Revolution in Virginia

Virginia is the heartland of Episcopalianism, the largest diocese, with many of its churches dating from before the American Revolution and the establishment of the Episcopal Church. Recent events there are likely to lead to further defections. David Virtue reports:

They came as Episcopalians. They voted. They sang ‘The Church’s One Foundation’. They departed as Anglicans.

For some five thousand Virginia Episcopalians (now Anglicans) in nine parishes, Sunday December 17, 2006 will go down as a day in which church history was made and irrevocably changed their lives. These Episcopalians, many with deeply-held roots, made the decision to leave the comfort and security of The Episcopal Church USA and join with an as yet untried, untested new Anglican Church in far-off Nigeria, all because their beloved church had abandoned the faith, discarded biblical morality, and had elevated an openly homoerotic man to the office of bishop.

It was a day of mixed emotions and personal reflection. There was gladness that a decision had been made and finality had been reached. There was sadness too, that four hundred years of history had ended, with many families tracing their lineage and genealogy through numerous generations of Episcopal Church membership. The graveyards are full of illustrious Episcopalians, military, ecclesiastical and political, figures remembered and revered. Now, centuries later, many of their relatives are leaving these historic churches.

Prayerful voting

Forty days of Prayerful Discernment and a week of voting brought closure to nine parishes, with three more considered ‘in progress’. At least ten more may well join them. When all the numbers are in, the departing figure will be well over 5,000 Episcopalians – making it the largest single one-day exodus in Episcopal Church history. Combined, their plate pledge is nearly S14 million dollar.

I sat in the unusually designed Falls Church, in Falls Church, Virginia, a sort of half circle structure that could easily pass for a modern cinema, reflecting more the homogenous landscape of a new generation of Episcopalians washing across the Potomac for Sunday morning services. The church has been on the site for nearly 300 years, however.

When the announcement was made at the end of the 9.00 a.m. service at Falls Church it was done with dignity and restraint. The Revd John Yates, an exceedingly humble pastor, simply announced the numbers at the end of the service. Wisely he did not make it the subject of the sermon and he deliberately refrained from any overt histrionic displays of emotion. He was dignified and restrained, a model Episcopalian to the end.

The voting results were, of course, predictable. The only question was how big the margin would be. We were told that most of the voting had been completed the previous Sunday, but a full week allowed everyone – the lame, the halt and the blind – to be heard, seen and their votes recorded.

Of the 1,348 eligible members casting ballots at The Falls Church, 1,228, or 90%, voted in favour of the first resolution to sever ties with The Episcopal Church. On the second resolution, 1,279 of 1,350 ballots, or 94%, were in favour of retaining the church’s real and personal property.

After the news was announced, a hymn was sung and people quietly filed out of the sanctuary. There was a gasp at the high numbers voting both in favour of leaving and keeping the property, but there was no cheering or clapping. Episcopalians have far too much class to do that. Restrained dignity was the order of the day.

An overwhelming vote

But there is no question that the vote can only be construed as overwhelming. Dr Os Guinness, a parishioner, sociologist, scholar and author called it ‘a tsunami of a mandate’. Indeed it was.

After the service was over, I drove over to Truro Episcopal Church where a lively service was in progress led by the Revd Martyn Minns, now a Bishop of the Convocation of North American Churches

(CANA) based in Nigeria and under whose ecclesiastical care the newly emergent churches would seek refuge.

Like the Falls Church service, the sermon was not consumed with details of leaving; with Minns making it clear during the service that he did not have the numbers and would not have them till the service concluded. The media cooled its heels in the balcony area of the church.

At the conclusion of the service, Minns asked his senior warden Jim Oakes to come forward to announce the findings. With a voice that seemed on the verge of breaking, Mr Oakes reported that of the 1,095 eligible voting members casting ballots at Truro Church, 1,010, or 92% voted in favour of severing ties. On the second resolution, 1,034 of 1,095 eligible members, or 94%, voted in favour of retaining Truro’s real and personal property. Both churches used essentially identical ballots. He concluded his remarks by saying, A new day has begun.’

There was no applause, but sighs of relief could be heard. People filed respectfully and quietly out of the sanctuary where the various ecclesiastical players lined up for media photo ops outside the church. A press conference followed at 2.00 p.m.

The new bishop

It was here that Minns’ skills shone. He introduced about a dozen clergy from smaller neighbouring parishes, all of whom had either voted to leave the diocese and national Episcopal Church or were ‘in progress’ of leaving, as well as a Nigerian businessman from Chicago, Gboyega Delano – an Oxford-trained theologian – who was there on behalf of Nigerian Primate Peter Akinola and an active member of CANA.

Minns showed himself to be adroit and unintimidated, erudite, aware of the issues, refusing to bad-mouth his former boss Bishop Peter James Lee and media-savvy He is British-born, which gives him an edge in the South, and he can articulate the Gospel with ease. When he viewed which way the wind was blowing in The Episcopal Church, he saw in Archbishop Akinola, (the biggest international orthodox Anglican player he could ally himself with) as a way to move himself and his people forward. In many ways he became Akinola’s North American chaplain and spokesman before aligning himself completely with the Nigerian leaders’ vision for North American Evangelical Episcopalians who were quickly becoming disaffected by The Episcopal Church’s apostasy. He was instrumental in the formation of CANA.

Like the emergence of the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) six years before, he and CANA are now forces to be reckoned with. Time will tell if CANA becomes a serious counter-Anglican movement capable of great growth or just another Continuing Anglican body. The jury will be out for some time.


The end of Rodney Hunter

This report first appeared on Virtue-online, the worldwide online news service for traditional Anglicans

Canon Rodney Hunter, a former Librarian of Pusey House, is well-known to delegates to the Forward in Faith National Assembly. Recent events, all revolving around the disputed election of an English priest as Bishop of Lake Malawi have been reported in this paper before. Here, from the Nation newspaper of Malawi is a brief digest of events leading up to the death in suspicious circumstances of Canon Hunter

From: The Nation, March 7,2006

The ongoing feud within the Anglican Diocese of Lake Malawi reared another ugly face Sunday when Christians fought with pagans during Mass at the All Saints Cathedral in Nkhotakota.

The diocese has been rocked with problems after the Court of Confirmation rejected Reverend Nicholas Henderson from Britain as bishop on grounds that his name is associated with gay activities.

Retired Zambian clergyman Leonard Mwenda was appointed interim bishop, a move that angered Henderson’s supporters. Eyewitnesses in Nkhotakota confirmed Sunday’s fight.

James Patrick Chibingwe, a member of the faction supporting Mwenda, said the fracas started on Saturday when some youths ‘threatened they would disturb prayers on Sunday’ Chibingwe also alleged that the youths, who went chanting, threatened they would up Fr Denis Kayamba and Canon Rodney Hunter, two priests aligned to Mwenda.

‘Some of those people…for the pro-Henderson faction were not even Christians, and…their threats became a reality when they roughed up Canon Hunter right in the church.

They grabbed him from the church to his house and we followed to rescue him,’ said Chibingwe.

He said some of those people who grabbed Hunter as he was starting the 7.00 a.m. (0500 GMT) Mass, wielded pangas and in the process harmed some people. He said the fracas coincided with the impending visit to the mission of Mwenda who was supposed to conduct a Christian Confirmation Mass and tour some establishments.

But pro-Henderson archdeaconry secretary, Luke Matchiya, said what provoked his faction was the coming of Mwenda to conduct a confirmation of Christians and tour the mission without waiting for the results of the Panel of Reference instituted by the Archbishop of Canterbury to review the problem in the diocese.

Police presence

Nkhotakota police officer-in charge, Clement Juwa, while confirming the fracas said, ‘It is not a big problem. We have arrested the one with the chikwanje and we are investigating the matter. This matter is just being blown out of proportion by some individuals because of greed. They are telling people all sorts of stories and lies to fuel up things.’

Juwa said that when they saw that some people were creating problems at the church, the police went to Nkhotakota Pottery where Mwenda was residing to warn him against going to the cathedral. He also said he was not aware that Canon Hunter was beaten in the fracas.

A police officer who was at the scene confided that the pro-Henderson group sealed gates leading to the church and threatened to rough up both Kayamba and Hunter.

From: Religious Intelligence, December 19,2006

Physical evidence suggests the 72-year-old assistant priest of All Saints Cathedral in Lake Malawi was murdered, though results of an autopsy have not been made public. Local newspapers reported a black substance was found on Canon Hunters lips after his death, suggesting he had been poisoned.

Malawi police have taken into custody Bernard Mlota, a lay member of the diocese, while a second, unnamed man is helping the police with their inquiries. The police have declined to speculate as to possible motives.

A former librarian of Pusey House, Canon Hunter came out to Malawi in 1965. Last year he spearheaded opposition within the diocese to the election of Nicholas Henderson as bishop of Lake Malawi.

Following a challenge by Canon Hunter and other members of the dioceses, the bishops of the Province of Central Africa declined to affirm Henderson’s election due to concerns over

his doctrinal views, as evidenced by his writings while head of the Modern Churchpersons’ Union.

Leading the opposition

Supporters of Henderson have refused to accept his rejection and have mounted legal challenges within Malawi as well as filing an appeal with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Panel of Reference. Violence has also marred the diocese with supporters and opponents of the failed bishop coming to blows. In July Henderson supporters disrupted services at All Saints Cathedral, allegedly assaulting Canon Hunter.

Writing in the July 2006 issue of New Directions, the monthly magazine of Forward in Faith, Canon Hunter blamed Mr Henderson for the on-going turmoil within the diocese. Henderson partisans, known as the ‘Task Force’ are ‘responsible for all the pro-Henderson activities, locking the buildings, letter writing, disruption of services, legal action etc.

All this depends on Mr Henderson himself,’ he wrote. ‘If he would accept the decision of the Court of Confirmation as final, as it is according to the canons, and allow the Task Force to disband, the disturbance would end. I am convinced that the solution to our problem lies in England where it began,’ Canon Hunter stated.

Following Canon Hunter’s funeral, the Dean of All Saints Cathedral, Dennis Kayamba, charged Henderson partisans of murdering Canon Hunter, telling the Nation newspaper that he had also received death threats over his opposition to the bishop-elect.

‘Everyone, including Hunter’s relations in the United Kingdom, wants to see the post-mortem results. We will make sure justice prevails even though we have buried him,’ Kayamba said.


Rumpus in Jerusalem

The Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Revd Riah Abu al-Assal, has been accused by a diocesan review panel of financial misconduct in steering diocesan business contracts to his relations.

‘There was no doubt that the bishop’s tactics and behaviour’ displayed a ‘dramatic combination of nepotism and violation of trust,’ concluded the 35-page report prepared by a six-member diocesan review panel.

An internal investigation was initiated in June after rumours began circulating that Bishop Riah had influenced the selection of a Nazareth insurance agency to underwrite coverage for church schools in Jerusalem and Nazareth. Half of the commission for the transaction reportedly was kicked back to the bishop’s son-in-law, Ayoub Kandaleft, who has had financial difficulties.

The panel reported that it had been ‘fully convinced’ the kick-back scheme had ‘the prior knowledge and approval of the bishop’ and that nepotism ran rampant throughout the diocese. However, the report found no intent to defraud or to inflate the cost of the contract to the diocese.

The findings came after a four-month investigation which included 60 hours of public testimony. In his statement to the panel, Bishop Riah defended his actions, saying he was motivated by humanitarian concerns over his son-in-law’s debts.

‘My records over many years are full of aid to those in need and what I did for others in need, I did for [my son-in-law] Ayoub,’ he testified to the panel. Bishop Riah told the Telegraph newspaper in England the situation had been ‘blown out of proportion.’ He is scheduled to retire at the end of March.

While the results of the investigation were turned over to the diocese in September, they were released just before the high-profile visit this week by the Archbishop of Canterbury to Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

A spokesman for Archbishop Rowan Williams told The Living Church Archbishop Williams was aware of the controversy, but it would not detract from his visit. Joined by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and other British church leaders, Archbishop Williams will visit Israel and Palestine December 20-23 on a ‘pastoral pilgrimage.’