Inhibitions, abandonment and release.

BabyBlueCafe is in a snit about a recent letter sent by Bishop Lee to twenty-one clergy who had previously been inhibited informing them of the next step, which is to declare the final decision that they have indeed abandoned the ministry of this Church. Bishop Lee says, as per BB's blog: "On January 22, 2007, I inhibited you from exercising your priestly ministry on the basis that by your actions, you had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church." Now six months later he is following up, as canons require, and informing them of the close of the period of inhibition and the removal of these persons from the ordained ministry of this Church.

About that sentence, BabyBlue says:

"He also introduces a brand new phrase here - not seen before in 400 years of the Anglican Church in Virginia. There is now something called "The Communion of The Episcopal Church." So now we have not only the Anglican Communion that all we all know, we also have something new called The Communion of the Episcopal Church."

She wants this to be "breaking news." It is no news at all. These clergy are not acting as members of the clergy of the Diocese of Virginia, or The Episcopal Church. Presumably they have been admitted as clergy of other Provinces and operate under the direction of bishops of those Churches.

BabyBlue seems to think that somehow Bishop Lee has invented some new entity, "the Communion of the Episcopal Church."

Actually, BabyBlue and others need to read the Canons of The Episcopal Church (Title IV: Canon 10), in which the phrase "communion of this Church" is used repeatedly. When Bishop Lee writes about the "communion of The Episcopal Church" he is rightly spelling out the meaning of "this Church," which clearly in the canons is a reference to The Episcopal Church. Writing outside the confines of the Canons themselves it is proper to indicate what the "this" refers to.

The letter is part of a process by which these twenty-one clergy are released from their obligations and rights as members of the clergy of this Church. Our canons say nothing about what ministry they might have in other Provinces of the Anglican Communion, or indeed in other churches in Christendom. What the canons do make clear is that in abandoning the communion of this church they cease to have the license to exercise their ministry in The Episcopal Church.

To the extent that ordination is indelible these clergy continue to be priests and deacons. As far as I know no Province is requiring that clergy coming in from another part of the Anglican Communion be re-ordained.' In admitting them into the communion of that Province they may require an oath of conformity to the doctrine and discipline of that church.

As regards the letter, Bishop Lee is doing what the Canons require. BabyBlue's other concern, namely that these clergy were cut off without health benefits, is another matter. Given the rotten shape of health insurance coverage in this country I would hope that some provision has been made, one way or another, for these clergy.

Moving on: This last Sunday in Lewes, the village by the bay, we had our usual fine services at St. Peter's. The eight and ten o'clock services were both well attended. The sermon was fine. The Eucharist was as always a sustaining sacrament. We ask visitors to tell us who they are and where they were from. A couple stood up and said they were from the Washington D.C. area, and after church I met them for a moment in the entryway to the Church and after saying how glad we were that they were there, and passing remarks about Camp Arrowhead (where their kids had gone in the past) asked, "which parish?"

The man was just a little taken back and said, rather quietly, "Truro." I said, also a little taken back, "Ah.. well I'm glad you are here." Then I asked an awkward question, asked awkwardly…. "so, are you part of….the new Truro or…" He said, "Well, that's not how I'd describe it." I said, "I know… you noticed my hesitancy and stumbling. Maybe better, are you with the majority of the congregation?" He said, "yes." I said, "these are difficult times, but I have every confidence it will work out somehow." He looked quizzically. I said, "Remember we have two thousand years of experience in being broken. It will all resolve itself."

What I didn't get to say, because I didn't think to do so, is something like this: "I'm very glad you were here with us and that we shared communion together." He and his wife were welcome there, and I have no doubt I would be welcome at Truro. Communion, in some larger sense, is not about the communion of the Episcopal Church, the Anglican Communion, the Communion of the Roman Catholic church, etc. It is about communion, spiritual and physical, in particular places where our faith and practice come together and we are a community that welcomes as we are able.

This week our family is meeting in Amsterdam and then in Bucharest, Romania. I have been welcomed in the past at St. Nicholas Church, Bucharest, part of the Romanian Orthodox Church. The clergy have asked me to sit inside the iconostasis during the celebration. I have felt very welcome. Knowing that I cannot receive communion physically I none the less know, and they know too, that I have received spiritually and that we are part of the same body even when we cannot talk that way very easily.

When we open our doors and hearts to one another, the churchly necessity of distinctions – a necessity that is real and must be dealt with as real – falls away a bit. In its place arises the reality that we are mostly intent on the bread of life and the fellowship of Christ-community. We will find it where we need to and will be filled. Refreshment is at hand.


  1. Thanks for pikcing up on this, Mark. I've noticed a tendency on the part of some of the disaffected to elide or eliminate the references to "this Church" and to profess their allegiance to the Church of All Outdoors rather than the one to which they gave their Oath, and in and by which they were ordained.

  2. Without letters dimissory from the Diocese of Virginia, by ancient canon, these clergy should not be able to become resident any where else. Furthermore, also by ancient canon, the depositions would be recognized by all other dioceses.

  3. "As far as I know no Province is requiring that clergy coming in from another part of the Anglican Communion be re-ordained."

    This presents an interesting possibility. What if a priest or deacon was ordained by a bishop who approved of the ordination of VGR? Or who laid hands on VGR? And what if Robinson himself ordained them? According to the prevailing position among the conservatives, all of this makes a cleric a sinner and hence unsuitable for administering the sacraments.

  4. Thanks for this reminder, Fr. Mark.

  5. BabyBlue knows full well what the "this" refers to and so do those who chose/choose to leave. Writing such inflamatory and dishonest things is only destructive and so bears no honor to the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we proclaim.

  6. t it. If they have left TEC for other provinces -- and their own statements claim that they have -- did they not arrange for health insurance from the Province of Nigeria? And, if not, why not?

  7. Just a note about these priests being cut off from their health insurance - I'm sure arrangements can be made for them to be covered under COBRA, paid for by themselves at whatever cost their churches were paying for them. I doubt they'll be left with no health insurance.

  8. 'Being without health insurance is no big deal. Just ask President Bush. “I mean, people have access to health care in America,” he said last week. “After all, you just go to an emergency room.”'


  9. Tobias, I see that your inner copy editor was AWOL again.

    Communion is communion is communion is communion.

    With apologies to Gertrude Stein.

    Mark, I know yours is a serious blog, but I could not help myself. Please forgive me.

  10. The answer regarding the alleged abandonment of the departing clergy by the diocesan health insurance were given months ago in a discussion on Thinking Anglicans about just this matter. To bring it up again, and make us go over it all again is gratuitous. Someone better than me, feel free to search TA and find the discussion, with the facts of COBRA and the restrictions the diocese with regard to health insurance as well as the possibilities for the clergy themselves.
    Lois Keen

  11. P.S. Mark, you and your family have a safe and wonderful trip.

  12. A not about COBRA -- The DioVA apparently is exempt from that federal law and they used their exemption. This was noted several communications from +Minns that have been published. At the DioVA convention they decided to extent health coverage till the end of January, the convention was January 26-28. Thus creating a mess of backdating and did nothing to help an admin who had a kid she desired to take to the doctor on January 15.

    Overall a very poor witness from the diocese of Virginia, the rest of the UD, including some of my bosses who at times can be real jerks, are required to show more mercy.

  13. Fr. Mark,

    A couple thoughts:

    1) Babyblue has been caught out before -- witness comments about a hierarchical church. I understand you like the lady, but she is in the same place as the four fury bishops, she makes things up.

    2) If I resign from a job in a bank, and go to work for another bank, no one expects the first one to continue my insurance.

    3) No one is "cut off" there is COBRA, and Babyblue either knows that or with any intellectual honesty applied, should know it. The idea that TEC owes insurance to those who work against it is simply dishonest. Which I suppose gets me back to point 1.


  14. jimB:

    You never work with benefits in corporate way in the average shmuck world, have you?

    1) Religious organizations are apparently exempt from COBRA laws (though there is the ethical ought even if legal must is not required).

    2) Your Bank example, if a benefit is offered that it is compulsory for all, if you leave that bank a COBRA offer must be extended before the insurance is dropped, by law.

    2a -- This if you worked for a bank and left for another bank's employment but had that heart surgery a year ago, I sure hope you would COBRA your old insurance for most policies have a six month to a year pre-existing condition clause and your follow up cardiologist visits would be uninsured.

    3. I'm not sure if I'd go with BB making things up just yet, for I have been responsible for employee benefits for small business and had to deal with all many of these headaches and my experience suggest the plank may be in your eye on this one & you are making stuff up.


  15. It is very rich for TEC to appeal to ancient canons so very selectively. Also, the continued snide remarks about departing clergy violating their vows shows willful amnesia regarding Anglican history from Cranmer through at least the Wesley brothers. Sometimes people follow their consciences and they have to act against the rules. Your camp does so as well and that is what has us in the mess where we lob rocks at each other rather than working together.

    God bless y'all.

    LA priest

  16. Um, when did these priests and parishes decide to leave the Dio. of Va.? How long after that did the diocese stop providing them insurance? Did no one in those parishes think to switch their insurance provider from TEC to a provider of their choice when they voted to leave?


  17. Jon:

    Have you ever dealt with employee benefits? They need real hard numbers & will not deal with guesses, thus on the business side it would be February at the first available. So "thought of," yes, could do with world's restraints is another story.

    Not trying to talk down to folks, but it's occurring to me the radical difference between my employment and churches -- COBRA means employee would pay full amount, so if it's a typical 80%/20% plan say $400.00 a month for a single person than normally $20 would taken out of each weeks check (pre-tax) and the rest the employer covers -- COBRA I'd get the full bill of $400.00 each month. The big issue is pre-existing conditions more than just coverage (you can get one month policies yourself if needed), people I knew who COBRA-ed had surgery.

    The issue was DioVA didn't offer to COBRA to continue for one month - thus most of January was former employees where uninsured and other who had any pre-existing conditions will have to wait at least another month in not six for that issue to be covered. It was not too much of a surprise and many admins took their children to dentist, physicians & whatever in December fearing DioVA would use their exemption to be petty - again the moral ought.

    DioVA did a back track at the VERY end of the month, which is legally smart since they filed law suits -- if a jury trial, the jury would more likely be persuaded by issues they can understand, as in insurance and not offering the same protection as the law usually requires, than complex property law which they not fully comprehend.

  18. When did the parishes officially declare themselves not part of the diocese?


  19. Surely Howard Ahmanson can pay for their insurance.

  20. LA Priest, did Cranmer demand that Clement VII keep paying him? I seem to have missed that part.

  21. On the issue of insurance...I reviewed the website of CANA to which most of these individuals went. It said, at the time, that all CANA clergy would be covered by their congregations. It was then a great surprise to me that +Minns was upset about the failure of the Diocese of Virginia to accept responsibility and insure COBRA coverage. There were only a couple of possibilities:

    1. CANA was being less than honest with its clergy assuring them of coverage by their congregations.

    2. CANA was ill-informed about the insurance issues and incompetent

    In neither of the above cases does CANA look professional. +Minn's anger and affront that Dio Virginia did not cover its error was, to me, appalling. EPfizH

  22. As too insurance, this seems very much like the departing clergy and congregations wanting to have their cake and eat it too.

    In the Dio. of Virginia, does the diocese pay the employer share, or does the parish? When I was a warden in the Dio. of Massachusetts (10 years ago), the parish paid the employer share (which was 100%). If this is the case in Virginia, it would not be that difficult for the parishes to switch from the diocesan plan to a new CANA plan, and given the 40 days of discernment and the long lead-up to the actual split, there was plenty of time to set up a CANA plan.

    If the diocese was paying the employer share, then how can these clergy have any claim for coverage after leaving the diocese? Maybe they should have considered the implications before resigning.


OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.