Updated Sunday 31 July
Since the last report there have been some major developments.
The Living Church published a further report headlined Archbishop’s Panel Stays Out of Connecticut Dispute.
Then, a group of nine ECUSA diocesan bishops issued a public letter to Andrew Smith.
In response, the Bishop of Connecticut has published his reply (PDF copy) which is reproduced below the fold here.
Update Another letter, dated one day earlier, addressed to the members of the parish, has now also been published. PDF file here, full text below the fold (scroll down).
The Associated Press reported Bishops plan to take Connecticut cleric to church court.
Reuters had US Episcopal clerics to sue bishop in church court
Bristol Press Bishop’s peers threaten charges
New London The Day Out-of-state Bishops Threaten Action
July 28, 2005
Response to Open Letter of July 27, 2005, from Bishops Adams, Beckwith, Duncan, Herzog, Howe, Iker, Salmon, Schofield, and Stanton
Dear Brother Bishops,
I write to respond to your “open letter” of July 27 to me and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Connecticut.
Your public letter to us is filled with assumptions, conclusions, and emotional, highly charged language. In it you have passed judgment on a brother bishop and a diocese without even attempting to ascertain the facts.
Had you first inquired concerning Father Mark Hansen and the conditions at Saint John’s, Bristol, our communication would be far more productive. I regret that none of the bishops who signed the letter had the wisdom or courtesy to call before launching this broadside. If we are engaged in a “very public conflict,” it is the work of others, and of letters such as yours.
I deny your contention that the Standing Committee or I have misapplied Title IV, Canon 10, which in fact does not address parishes (as you state) but only clergy.
I also wonder where you got the notion of my “refusal to allow appeal to the Panel of Reference.” First of all, a bishop cannot refuse to allow appeal to the Panel of Reference, nor would I consider doing so. Second, I have the deepest respect for Archbishop Williams and for his leadership. The Panel of Reference is an offering of his ministry, under his guidance, and is a resource for the Church when local initiatives have not been successful.
From the time of the House of Bishops meeting in March 2004 I have offered delegated episcopal pastoral oversight in Connecticut, as contained in “Caring for All the Churches.” In fact I have implemented this arrangement with one parish of the diocese.
But the six clergy you mention have consistently refused to consider delegated episcopal pastoral oversight, as is clear in their correspondence and public statements. The situation was precipitated by a May 2004 letter of demands from six parishes and their rectors. Their letter limits me to two choices. One is that I repudiate decisions I have made as bishop so as to believe as they do. The other is that I suspend the Constitution and Canons of the Church and this diocese just for them.
These demands far exceed delegated espiscopal pastoral oversight, which is what this Church can offer, and which has been recognized by the Primates of the Anglican Communion.
I have initiated action under Title IV Canon 10 against only one priest in this diocese. The Standing Committee found that the Rev. Mark Hansen had abandoned communion with his bishop by the demands of the May 2004 letter. Further, he ignored well-established disciplines required of priests by ECUSA Canon and the policies of this diocese. Also important, for a time which as yet we have been unable to determine, he has abandoned his ministry in Saint John’s to hold a secular position in another state while at the same time on sabbatical from Saint John’s.
The parish leaders of Saint John’s enabled and protected Father Hansen in these arrangements, and are uncooperative, evasive and not forthcoming when questioned by members of my staff. For more than a year the parish has ignored its payments to our revolving loan fund. Members and leaders who disagree with Father Hansen have felt intimidated, and many left the parish. There are significant outstanding bills, and the electric company had sent the parish a shut-off notice. We have not seized any funds of the parish, as you claim we have, and in the past week we have paid more than $20,000 in parish bills from diocesan resources – including $8,500 owed on Father Hansen’s pension.
Should you get to know us better, you will find that Connecticut is a diocese that enjoys wide theological and liturgical diversity, and that our clergy represents the great breadth of the church’s spectrum of belief and practice.
In the spirit of “Caring for All the Churches,” I continue to look for ways forward together. To that end, at the invitation of its rector, I met with members of one of the six parishes you name on Sunday afternoon, July 24, for an open and direct conversation. For me it was a time of grace, both during formal discussion and our informal reception afterward –the beginning of a renewed relationship, I pray.
Our Lord Jesus will be better served if we, especially those of us who lead and serve as bishops, discipline ourselves to refrain from publicly-paraded, instantaneous judgments and automatic condemnations. I also ask you to refrain from the repeated incursions which members of the Anglican Communion Network have made into the life and ministry of this diocese.
And I pray that, even as we know him differently, we may all serve the Lord Christ in unity and harmony, grace and love – and so be a blessing to Jesus and for the world.
Yours in Christ,
Andrew D. Smith
Bishop of Connecticut
Letter to Saint John’s Church Members
July 27, 2005
Dear Members of Saint John’s Church, Bristol,
I write as your bishop to clarify some matters about recent events in Saint John’s and to express my hope for the future.
In light of the mounting evidence that the spiritual and financial health of Saint John’s was at risk, evidenced by my discovery of the extended absence of your rector from his ministry while employed in another state, unpaid parish financial obligations, and the lack of co-operation with the diocese by lay parish leadership, I determined, as the Bishop responsible for Saint John’s, to make a pastoral intervention in the parish.
There have been a number of rumors, allegations and misinformation persistently circulated in the parish concerning the Diocese of Connecticut and the actions that I have taken. In addition, there is a need to tell you some of what has been happening and to take a look to the future.
On Wednesday, July 13, about 9:45 a.m. the Rev. Susan McCone and I came to the parish office to deliver copies of the Inhibition of Father Mark Hansen and a copy of the letter in which I appoint the Rev. Susan McCone Priest in Charge of the parish. Several other persons from my office did accompany us. It is not true that we forced our way in or that any damage was done to the buildings.
No one who came that day or since seeking access to Saint John’s on parish matters has been denied access to the building. The groups which use the Church for their meetings (AA, Weight Watchers, TOPS) have all continued to meet as regularly scheduled. We had no keys to the building and the locks were changed late in the afternoon to ensure the security of the property. Keys to the new locks have been issued to parishioners who have assumed responsibilities for certain work already begun as part of the effort to rebuild Saint John’s life, mission and ministry.
Parishioners have come to the Rev. Susan McCone with reports about what has been happening in the parish, and also with concerns about what they have been told “the diocese” would do and not do. There was a lot of pure misinformation. Susan has tried to respond to such concerns on a one-to-one basis, and I encourage any member with questions about what you have been told or rumors that you have heard to ask the questions and talk with her.
There are several persistent allegations that I would like to address. One is that the Diocese would halt the regular celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays. That is false. The Eucharist is the principal act of worship on Sunday mornings in the Episcopal Church. And no member of the parish has been denied access to the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Another rumor is that same-sex marriages would begin to happen at Saint John’s altar. Again, false. In this Church Christian marriage is defined as the union between a man and a woman. Further, priests of this diocese do not have permission to have permission to officiate at civil unions when they become legal in Connecticut in October.
There is a report that I dismissed the Rev. Clayton Knapp as Sunday supply priest. In fact right away I asked Father Knapp to continue to serve on Sundays, but he has declined.
On July 13 I told the Senior Warden of Saint John’s that it is my hope that we could work together, Bishop, Priest in Charge, Wardens and Vestry, for Saint John’s future. However, on July 18 most of the Vestry of Saint John’s chose not to meet with Mother McCone. Several parishioners and one Vestry member did come that night, and they began to talk about the future.
As this date Father Hansen is Inhibited in Connecticut (relieved of priestly privileges for up to six months), and there has been no meeting or agreement between me and Father Hansen concerning his future status with the Church or Saint John’s.
We have begun to address the parish finances. We asked several times for the Treasurer to work with Mr. Ed Seibert, who is assisting Mother McCone, so together they could bring the parish into financial order. Since that cooperation has not happened, we have set up an account with the diocesan funds for Saint John’s in order to pay staff and outstanding bills — more than $20,000. Payments for Father Hansen’s pension were in arrears by $8500, and we have brought that up to date. We also paid Connecticut Light and Power, thereby averting the threatened shutoff of electricity to the parish buildings.
The work of rebuilding St. John’s parish has already begun and the signs of renewed life are promising. On July 17, of worshippers in church, at least 38 were identified as regular St. John’s parishioners, some returning after a prolonged absence. On July 24, the number of St. John’s parishioners had risen to 47 with still others calling to say they would be back in the days ahead. A group of parishioners, eager to revive the family traditions for which St. John’s was once known, have already organized a pot luck supper, as you have heard, for July 30.
The devotion of the people to St. John’s is inspiring and encouraging and the Diocese is committed to helping the parish rebuild – financially as well as spiritually – and to renew its relationship with the larger Episcopal family. If you have questions or thoughts of ways in which I, Mother McCone or my staff can be helpful, please call the Church. I certainly am keeping all of Saint John’s in my prayers, asking Christ’s peace and blessing.
Yours in Christ
+Andrew D. Smith
Bishop of Connecticut
Cc: The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold, Presiding Bishop and Primate