FAIRLAWN, Ohio – In a direct act of defiance to the Episcopal Church’s acceptance of homosexuality, six congregations in Ohio held a joint confirmation service led by bishops outside of the diocese, Sunday, March 14, 2004.
Under Episcopal law and liturgy, confirmations must be performed by local bishops or visiting bishops approved by the head of the host diocese. However, the six Ohio congregations refused the jurisdiction of their presiding bishop, J. Clark Grew II of Cleveland, for his promotion of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire last November.
“Our participation in today’s Service represents ‘emergency measures’ for those ECUSA congregations in revisionist dioceses who cannot in good conscience accept the radical actions taken by our General Convention last year and who now find themselves alienated from their bishops and diocesan leadership who voted for and support such actions,” the statement during the confirmation service read.
Over 100 members of the six congregations held the service under the authority of five retired bishops and one international diocesan bishop, at the Presentation of Our Lord Orthodox Church. Many participants who were at the service had previously refused to be confirmed, or have their children be confirmed, by Bishop Grew.
The service began with a statement from participating bishops read by the Rt. Rev. Maurice Benitez, retired bishop of Texas and spokesman for the group.
“We come as pastors who care very much about you, the Clergy and Lay members of the six congregations gathered here today. We come because the lay persons among you have asked us to come. We come knowing well your predicament in feeling estranged from your bishop, your diocese and the Episcopal Church,” said Benitez.
Since the openly gay Gene Robinson was consecrated, the Episcopal Church USA and the worldwide Anglican Communion in which the ECUSA takes part spiraled into an irreversible polarized state of relations; to date, 13 of 38 worldwide diocese severed ties with the ECUSA for having consecrated Robinson and 12 American bishops formed a separate network of Anglicans to protest the consecration. In addition, the ECUSA faced significant losses in membership and offering.
“We want to emphasize that the heart of the matter is not sexuality or sexual orientation but rather the authority of Holy Scripture in the life of the Church,” said Benitez, emphasizing that the crises extends beyond just one event.
“Our congregations do not have freedom of conscience, freedom of association, freedom of action with our finances, freedom to call new pastors of our own choosing, or the freedom to successfully put forth candidates for ministry who are biblically faithful,” said Benitez.
The congregants present at the ceremony agreed that they needed to take “emergency measures” to rectify their sensitive position.
“We have every reason to believe these risks will significantly escalate under the leadership of Mark Hollingsworth, the Diocese of Ohio’s Bishop-elect,” the group stated. “We are in an interim season of great significance as the Anglican Communion prepares its response to the actions of ECUSA. During this season, and as we look to the future, we are determined to follow the lead of our godly Primates. We are grateful to receive emergency measures of pastoral care and spiritual oversight for our congregations, offered by our senior bishops, until such time as Adequate Episcopal Oversight, called for by the Primates, is negotiated with the Episcopal Church. The events of today are a great sign of hope that the godly Episcopal leadership and spiritual guidance needed by our congregations will be supplied.”
In addition to Bishop Benitez, other bishops who helped oversee confirmation ceremony were Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison, retired Bishop of South Carolina; Bishop William Cox, retired Assistant Bishop of Oklahoma; Bishop Alex Dickson, retired Bishop of West Tennessee, and Bishop William Wantland, retired Bishop of Eau Claire. Bishop Wantland was celebrant at the Eucharist, Bishop Allison preached and the Rt. Rev. Robinson Cavalcanti, Bishop of Northern Brazil, was a special guest, illustrating international support for the measures. The six congregations whose laity requested emergency measures are Church of the Holy Spirit, Akron; St. Anne’s in the Field, Madison; St. Stephen’s, East Liverpool; St. Barnabas, Bay Village; St. Luke’s, Akron; and Hudson Anglican Fellowship, Hudson.
The issue of oversight will top the agenda when the nation's Episcopal bishops meet behind closed doors at Navasota, Texas, starting Friday.
The following is the STATEMENT OF SENIOR BISHOPS AT MULTI-CONGREGATIONAL SERVICE OF CONFIRMATION AND HOLY EUCHARIST, as released on Sunday, March 14.
I am Maurice Benitez, former Bishop of the Diocese of Texas, and I have the pleasure of presenting to you the other bishops who are with us today: Bishop C. FitzSimons Allison, former Bishop of South Carolina; Bishop William Cox, former Assistant Bishop of Oklahoma and more recently Assistant Bishop of Texas; Bishop Alex Dickson, former Bishop of West Tennessee, and Bishop William Wantland, former Bishop of Eau Claire.
Next, it is my honor to present our highly honored guest, the Rt. Rev. Robinson Cavalcanti, Bishop of Northern Brazil.
Our presence today is in direct response to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the rest of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, who called for “adequate provision for episcopal oversight” in their statement of October 2003. To date no such oversight has been offered by ECUSA. We represent a spectrum of congregations and Provinces within the Anglican Communion, and our actions represent a spectrum of possible responses to the Primates directive. Our participation in today’s Service represents “emergency measures” for those ECUSA congregations in revisionist dioceses who cannot in good conscience accept the radical actions taken by our General Convention last year and who now find themselves alienated from their bishops and diocesan leadership who voted for and support such actions. Our active bishops are currently seeking means for providing Adequate Episcopal Oversight, and if an acceptable plan is approved, these kinds of measures may no longer be necessary. But right now, we consider these actions an essential and imperative response to a pastoral emergency in Northern Ohio.
We come as pastors who care very much about you, the Clergy and Lay members of the six congregations gathered here today. We come because the lay persons among you have asked us to come. We come knowing well your predicament in feeling estranged from your bishop, your diocese and the Episcopal Church.
The actions of the Church at General Convention last summer abandoned 4000 years of Biblical teaching and doctrine which declares sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman, as wrong in the sight of God and clearly contrary to His Will. We want to emphasize that the heart of the matter is not sexuality or sexual orientation but rather the authority of Holy Scripture in the life of the Church.
The schism we have in the Church today was not caused by us or by those who believe as we do, but rather by the leadership of the Episcopal Church at General Convention who voted to approve local option for blessing of same sex unions as well as to confirm the election of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop Coadjutor of New Hampshire and by those who subsequently consecrated him. These actions have led 21 global Provinces, representing the majority of the worldwide Anglican Communion to declare either “impaired or broken communion'' with the Episcopal Church in the United States.
The goal of those who are here today is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to call people to repent, to embrace godliness and righteousness, and to obey Biblical doctrine and the Apostolic faith “once delivered to the Saints”. Our goal is to call all of us to be authentic and faithful Anglicans and to be the true expression of Anglicanism in America, one that is in full communion with the rest of the Anglican Communion.
We did not come here today to argue or to say harsh words about anyone, but rather to speak the truth in love, and to pray for all of us, and for the Church. My brothers and sisters in Christ here in Ohio, we reach out to you today because we agree with you, and we believe, in the name of God, that you are right!
We honor each of you, and we thank God for your faithfulness! Above all, we came here from distant places to join with you in once again recommitting our lives to Jesus Christ in this service of Confirmation and Holy Eucharist that is now beginning.