Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Sad Day In Rochester, NY

In the last few days I learned that All Saints' Anglican Church, in the leafy Rochester, NY, suburb of Irondequoit was taken back into possession by the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester under court order. I was the Rector of All Saints' Church from the late seventies until early 1985, and although the years we spent in Rochester were very difficult for our family, I feel grieved for the people of that congregation -- some of whom were parishioners when I served there.

While I am not sure that the congregation behaved wisely in its approach toward the Diocese of Rochester following the unfaithful actions of the General Convention in August 2003, neither do I think the Bishop of Rochester and his supporters have shown the smallest shread of grace and generosity toward the parish. Last November they removed All Saints' from the diocese by declaring All Saints' extinct, using a diocesan canon whose intention was entirely different from the purpose to which it was put. This kind of canonical gerrymandering is the kind of disingenuousness that is designed to further alienate.

Since last year I have often found myself thinking about the old long-time members of All Saints' that I remember during my years there, some of whom were charter members of the parish, and who spent their whole lives as members of the congregation. I buried the last founders of the parish while I was there. All of them would be appalled at what the Diocese of Rochester has become as a well-endowed pioneer of an agenda that not only deconstructs the Gospel, but is profoundly damaging Anglican Christianity both at home and around the world.

I am sure that the Bishop of Rochester and his chums are as pleased as punch that they have taken the building, but I suspect they will not only be incapable of replanting All Saints' Episcopal Church because 'progressive' Christianity has very limited abilities at reproducing itself, but that in a relatively short period of time "For Sale" signs will appear on the church lawn and those funds will be dropped into the already bloated coffers of the Diocese of Rochester.

Much of Upstate New York is very much a spiritual burned over district for biblical Christianity in any shape or form, and has been for many years. The years I spent there were among the hardest in my life, and I am in touch with pastors of various denominational traditions from my time in Rochester, but now elsewhere, who look back on those years for themselves in their own traditions as some of the most difficult. I suspect that today it is virtually impossible for an orthodox ordained person to play any part in the Diocese of Rochester, and I suspect that the statistics demonstrate the Episcopal diocese is seeing the same kind of decline in membership that we were seeing when I was there more than twenty years ago.


Anonymous said...

Richard -- You should go ahead and become a Roman Catholic -- best decision I every made. I was an Episcopalian until this Easter, being brought into the Catholic church this Easter. It's awesome -- no more church politics... Can you imagine?

Richard Kew said...

I have never understood the attraction that Rome has for those who have been part of the Anglican tradition: I have so many profound theological and philosophical differences with Roman Christianity because I am deep down in my very being an Anglican -- which I believe at its best is the finest way of being Christian. By the way, I don't know what part of the Roman church you belong to because my Catholic friends certainly do not think there are no politics.

Bill said...

Richard, Thank you writing your letter. I'm in NH but have followed the crisis over All Saint's and am deeply saddened by the events there as they have unfolded. I am just appalled that a diocese that calls itself Christian could even contemplate behaving in this way.Peace and blessings to you wherever you are.

Phil said...

According to ECUSA's Congregational Development Page - Diocese of Rochester from 1994-2004:

Baptized Members: -30+% (almost 4% reduction per year)
ASA: -20+% (about 2.5% reduction per year)

Fr. Ken Strawhand said...

The folks at All Saint's (and their priest, Fr. Harnish) are still welcome at St. Casimir's, Rochester-we can share the building (we own it outright) and I will make whatever adjustments needed to accomadate them if they like. This is a standing offer. I have discussed this with my people and my Bishop, so I think we can work it out.


Fr. Ken Strawhand, Pastor
St. Casimir's National Catholic Church
Rochester, NY

(585) 467-1190 (rectory)
(585) 338-7920 (office)

Richard Kew said...

Father Strawhand, bless you all at St. Casimir's for your wonderful generosity.

Robin G. Jordan said...

Like you, Richard, I also do not understand the attraction that Rome has for some who have been part of the Anglican tradition. Perhaps it is because they have never really been part of that tradition. The Tudor Settlement chartered a course for the Church of England between the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Anabaptism and other forms of radical Protestantism. Yet in the 19th century a number of Anglican churchmen abandoned that course and set their churches on a new course, one that moved their churches closer to Rome. Most of those whom I have known who have opted to become Roman Catholics come from these churches.

In the 21st century Anglicans are faced with another extreme - that of radical liberalism and relativism. The Episcopal Church has been in the forefront of a movement to change the course of world Anglicanism and to steer Anglicans in the direction of this new extreme. I do not believe that the solution to this problem is to abandon Anglicanism for one of the older extremes that the Tudor Settlement sought to avoid. Rather we need to stay on the course that the Tudor Settlement set for the Church of England and its daughter churches.

C. Wingate said...

I too have the long list of theological problems with Rome, but more importantly, it seems to me that it is foolish for a layman to believe that he is escaping PECUSA's problems by going to a Catholic church. He may, or he may not; Roman ecclesiastical discipline is not all that it is cracked up to be. Now, a Tiber-crossing priest can make a little Anglo-Catholic haven for himself (assuming he is re-priested), but the rest of us are stuck with the lousy liturgy and often questionable theology of whatever parish we wash up in. Do not forget, after all, that there are a fair number of ex-Catholics who are Episcopalians precisely because they couldn't take any more.

The orthodoxy of any given RC parish is often highly theoretical.

Anonymous said...

Richard, it is indeed sad when not even the smallest shred of grace and generosity is shown towards a parish.

Anonymous said...

From the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester's newsletter (http://www.rochesterepiscopaldiocese.org/pdfs/2006/Oct/November%202006%20-%20Voulme%2017,%20No.%2010.pdf ):

It Seems to me . . . “It was a sad day”
The Rt. Rev. Jack M. McKelvey
VII Bishop of Rochester

On Friday, September 22, 2006, Canon Hanson,
Canon Lumbard and I joined our attorney at the site of the
former All Saints Episcopal Church to receive the keys, the
record books, and all the real property and assets of the
Church. One might have thought that it was a good day.
It wasn’t, it was a sad day.
Yes, Judge Fisher had decided in favor of the
Episcopal Diocese and all property and assets were to be
turned over. That however, is only part of the story. A
summary of the judge’s order in part includes the
· All Saints is “ordered to turn over to the Episcopal
Diocese all of the real and personal property of the
former All Saints Protestant Episcopal Church.”
· The Court directs that an accounting be undertaken. The Court states: “In addition, an
accounting is also appropriate under the circumstances.”
· The Court finds that vestry breached its fiduciary duty and continues to owe a fiduciary duty to
the Diocese and National Church. The Court states that: “the vestry owed the National Church
and the Diocese a fiduciary duty, which they have breached by failing to turn over the property
when demanded,” and “so too does the current vestry of the All Saints Anglican Church, Inc.”
· The Court acknowledges the ecclesiastical declaration that the All Saints Parish is extinct for
ecclesiastical purposes.
· The Certificate of Amendment to the All Saints Certificate of Incorporation, filed January 23,
2006, changing its name to the “All Saints Anglican Church, Inc.” and taking certain other action,
is null and void.
The Church building was empty, quiet, eerily so, upon our arrival. Two representatives from the
former Church and their attorney welcomed us. The life, enthusiasm, good memories, hustle and bustle
of a congregation was gone. Strewn in every room were remnants of a former time, yet no sign of life
among the remnants.
The conversation between the two parties was strained at best and periodically the strain was
pierced by attempts at humor. I found none in the situation. I could not help but think of youth groups,
baptisms, marriages, confirmation, worship, ministry and funerals, that had gone before. I stood at the
altar all alone and remembered five years ago. We didn’t always see eye to eye, the congregation, rector,
wardens, leaders and I, but we were
willing and able to worship together. That happened four other times following the first time when we
celebrated the 75th anniversaries of All Saints and the Church of the Resurrection (ELCA) in a combined
service. I prayed for forgiveness, for courage, and for the ministry of the Church. I was sad.
We will gather some people together from the region which includes Irondequoit and determine
our ministry strategy for the future. Letters of transfer can now be given to the several people who have
become members of other Episcopal Churches. We will move on, yet with sadness in our hearts that we
could not agree to disagree about our respective calls to Christ’s ministry in our part of the world.
My sadness is not for the call to inclusive ministry which we have answered. My sadness is that
a congregation has died, the people have scattered, and that our worship together was not a strong
enough bond to weather human differences.