When Thinking Anglicans notices something stirring in the Episcopal Church it is usually a dust up worthy of our attention. When Father Jake takes the same matter on, the storm clouds have a certain heightened importance. The two together beat out The Weather Channel for predicting the storms to come.
The whole matter of Fr. Mark Hansen, a heretofore more or less unknown rector in
Canon Ellis Brust Chief Operating Officer of the ACC, husband of Cynthia Brust, who writes for the
He said: I was in
I wonder: Deciding that this is a theological dispute, rather than a disciplinary dispute is precisely the beginning spin the
He said: On Sunday I was invited by the senior warden and members of the vestry to attend a hastily called meeting between Bishop Andrew Smith and the congregation of
I wonder: Granted, that under the best of circumstances a meeting called by the Bishop with the Congregation might be open for outsiders, but this was not the best of circumstances. Who called this meeting? If it was Bishop Smith then he issued the invitation as to who was to attend. The Senior Warden and members (some I presume) invited Brust to come in what is clearly an advocacy role and as an accusatory witness (for that is what a witness “against” is about).
Brust came already convinced of the occasion as a witness against Bishop Smith. He stated that: “Just days before, on July 13, Bishop Smith--joined by a squad of diocesan staff, locksmiths, computer hackers, and security guards--seized control of the building despite protests of the parish secretary and senior warden. Bishop Smith locked out members of the congregation, issued an inhibition of Fr. Mark Hansen, and forced a revisionist priest-in-charge on the orthodox congregation.”
Canon Brust wasn’t there for that occasion, I take it, nor was Fr. Hansen, but the core of the matter is that Fr. Hansen was removed from office and another priest placed in charge. All the other drama – the “squad” the locksmiths, hackers, security guards, etc, sound like the actions of a corporate body in the 21st Century taken against an employee suspected of possible disruption following firing; not pleasant, surely, but not surprising. The whole thing might be ugly and unenlightened, but so are the times.
The actual “voice of the vestry” was Dr. William Witt. There is no indication that Canon Brust spoke at the meeting or had any part in defending the Rector, Senior Warden or Vestry. Nor is there indication that he was active in the meeting itself as an advocate, witness against the Bishop, or as a representative of the parish. Perhaps Canon Brust is too modest here, but his report, while full of editorial comments, never refers to his being an actor in this drama. Witt’s statement, written shortly after the takeover of the Parish was posted on the
What then are we to make of this meeting? On the one hand, nothing new seems to have come from it. It sounds like a disaster in which all are to be pitied.
At the same time Canon Brust reports it out as a clear sign that Bishop Smith is incompetent, incoherent and disingenuous. He turns the staff of the diocese into a “squad,” the priest in charge into a “revisionist,” who fought back tears, the Bishop as cavalier, angry and ineffectual.
In other words, Canon Brust produced a rather well done piece of propaganda. The core of this effort was to not allow the possibility that this indeed was a matter of canonical discipline, but a matter of theology.
Good luck. Fr. Jake is on the case here. He understands precisely that it is indeed a matter of canon, for at issue is not what you think about the Bishop’s views, voting pattern, ideas, beliefs, etc. What is at issue is whether or not you are attempting to disengage as a parish and as a priest from your canonical relation to the Diocese and to the Ordinary of that Diocese. What the parish is seeking is not alternative oversight for some limited period of time, but alternative Episcopal authority. What this priest seems to be seeking is discharge from his vows concerning authority, replacing them with vows to obedience provided there is theological agreement between himself and the bishop as his conscience dictates.
This, by the way, is what is seriously wrong with Bishop Lipscomb’s comment in his letter to his Diocese of July 11, as reported in the
The little commentary by Canon Brust is one more effort to slide in acquiescence to alternative authority under the guise of alternative oversight. The Fr. Hansen affair is a messy situation and terribly sad, but for all that it is none the less a small field in which larger players are working their wills.
Keep the eye on the ball. This thing is about a minority within the Episcopal Church walking away with the authority to be the Episcopal Church while no one is looking. Don’t think oversight. We give oversight to one another all the time, particularly as one or the other of us actually does good theology, practical and otherwise. Think authority, which is the context in which we get to exercise our oversight of congregations, dioceses, seminaries, etc.