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Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, United States

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Stand Firm Conversation

Stand Firm Conversation

I’m in the position of an anglican evangelical using my management consulting expertise to try to save a small TEC church from extinction at the hands of its diocese.  Along with two other parishes, the diocesan minions are attempting to get us to take down our modest endowment in large chunks to fund a gilt-edged compensation package for interim and full-time rectors.

It isn’t going to work.  We are about 50K short.  Long-time members, those who are left, are not going to double their pledges.  Some of us are already church-shopping in case the church collapses.  The only reason I’m there is that it seemed a good idea to accompany my wife to her church when we married five years ago.

My suspicion is that the diocese would rather see us go out of business than bend to meet the needs of our situation.  We are looking at alternative scenarios, which I will not detail. My understanding is that we will be forbidden to pursue them.  If you have any helpful guidance, please email me through Stand Firm, where I am a member.

All the gory details are in a personal blog, which I do not make public.  I will give you the address (URL) if you ask.  We are in our late eighties, so we do not enjoy the distraction that this turmoil requires.

[18] Posted by profpk on 10-2-2014 at 04:16 PM · [top]

Profpk—that’s happening increasingly around TEC.  Remember—the bishops’ friends are the clergy—by and large bishops are going to use their power to help the clergy at the expense of helping the parish. They would rather the parish go under, if the priests are “taken care of.”

All you can do is 1) protect the vestry elections fervently, 2) continue to say “no” on using the endowment, and 3) prepare for the threats: “we will declare you a mission and appoint our own mission committee” and “oh looky—no supply priest for you, so no services.” 

Remember—in most dioceses, if a parish collapses, the endowment reverts to the diocese so that the bishop can fund all of his revisionist and useless staff appointments.

[20] Posted by Sarah on 10-2-2014 at 10:23 PM · [top]

Profpk and Sarah,

3) prepare for the threats: “we will declare you a mission and appoint our own mission committee” and “oh looky—no supply priest for you, so no services.”

Sarah, USC must still be a more civilized diocese than many in TEC.  One needs to be prepared to receive a letter from the bishop replacing the vestry and pulling the license of any priest who might be involved in parish resistance.  There won’t be a “threat”- it will just happen.  What you hear is “The vestry now consists of 5 members of the TEC Loyalty Group who have been reporting to me on your attempts to take the parish out of TEC (whether you were doing that or not), and the canon to the ordinary will preside at the Eucharist next Sunday.”

Under the more recent canons of many dioceses, its not any harder to shut down a recalcitrant vestry than it is to accept an episcopal renunciation or faculty resignation.

[21] Posted by tjmcmahon on 10-3-2014 at 06:34 AM · [top]

I very much sympathize with your situation.  Other than my rather cynical response above, I cannot offer much of anything constructive- those parishes I was involved in prior to my own departure from TEC all failed to resist the diocese.  Another where I knew several of the principals, and led by a conservative rector, was closed by the method I cited in #21- the rector and vestry thought they were going to a “reconciliation” session with the bishop and instead found themselves facing the chancellor demanding the keys to the building.

[22] Posted by tjmcmahon on 10-3-2014 at 06:47 AM · [top]

RE: “Sarah, USC must still be a more civilized diocese than many in TEC.”

Well I was referring to many dioceses, not necessarily USC.  And keep in mind my comments are for parishes who have no interest in taking themselves out of TEC—doesn’t even cross their minds—they’re just trying to survive and hold onto an endowment and take appropriate steps to maintain.

But the truth is, many bishops don’t want these small parishes in mostly rural areas or tiny towns to “survive”—why waste that endowment on a tiny historic parish when one might help a priest feed off of it uselessly for 4-5 years more, or better yet, it might go to the diocesan coffers, since so many parishes are struggling, losing members, losing money, and thus can’t give enough money to My Diocesan Program & Staff.

[23] Posted by Sarah on 10-3-2014 at 07:22 AM · [top]


Your last paragraph in #23 is certainly true.  Diocesan policies in many places will likely lead to circumstances similar to what is going on now in N Michigan.  Once the majority of parishes collapsed to the point of being unable to support a rector, the diocese raised their apportionment to astronomical levels to pay five “missioner” priests to oversee a hoard of untrained volunteer clergy (in local parish, 20% of the ASA have been ordained as priests or deacons- the senior warden is a deacon).  As the endowments run out, the parishes are reduced to home churches, and then may vanish altogether.  The diocese will sell the building or the Tiffany stained glass (the churches up here were built by lumber and mining barons in the late 1800s- they spared no expense), in the end, to continue the salaries of the diocesan “missioners” and “ministry developers.”

[24] Posted by tjmcmahon on 10-3-2014 at 07:41 AM · [top]

RE: “to continue the salaries of the diocesan “missioners” and “ministry developers.”

Heh—yup.  The “ministry developers” . . . what a nice name.

And don’t forget the bishop.  Mustn’t forget the bishop’s salary.

[25] Posted by Sarah on 10-3-2014 at 08:15 AM · [top]

Thanks, T.J. and Sarah for your replies.  Unfortunately, you have confirmed my suspicion that we are likely to lose our assets and be reduced to a home church.  Our wardens and vestry are TEC neophytes who have no apprehension of duplicity in the machinations of our diocese.  I had hoped to be instrumental in turning our church into a traditional posture within a TEC diocese.  One of our urban churches has done so, advertises its position vigorously, and is thriving.  So far, they have gotten away with it.

[26] Posted by profpk on 10-3-2014 at 02:24 PM · [top]

My experience has been that churches in a diocese tend to be categorized into tiers.  In the bottom tier (rural, poor and unimportant congregations), the diocese doesn’t much care what happens there, so long as there aren’t any problems.  The top tier parishes are the very wealthy ones, are almost always liberal, tend to be very insular. and want to largely operate independently.  Of most interest are the middle tier parishes.  The diocese will pounce on these parishes during transitions or other times of weakness to bring them further under liberal and/or diocesan control.  They would rather have a part-time liberal priest in charge of a declining congregation, than a full-time conservative who is growing the church.

My experience has also been that unless you have a pretty solidly united congregation that is engaged, informed and willing to hang tough, there isn’t much hope in holding out against the diocese when it turns its eyes on you.

[27] Posted by jamesw on 10-3-2014 at 03:03 PM · [top]

Probably my cynicism showing through, but if you have a revisionist bishop tolerating a large, orthodox, urban parish, in all likelihood that means said parish is paying its full apportionment to the diocese to fund its revisionist programs and pay the bishop’s salary.  So he allows them to continue paying his salary and supporting the diocesan policies and programs.

However, that said, you might want to make contact with that large parish- as large, cardinal parishes do have a certain amount of influence in diocesan circles.  If nothing else, they would likely invite you to come in on the weekends to participate in programs, and be able to provide you with some resources- such as educational materials- that won’t be available from the revisionist diocese.

[28] Posted by tjmcmahon on 10-3-2014 at 09:14 PM · [top]

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