Unity in Truth; Communion of Grace

by Mary Ailes, Truro parish, Fairfax VA.
Wednesday, October 8, 2003

On my way this morning to the main hall for the first meeting of the day, I pass Susan Russell, spokesperson for Integrity, doing a "stand up" with a film crew outside the hall. I stop on the sidewalk to listen to what she has to say. She is reiterating over and over again that this is nothing, that it's much ado about nothing, that this meeting represents just a tiny fraction of a minority in the Episcopal Church and is insignificant. I wonder to myself, then, Susan, why are you here? If you have nothing to fear, why are you here?

When I enter the main hall, the Rev'd Canon Bill Atwood is preaching fiercely at the podium. His voice booms out over the hall. "Old ECUSA will have to repent or a new ECUSA will have to emerge!" He calls the people to stand in solidarity with the church of the Global South. At the end of his talk he breaks out in song. "Turn my heart, O Lord, like a river; Turn my heart, O Lord, by Your hand."

Bishop Duncan then took to the podium and asked the question "What might intervention look like?" He began by giving a short historical overview of the deepening relationship between the AAC and the Anglican Primates, beginning with the meeting in Kampala in the late 1990s and finishing with the upcoming meeting in London next week of the 38 Anglican Primates and the 103rd successor of St. Augustine, Rowan Williams. What the Archbishop of Canterbury needs right now, Bishop Duncan said, is the wisdom of Solomon. But he also reminded those assembled in the hall of I Thessalonians 5:24 "He who has called you in faithful and He will do it."

Bishop Duncan then outlined what the "intervention" will look like, including the probability that the Primates will issue a "rebuke to the Presiding Bishop, to the Bishops who voted for the confirmation of Canon Gene Robinson, and to the Diocese of New Hampshire. There will also be a rebuke to any who voted for blessing same-sex unions as 'within the bounds of our common life,' and more plainly to any who have instituted or permitted such blessings to go forward. This is not Anglicanism and this is not Christianity - either catholic or reformed - and the Primates will say so."

Bishop Duncan also said that the Primates "will demand - in some polite fashion - that the consecration of the bishop coadjutor of New Hampshire not go forward. They will say that, if he is consecrated, he will not be recognized or included in pan-Anglican meetings ... Those who dare to participate in the consecration will be offered a similar future status. There will also some call to ALL who voted - bishops and their dioceses - for the dual innovations adopted at Minneapolis to publicly state that they are willing to turn from their endorsement of this schism, no longer in favor in light the Primates' ruling. A deadline of some months will be set for compliance."

Martyn Minns followed Bishop Duncan and his talk was on the topic of "What do the Primates want from us?" Martyn outlined three points: Admit, Submit, and Commit. He said that we have to admit that we have broken the covenant and we are the problem. He said that we must submit and not tell the Primates what to do or they will see our arrogance and imperialism. We must also commit to the authority of the Scriptures by taking risks for the Gospel.

Paul Zahl took the state and talked about the incredible story of attending an international meeting at VTS and being handed papers from the ACC (Anglican Communion Council, I think it's called) that boldly outlined the proposed Agenda for next weeks Primates meeting in London that would control the discussion so that there would be no time for deliberation and to continue to stonewall all attempts at dealing with this issue. Paul said that he had the papers for ten minutes until the Secretary realized in horror her error and took the papers away from Paul. He said it suddenly came to him as he reflected over what he saw that it was the culmination of thirty years of power plays, all these Trojan horses put by national and diocesan church leaders and all it succeeded in doing was concealing the power politics. But it gave us insight into how the ACC of the Anglican works and how it aims to manipulate all serious conversation between the Primates in dealing with this most crucial issue.

Martyn said we ignore the issues before us at our own peril. He said that the Bishop of Rome is not ignoring us, why should our own leaders? In fact, later in the day, a surprising and amazing letter sent to our "Plano" meeting in Dallas from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, The Vatican on behalf of Pope John Paul II. There was a gasp this afternoon as this letter was read out to the standing room only hall of 2, 700 participants. It reads:

"I hasten to assure you of my heartfelt prayers for all those taking part in this convocation. The significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond Plano, and even in this City from which Saint Augustine of Canterbury was sent to confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ's Gospel in England. Nor can I fail to recall that barely 120 years later, Saint Boniface brought that same Christian faith from England to my own forebears in Germany."

"The Lord of these saints show us how in the Church of Christ there is a unity in truth and a communion of grace which transcend the borders of any nation. With this mind, I pray in particular that God's will may be done by all those who seek that unity in the truth, the gift of Christ himself."

Even Rome is watching.

After lunch, Mario Bergner, well known exgay clergyman, spoke and gave a terrific talk on his life and recovery from a lifestyle of bondage and sin. His talk was so transparent. When he was done the hall broke out in a standing ovation.

His talk was followed by John Guernsey giving a talk on the Redirection of our giving and the biblical basis for doing so. He refuted any attempt by Bishop Gray to call what we are doing "Ecclesiastical Money Laundering." Bishop Gray is here as an "observer" for Bishop Lee. Wonder if he heard this talk?

We broke for lunch and Jim McCaslin, now in Florida, came up to me as asked me if I had seen David Virtue. I had, but not in a while. Jim wanted to meet him and I said I'd keep an eye out for David (he's everywhere!). When I did see David I told him that one of his supporters wanted to meet and David wanted to know what Jim looked like. I said he's about so high and wearing a clergy collar. David laughed, his eyes growing wide. I could have kicked myself. There are only about 800 people here that look just like that!

After lunch there was a reading of a letter from the theologian John Stott to all of us gathered in Dallas with words of encouragement and support. More thunderous applause.

This was followed by a panel discussion on "Constitutions, Canons, Pensions, and Property" led by Diane Knippers. The panel included Mike Woodruff and Hugo Blankinghship. Diane jokes about now having to hear from the lawyers. But they gave very good talks about the importance of seeking wise counsel from canon lawyers before congregations and dioceses do anything drastic. Each diocese has it's own canon laws on financial giving and church property and each attorney speaking this afternoon warned against "hanging alone" instead of "hanging together." Diane also reminded the gathering of the power of the laity in these matters and not underestimate what the laity can do in such a time as this. It is very difficult for the Bishop to intervene with laity. We are truly free - and it's our responsibility to use our financial resources wisely and with accountability. Diane Knippers said that "we should refuse to underwrite unbiblical doctrine." The attorneys who spoke in her panel gave words of encouragement to be bold, but to be sound and wise in counsel before moving forward. Ruth Urban, a women priest from Mississippi, gave an impassioned address imploring those in the hall who are holding back their support of their diocese and/or national church, to give all the money away, not to keep it for ourselves and our own spending needs. The church, no matter what, must continue to invest in our future and support "what the Lord is all ready doing" in supporting missions.

Hugo warned those assembled in the hall (now fully 2,700 people!) that there are "signs of a gathering storm on the horizon. Be prepared, be wise in our preparation. There are legal reifications in what do and say." Though he has hope that the storm will still pass and we will be spared, still we must be ready.

A major highlight for me today was in Diane's concluding remarks after the close of her panel on stewardship. She likened this journey we are now on to her own battle with cancer. She said that the early stages of her treatment were more difficult than the actual disease. But without intervention, the disease would kill the body. She said we are sustained by prayer. Affliction, she said, is a crash course in spiritual growth. We concentrate on what really matters and what really matters is Jesus. This is a day by day journey, she said. Some days there are new encouragements and some days there are not. It is a day at a time and she has to be patient.

The room grew so quiet and still as she spoke from her heart. I felt my own tears filling my eyes. This is church.

Her talk was followed by the announcement of the arrival of the letter by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, representing Pope John Paul II. There was an audible gasp in the room as this announcement was made. I want to repeat one section of his letter again because I think it bears repeating. "The lives of these saints show us how in the Church of Christ there is a unity in truth and a communion of grace which transcend the borders of any nation."

It is true. We are not alone.

God bless you all. Please feel free to pass this on if you wish!

Love in Christ,
Mary

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