christian charity I'm talking about (for both sides again) is that charity that says we give all to get all.
The Bible talks about turning the other cheek. Going to court is NOT turning the other cheek. The story of Solomon's wisdom and the choice of splitting the baby between the true mother and the faux mother is also instructive. (And one I wish Bp. Robinson had considered before his personal ambition split the entire worldwide communion).
Christian charity is about sacrifice. For those of us (I was a cradle Episcopalian of 58 years when me and my family left in 2004) departing without property I believe showed that charity.
The Episcopal diocese of Los Angeles (my birth diocese - baptised at St. Nicholas in Encino by Rev. Harley Smith in 1948) could have shown charity by not taking those churches to court.
The witness (I know this gets tiring, but I'm talking about both sides) of going to civil court does more damage to reaching the lost.
To Jim Costich, I can only say that his sweeping statement that the one and only acceptable thing to "us" is the expulsion of all GLBT people form the church is as flawed as orthodox folks saying that all "liberals" want to expel all orthodox from the church.
If you cannot accept that some of us truly and honestly believe that TEC is winking at sin and not seeking to save those in it, I don't think any more listening will help. We believe Bishops should be held to a higher standard, they should not be thrice divorced or living out of wedlock. My sin is no better or worse than anyone else, but I accept I am a sinner. As an aside I would not feel qualified to be a bishop because I too have been divorced.
Your sweeping generalization is not true from our side and certainly not true from yours. But its attitudes like Mr. Costich's that has driven many of us from the church that we were raised in and loved deeply.
So Rev. Russell, I appreciate the answer, I think "listening" is sometimes confused for ultimate agreement.
But I still send you Christian love from across the divide and have enjoyed the conversation through the disagreement.

A sinner saved by God's grace

Jim from Michigan (and a first generation Los Angeles Dodger fan)

Anonymous said...

The secessionists are often posing as injured parties in the hope of attracting sympathy and followers. In most instances they have been planning to leave for some time and they have been aware that they would not win in court in most states. Jim has one of the major points absolutely right: the ECUSA and the loyal dioceses have moral and legal obligations to protect their legacies.

Anonymous said...

You couldn't possibly have made the issues clearer... and in the easiest to understand language. And yet I'm sure that you will get a response from someone reiterating the same old inability (or unwillingness) to hear the simple, transparent, charitable logic of it all. None so deaf as those who will not hear. I commend you for your infinite patience. More than I've got on this issue.

I'm especially saddened about St. Luke's. I remember it in the old days when it was a warm, welcoming and loving place where I had several friends and where I conducted a few pastoral care workshops. Now the "faithful" have found homes in other nearby Episcopal parishes. And the rector who led his flock down that path? Where is he? Jumped ship & flew off to England... leaving this mess behind for others to deal with.


Anonymous said...

My diocese used to be on the front line of schism. Anyway, now that it's all settled down here, it reminds me of the weird feeling of being glad a hurricane passed you by, knowing it visited death and destruction on someone else.

Around here, I think most of us are relieved that the African invasion has moved on to other shores, having already done its worst here.

I will relate the purely anecdotal story of my favorite "parish that could", however, and brag just a bit that at one point down to about a dozen faithful Episcopalians and now without hardly a spare spot in the pews to plant your bum, held its "Mid Summers Night Gala" in the middle of June, and cleared in one night (yes, cleared) over $33,000
for the mission and ministry of the Church, the Diocese, and the World.

Sure, we lost a few folk and can only now wish them well, but the Episcopal Church in this part of the Kingdom remains alive and well.. When the dust settles in L.A. and other places, the mission will go on.

Anonymous said...

Dear Rev. Russell (and in response to Mr. Walker)

"None so deaf as those who will not hear," on that across the divide we can both heartily agree.
I forgot to mention in my first response that I grew up at St. Luke's of the Mountains, my mother was a member from 1957 to 1987 when she passed. Fr. C. Boone Sadler, her longtime rector, performed her memorial service.
I was an acolyte, a leader of our local YPF and a delegate to EYC.
The three summer mission trips I took part in to Scotts Bluff, Utah bgan at Rev. Russell's church in Pasadena.
While you are saddened about St. Luke's, I am more saddened about the whole state of Christ's church, in light of these public civil lawsuits.
My argument with diocesan ownership of any church anywhere is that the Dennis Canon was a late day addition that by a majority vote gave the church ownership of someone else's property.
Imagine, if you will, your neighbors holding a vote deciding that if you decided to do something they didn't like that you had to forfeit your home to them because they had voted that no one could do anything they didn't like.
The idea that anyone can vote your property rights out of existence seems foreign to me.
What's the big deal anyway? Your Presiding Bishop keeps empahsizing that we are just a "tiny, insignificant minority." If that is true, why bother with lawsuits?
If one believes her the church is simply swatting in the air a gnats. Let it go. And so will I.

A sinner saved by God's grace

Jim in Michigan

RonF said...

Oh -- and they were taking the property that belonged to the Diocese of Los Angeles with them.

Although I do not agree with Jon Bruno's theology regarding homosexuality, I appreciate from the story you've told that he apparently made a good faith effort to try to find common ground with those who disagree with him. Good for him.

But it's at the sentence above that I part company with the narrative. The concept that we are an Episcopal church means that we are spiritually led by Bishops working separately and together; we are not a Presbyterian church, and we do not have a "Primate-for-life" with special theological privileges. I accept that fully.

But what I do not accept is that this authority extends to temporal matters. This is not the history of the Episcopal church. Unless I am misinformed (always a possibility) it existed for about 200 years before there was an asssertion that the National church owned real property that had been paid for and maintained by the parishes. Consider, even now, how our parishes are organized. We have a pastor, wardens and a vestry. Our pastors are our spiritual leaders and have full authority over the liturgy, teachings, etc. But only the wardens and vestry are empowered to collect and spend money or make any decisions or actions regarding the parish's property.

Yes, the General Convention passed the Dennis Canon. But it seems to me that it is completely against the traditions of TEC and morally invalid. The courts might uphold it (varying from state to state). But it's wrong, and I cannot support any acts taken on the basis that the sentence I quoted above is right. Up to that point, Bp. Jon Bruno's actions are in accord with the Scriptual injunctions to settle disputes among ourselves. Past that point, I don't believe that they are.

Muthah+ said...

"And one I wish Bp. Robinson had considered before his personal ambition split the entire worldwide communion)."

Nope, can't let this one pass! I have known bishops whose election was at the impetus of their own ambition, but +VGR is not one of them. His election was based upon the movement of the Holy Spirit, nothing more and nothing less.

Sorry, jim. This slam won't fly.

What saddens me and makes me wonder is: If you have already left the Episcopal Church, why do you feel that you should post here if it is nothing more than your perverse need to be bellicose.

Anonymous said...

"We give all to get all...."????? NONSENSE. Why should the Diocese of Los Angeles give it's property away to Uganda? Or Nigeria or Kenya or any of those provinces crossing boundaries? This was an attempt at theft...pure and simple. Last time I looked, thou shall not steal was one of our 10 Commandments. It doesn't say, thou shalt not steal except if you're stealing church property. Please, enough of this whining that the bishops have no right to fight for property belonging to their dioceses. It's their duty! Get over it, Jim.

Anonymous said...

Dear Muthah+

If I came across as bellicose, I sincerely apologize. I hope that in all my communications I try to be graceful and open.
I come here, frankly, because I feel a strange connnection to the Diocese of Los Angeles. It was my religious home.
While I have left the Episcopal Church, I still have many friends there. I still pray for some reconciliation that will allow our greater Anglican Communion to survive intact.
Secondly, I enjoy Rev. Russell's blog. It is interesting and provocative and have found it generally to be a place where diverse opinions can be shared. I try not to listen to only the voices who agree with me. "Listening" in other words.
If Rev. Russell lets me know that my views are not welcome, I will gracefully leave and let y'all preach to your choir. My history, as painful as it has been, is that I don't stay where I am not wanted.
A sinner saved by God's grace

Jim from Michigan

EYouthWNY said...

I find myself thinking about something as I look at the discussion of "Christian charity". We are told to turn the other cheek. You turn the cheek when you are struck, when you are assaulted, when you are wronged.

Is the poster willing to admit then that TEC has been assaulted? And that it is folks from his side of the divide that did the assaulting?

I find it hard to deal with the concept that the folks who are leaving are being victimized but TEC is turn the other cheek.

Seems like you can't have it both ways.


Anonymous said...

Dayouthguy (JP)

Actually, if you have read my posts closely you will note that I believe that people who disagree with TEC SHOULD leave without taking the property.
I have acknowledged that I think the better witness from "conservatives" would be to peacefully walk away and leave an empty church.
From that standpoint I will agree that TEC is the aggrieved party.
My belief from the outset was that it would have been Graceful (capital G) if both sides would have come to an agreement (much like what happened in the Diocese of Dallas) where the departing congregations would pay the diocese for the loss of "its" buildings.
I have a hard time seeing the departing churches as "stealing" property that they and the generations before them paid, supported and maintained, many without help from the diocese and while giving money to the diocese at the same time. If that's stealing then I guess when my house is paid for I'm stealing it from the bank.
My belief is that when the listening is over, it would show a better witness if either, or both, sides would "turn the other cheek" and find a solution short of going to civil court with all the attendant publicity.
But in direct response to your point, I agree with it.

A sinner saved by God's grace

Jim from Michigan

EYouthWNY said...

You're right. I'm a very quick reader and sometimes it does me ill because I'll skim over something important (that was a killer back in the days when I had to take tests!)

So let me say that I agree, the best display of Christian Grace would have been both sides coming to a common agreement. The difficulty has been the radicals on BOTH sides who are intent on hurling verbal firebombs at the other side. It's made things tense and both sides less eager to be conciliatory. That's very sad and both sides should be held responsible for not telling the loudmouths to sit down and shut up.

(See this would all be so simple if everyone were as reasonable as you and me. LOL)

I will take (gentle) exception to the point about to whom the property belongs. We are not individual, free congregations in a voluntary federation (unlike the Anglican Communion). We are all constituent parts of a single hierarchical body. We hold the properties for the common good. That certainly would have been the mindset of the early founders of our denomination I believe and is shown consistently over the years. The passage of the Dennis canon was merely the formalization of that understanding.

At least that's my read. YMMV.

Allow me to riff on your tag line.

Glad that God's grace saves us both.


Anonymous said...

Just a brief note to "anonymous"

The "give all to get all" quote is not mine. It is from Jesus in the New Testament. He said it more than once and in more than one way.
And while it applies to both sides, it certainly applies, or should apply, to bishops.

A sinner saved by God's grace


P.S. To dayouthguy: I do believe that TEC has a case, that is why I believe we on the losing side of GC2003, should either quietly accept the decision and stay, or quietly leave and work for reconciliation and restoration from the outside.
Thank you for your comment and I agree the flamethrowers on both sides have done what flames generally do, destroy.

Unknown said...

I'd also like to add that those of us on the "winning" side (despite my distaste for such labels) need to be gracious. Bp. Bruno is certainly an example of that, but there were (and are) others who have not done such a great job. Unfortunately, that impacts on attempts by Bp. Bruno and others for reconciliation by eroding the overall level of trust. Of course, some will take advantage of that for their own ends, thus eroding the trust even further.

Could we have done more immediately after GC'03 by fully acknowledging and trying to understand the pain of those who opposed Gene Robinson's confirmation at bishop? Absolutely. But we can't go back in time to change that. The question now seems to be what we are to do to be fully with those who do want to stay and to rebuild trust. Those who are going to leave are going to leave and having taken themselves out of the conversation. The rest of us need to find a way to move forward. At least, that's how I see it.

Kevin Montgomery

Unknown said...

Re: lawsuits

It's important, first of all, that all efforts at avoiding lawsuits be taken in a transparent and documented manner. When that fails, though, we need to do a better job at communicating our side by detailing those attempts. I'm not suggesting setting up a "spin room" or propaganda machine, but we could still do a better job getting out our side of the story.

JimB said...

I am working on the (amazing) idea that "Christian charity" means letting someone steal, but does not mean refraining from theft. I do love the idea, I wonder, if I take AMiA or CANA property, will the 'orthodox' (a code word for 'homophobe') bishops simply wish me well? Nope, I did not think so either.

Here is the truth, it is supposed to be charity if the self-congratuatory bigots take it, and it is theft if anyone else does. Same old same old.


Anonymous said...

FWIW Jimb:

Interesting that a polite conversation between opposites turns into a name calling episode from you. I'm going to turn the other cheek on the impolite comments.
But I will point out, since you brought it up, that AMiA and CANA specifically does not have a Dennis Cannon provision.
The emerging Anglican expression in America believes that the people who pay for the property, those who support the property and those who maintain the property, actually own the property.
There are no sharecroppers in AMiA. FWIW. Peace.

A sinner saved by God's grace

Jim from Michigan

David@Montreal said...

Sorry, we LGBT Christians suffer a lot, in the name of faith and the glorious renewal we believe Chirst his calling His Church to, but Jim's slamming of +Gene Robinson's blessed consecrtion as Bishop of New Hampshire, has got to be one of the pettiest swipes to date.
Is Jim saying that is what's really at play in the Consecration of all of our bishops, or is he just being nasty because at this time the Holy Spirit, by due process and fraternal confirmation, called an out gay man to our Episcopacy?
When is the patriarchy going to learn that the sacraments are gifts from the true and living God for ALL baptised and not the franchise of a largely white heterosexual clique.
I'm taking Christ at his word and daily offer praise and thanksgiving for all my radiant LGBT brothers and sisters so wondrously taking their place and finding their voice within the church.
As for you brother Jim-sorry but you're show's left town and The Spirit is alive and at work among the Church.
God's Gretest Blessing for God's Greatest Glory- Unconditionaly Nothing Less!

RonF said...

dayouthguy said:

"We hold the properties for the common good. That certainly would have been the mindset of the early founders of our denomination I believe and is shown consistently over the years."

Since you hold this for a certainty and that it has been shown consistently over the years, I ask you to show some evidence for it.