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Monday, July 9, 2007

ALERT: Episcopal Bishop Andrew Smith to Storm small Bristol Connecticut Episcopal Church (through legal means, of course)!

Here is a story sent to me by a reader. It's from the New York Times dated July 7th, and oddly enough there is no story in the Hartford Courant today. So chalk up one for the Times over the Courant on local Connecticut coverage.

This story is sad but true. You can feel the sadness of the parishioners that only wish to practice their faith and be left alone by Bishop Andrew Smith and his militant band of lawyers and blinded followers. All that's missing from Bishop Smith's uniform is the swastika - as he strong arms churches into adapting his warped view of the world, crushing each one that defies him. What an outrage! This is what liberalism is.... hurting your neighbor, forcing them to believe what you believe, or shutting them down. So much for loving your neighbor. It must be nice to be a Bishop - and be above God's Word.

Parish Falls Out of Step, and Favor, With Diocese
By ALISON LEIGH COWAN

BRISTOL, Conn., July 5 — Standing inside the handsome sanctuary on Summer Street that has been home to Trinity Church since 1949, Fred Clark said that he was married here, baptized his children here and held funeral services here for the child he lost.

And although Mr. Clark, the congregation’s senior warden, said he and about 150 fellow parishioners were not eager to lose a place that had been a spiritual home to them and their ancestors since before the Revolution, they may not have a choice come Sunday.

Last month, Connecticut’s Episcopal bishop, Andrew D. Smith, defrocked the Rev. Donald L. Helmandollar and ordered the congregation’s lay leaders “to vacate the property of Trinity Church, Bristol, and release every claim on the assets of this parish by July 8, 2007.” The parishioners had objected to the church’s position regarding homosexuals in the clergy.

But Father Helmandollar, 68, who joined the clergy late in life, has no plans to go quietly. He said he was confident that parishioners would persevere even if they lost the right to the church, rectory and burial grounds they had held for generations in a fight that seems headed for court.

“It’s the people, not the steeple,” he said, quoting Rick Warren, a popular evangelical author.

The courtroom is increasingly familiar territory these days for Episcopal congregations. Growing dissatisfaction within the church over its acceptance and promotion of homosexuals in the clergy has led several dozen congregations to affiliate with more conservative Anglican groups overseas, including the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, which reports to the Church of Nigeria Anglican Communion. Father Helmandollar and Trinity Church took that step this spring.

The result has been several bruising battles over property rights and other issues. Just last month, a California appeals court supported the claim of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles that property did not belong to individual congregations in a hierarchical organization, but was held in trust for the diocese. Similar cases are pending in Virginia and Massachusetts.

In Connecticut, six conservative parishes, including Trinity, accused the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut in federal court of violating their civil rights. A district judge dismissed the lawsuit last summer, and the plaintiffs, known as the Connecticut Six, abandoned their appeal last month. Although some plaintiffs cited a recent plea from senior Anglican officials that parties refrain from litigating as the reason for their about-face, Michael P. Shea, the lawyer who represented the diocese, said, “I think that’s just an excuse for a weak appeal.”

In Rhode Island, Kansas and Texas, negotiated settlements have been struck that allow local parishes, assuming they have the money, to buy the buildings where they worshiped.

At the heart of these disputes lies a metaphysical question: Just whose church is it, anyway?

In Trinity’s case, parishioners say their situation is different, since the church traces its roots to 1747, 38 years before the first general convention of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

Moreover, Trinity’s real estate and other property has “always been held in its own name,” according to a letter sent Monday by the parish’s lawyer, Howard M. Wood III, to Bishop Smith. Mr. Wood also warned that “any interference with the property rights of Trinity Church Society will be met with a claim of trespass.”

Local police are aware of the situation at the church but believe a showdown on Sunday is unlikely. “We had a discussion with the diocese, and it appears that there isn’t going to be any action taken on Sunday,” said Lt. Thomas Grimaldi, a spokesman for the Bristol police. “They’re going to take the legal route.”

John W. Spaeth III, a top administrative aide to Bishop Smith in Hartford, dismissed the notion of a confrontation. “There are canonical ways we will work with to seize the property,” he said.
“We’re not people who move quickly. We’re people who are thoughtful and try to negotiate.”

Nonetheless, Father Helmandollar and his staff are taking precautions in case the diocese tries to take control of the parish, which happened two years ago at St. John’s Episcopal Church here when the rector, the Rev. Mark Hansen, fell out of favor with the diocese.

While there may be no locksmiths lurking this time, Father Helmandollar said he expected to see a priest, sent by the diocese, arrive with a letter demanding access to the pulpit. “Without a court order, they aren’t getting it,” he said. Already, he said, the diocese has moved in Probate Court to freeze about $80,000 in trust funds that the parish had expected to receive.

Much of the rift concerns the denomination’s 2003 decision to name Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as the bishop of New Hampshire. His elevation alienated several conservative parishes and convinced some dissidents that church leaders in the United States were too quick to reinterpret the Bible.

The dissidents argue that such policy shifts take bigger theological leaps than past decisions to revise the prayer book and ordain women. And the dissidents warn that such actions jeopardize the American church’s standing within the larger Anglican Communion, which represents 77 million descendants of the Church of England worldwide.

After Trinity aligned with the Nigerian church, the diocese removed Father Helmandollar as a priest, ordered him to leave the rectory and threatened dissident worshipers with eviction. (The Convocation of Anglicans in North America recognizes Father Helmandollar as a priest in good standing.) But Mr. Clark said the vote to affiliate with the more conservative group was on the order of 60 to 1, a show of unity for a congregation that had trouble agreeing on very much before Father Helmandollar, or “Father Don,” as they call him, arrived in 1999.

More than 40 Episcopal congregations from around the country have lodged similar protests in various degrees since the Robinson appointment, according to a spokeswoman for the Episcopal Church in New York. Some have defected from the denomination or sought affiliations with other groups. Others have withheld funds.

Episcopal leaders have sought to put these situations in perspective.

“There are 7,500 Episcopal churches and only 45 you would deem as being dissident,” Mr. Spaeth said. “If they all left tomorrow, the impact would be insignificant.”

Father Helmandollar disagrees. He said he believed that the Episcopal Church had abandoned its principles and that he must lead his flock elsewhere. For instance, he said he had been pressing to have the word “Episcopal” removed from a road sign that directs motorists to “Trinity Episcopal Church.”

“I’m ashamed to be an Episcopalian,” said Father Helmandollar, who has a certificate in Anglican studies from Yale Divinity School and two master’s degrees. He said he grew up the youngest of seven children in West Virginia coal country, and lived on the streets for two years after dropping out of ninth grade. A father of three, he spent 20 years in the Navy and 17 more as a military contractor before pursuing a career in the clergy.

He said he was dismayed that the church’s philosophy of inclusion did not seem to extend to conservative factions like his own, complaining, “It includes everybody except us.”

“In the last 50 years, as society has changed, the church has changed,” he added. “It has become more revisionist and more liberal.” While he could accept those changes on theological grounds, he said, the recent quarrel over sexuality “has turned out to be the tripwire.”

With the showdown looming, banners made by parishioners have been taken down from Trinity’s nave for safekeeping, and Father Helmandollar has packed up some books he kept in his office. Bank accounts and valuables, he said, have been left alone until an agreement or court order decides their fate.

While the city of Bristol last appraised the church’s property at around $1.8 million, that estimate is old and might be low.

As Mr. Clark put it, “The pricelessness comes from the memories.”

7 comments:

codesujal said...

No, this is what conservatism is. When someone believes they know what God wants, and tells other people to follow it or else, that's conservatism. More specifically, it's authoritarianism.

You should really take a look at the political compass before you start making your knee jerk, name calling attacks.

The strain of American conservatism most associated with modern Republicans is an authoritarian conservatism as opposed to the libertarian style that some think they aspire to.

As for me, I'm a liberal, but then I don't believe in hierarchical religion (being of a faith that has no hierarchy). Why you take the internal political battles of your church and decide to tag everyone who happens identify as "liberal" is beyond understanding. Of course, it's par for the course for you, isn't it, calling people who disagree with you Nazi's and other nasty names...

Sujal

The King said...

Baloney. Do you even understand the issue?

These parishioners are trying to practice their faith as they always have... do you not comprehend that the high and mighty Bishop is taking away their right to worship?

If you don't believe in hierarchical religion then you probably shouldn't participate in this debate. There is no doubt that liberalism is at the heart of this matter. But you'd have to actually be close to the matter to understand what is happening here.

The fact is that everyone pretty much agrees that liberalism is the cause for the attempted changes in the church's doctrine... even those who identify and support them. I think you are on the outside of this debate.

Popping for liberalism doesn't apply here.

codesujal said...

so you ignore what I say by simply saying I couldn't possibly understand. Nice, and, again, typical. I'm actually trying to talk to you about this, but your name calling is getting in the way.

All I'm saying is that the issue here is that you believe everyone has to follow the same rules here. It is a direct cause of the fact that there is a hierarchy, right? These parishioners want to believe what they want, which I respect.

It's not "liberalism" or some philosophy causing issue here, it's the fact that the leadership has chosen a course that these parishioners don't agree with.

Let me try it this way: There are a number of Catholics who believe, quite honestly and in their hearts, that contraception is a public health issue. They are good Catholics, but the church has a different stand on that issue.

These parishioners in this case are in the same situation. It's not liberals vs. conservatives, it's how to handle differing interpretations of scripture and faith.

I'm not judging the faith, nor am I saying one style is better than the other in a general case. I'm taking issue with your argument that liberalism is the issue here when it isn't. Sure, gay marriage is more often identified with liberals, but your issue is with the way this is being applied to the parish by the bishops.

For what it's worth, I agree with you in principle. If the parish wants to worship differently, I'm not really sure why the church wants to take them to court, involve the legal system and the police, and all the things they're doing.

I can summarize everything above by asking, how would you resolve this disagreement in a realistic manner? (saying, "I would throw the bishops out" might feel good, but I'm sincerely asking for more detail...)

Oh, that and stop calling people nazis...

Sujal

The King said...

The leadership is ramming its liberal philosophy down the throats of the Church in Bristol. To me, that smells of strong arm nazi tactics. It's a long established Parish that we are talking about here. I think you need to type "Connecticut Six" into google and READ what these people have had to endure. They are NAZIs... no question, name calling or not. It's horrendous.

My issue is that everyone should follow the same rules?... No, I mean they should be able to practice their faith without being strong-armed by Mssrs Smith and Robinson, et al. Bristol has made no aggressive acts against the Bishop or the ECUSA.

It, in fact, is new age liberalism that is at the heart of the matter. I will point you to the American Anglican Council page for an in depth analysis (these are folks trying to find a rememdy to keep the Church together).

How do they solve it? Easy. Back off and allow Bristol and the other CT Six to buy out the Church, affiliate with another Anglican Church in the Commmunion... or... allow for specific oversight by another Bishop. The last is the easiest route. But Smith won't allow this. He refuses to let go, he'd rather these Church members lose their place of worship rather than allow oversight.

The Catholic Church isn't threatening to shut down Churchs over doctrine disagreements, are they? This is so much different.

codesujal said...

So, he's advocating for the extermination of anyone that disagrees with him? Nazi? Really? Fascist, maybe, but Nazi?

Second, you made my point. Your issue is with him not letting go. That's not liberal or conservative, it just is what it is, a choice he's making. It's authoritarian and that's what makes it stand out. Sure, the issue of the disagreement is an issue championed by liberals, typically, but that's really just a minor detail. I hope your opinion of this behavior would be the same if the roles were reversed and it was the parish that wanted to honor same-sex marriages.

Third, a tangent: If a catholic parish decided to endorse same sex marriage, I suspect the mighty weight of the regional Bishop would come down pretty hard on the church. Excommunications have been handed out for less. I also don't believe that they would sell a church...

Sujal

codesujal said...

PS. I'm not trying to get us to agree on the underlying issue. I recognize we have different opinions and I can respect that.

All I'm saying is a) Nazi is too strong, b) this isn't "liberalism" run amok because that doesn't mean anything and definitely doesnt' mean what you're implying it does. A truly liberal church the way you mean "liberal" (i.e. communal/libertarian on social issues) would be decentralized, e.g. the Unitarians (an extreme example, but a handy one)

The King said...

Not a problem. I appreciate the discourse. Although we disagree I appreciate your thoughts and opinions and the fact that you present them in a respectful manner.

The liberalism I'm speaking of applies to the loosening of and disregard for traditional and historical Biblical and Episcopal teachings.

The terms liberal and conservative are widely accepted as positions of those on both sides of the Episcopal-Anglican Church debate.