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2004 a tumultuous Year...RNA poll cites Anglican sex woes...diocesan news...more

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

With this digest we close out the year 2004. It has been, to say the least, a tumultuous year in the life of the Anglican Communion with the Windsor Report capturing center stage.

No one, it seemed, liked it. It was universally criticized by orthodox believers and liberals and revisionists from all sides. Everybody had an opinion and virtually no one said it would resolve the problems endemically rooted in the communion.

Theologians tore it apart, clergy and laity ridiculed it; orthodox bishops feared it was not enough to satisfy or deal with the tensions in the communion. Calls for "regret" were mocked as inadequate, just as calls for moratoriums were rejected, blaming those who crossed diocesan lines was seen as disingenuous at best, at worst ignoring the real problem. One magazine ran a headline "The Windsor Report - RSVP: Regrets Only" with an editorial opining that it was little more than "A Holey Covenant". Indeed.

The much ballyhooed covenant which was supposed to keep order with a minimal level of agreement demanding "dialogue with those who dissent" from normative interpretations of Scripture did not go down any more than cries for "reconciliation" or "mediation".

The Report will be discussed by the ECUSA House of Bishops in January; made the centerpiece of attention by the Primates in February and be the focus of yet another "reception" by the Anglican Consultative Council in June. But the orthodox Primates see this as largely a game of stalling off the inevitable. It has about as much chance of being "received" (accepted) and its suggestions implemented as V. Gene Robinson's belief that it left "wiggle room" for same sex blessings. It doesn't.

The infamous Windsor Report will resolve nothing and the Episcopal Church will continue its decline, with the only question left being what the Primates will do when they meet in Ireland in February. VirtueOnline examines the options at length in today's lead story.

THE ANNUAL RELIGIOUS NEWSWRITERS ASSOCIATION POLL voted the escalation of the Anglican sex wars as the No. 5 story of the year. "The Lambeth Commission report does little to close the global rift caused by last year's installation of a non-celibate gay bishop in New Hampshire. More Episcopal parishes flee, uniting with Third-World dioceses," said the poll. It was no surprise that the re-election of President George W. Bush was voted No. 1 in both the AP and the RNA surveys. But the religion-news specialists decided that another story was just as hot as the White House race. The release of "The Passion of the Christ" tied for the top spot and director Mel Gibson was named Religion Newsmaker of the Year, with Bush coming in second. Terry Mattingly has the full story in today's digest.

THE TRULY STARTLING NEWS, and a great encouragement to this writer, was to learn that the number of Americans who rely on news outlets like NewsMax.com, the Drudge Report and FreeRepublic.com has jumped by 33 percent in just the last the two years, while virtually every other form of news media has lost readers and viewers, according to a new Gallup survey. "The only news source to show an increase in daily use from Gallup's 2002 poll on media usage is the Internet – now at an all-time high," the polling firm said this week. VirtueOnline can attest to tremendous growth this past year exceeding all expectations with more than 10,000 website hits daily. The website www.virtueonline.org received more than 1,000,000 visitors in 2004 with VirtueOnline news articles read nearly 2,000,000 times this year. The email list has more than 5,000 subscribers and with follow-on distribution, VirtueOnline news reaches millions of readers.

IN THE DIOCESE OF CONNECTICUT Bishop Drew Smith received six letters in one packet from the six orthodox parishes in his diocese this past week protesting his ultimatum he sent the rectors earlier saying they had till February 15th 2005 to accept his offer of DEPO or face being reduced to mission status and fired.

The six wrote back to Smith this past week saying "we wish you to know that we fail to see how any of the terms spelled out in our letter of May 27 conflict with any of your “episcopal responsibilities of the canons. We therefore respectfully request that you clarify for us in writing your understanding of the canonical character of our differences as a prelude to any conferences aimed at attaining, as you phrase it, 'closure on the question before us'.”

The "Connecticut Six" requested a good faith response from the bishop which they believed would be consistent with the recommendations of the Windsor Report, Section D, paragraph 152, predicated, as they are, on the explicit assumption that the specific conditions of episcopal oversight need to be “approached and implemented reasonably by everyone concerned.”

The bishop, of course, wants DEPO which means he determines who the visiting bishop will be, have the right to visit the parishes and demand their money. It is not ALTERNATIVE pastoral oversight which is what these orthodox rectors want.

Perhaps the illustrious HOB can help Smith decide for him when they meet in Utah next month as they examine in minute detail the Windsor report especially Section D, paragraph 152. If they can't perhaps it might be a good test case for the 12 or so Network bishops to intervene on their behalf and make it a cause celebre before the revisionist bishop ruins the lives and ministries of six godly rectors.

IN THE DIOCESE OF PENNSYLVANIA attorneys for VirtueOnline have filed a response to Bishop Charles E. Bennison's subpoena for materials possessed by VirtueOnline be kept confidential as part of a discovery in the case of Moyer vs. Bennison. VirtueOnline's attorneys argue that freedom of the press and the Pennsylvania Shield Law makes it an "absolute privilege" for this writer not to have to reveal his sources.

And just to keep you on the edge of your pew seats, on March 5 at the Philadelphia cathedral, Dean Richard "the Pelagian" Giles will inspire the multitudes with "Creating Uncommon Worship". And in the afternoon, we have the experience of "L/G/B/T/Q youth". Extra credit if you identify the words signified by the initials. Hint: Q is not for "queer".

IN REPLY TO THE REV. DR. RADNER'S lengthy discussion on the "autonomy" of General Convention, the following true story sent by a reader seems relevant: The late Dr. J. V. Langmead-Casserly, professor of theology at General Theological Seminary in the 1950s (yes they taught theology there at that time), was at a banquet when General Convention was debating the admission of women as deputies. A lady sitting next to him asked if he could give any theological reason why women should not be deputies to General Convention. He replied: My dear madam, I cannot give you any theological reason why we should even have General Convention.

ECUSA FIGURES. If you think the drop in attendance in 2003 was bad wait till the figures come out for 2004. A source told VirtueOnline that the 2004 numbers are looking even worse. "We were told that people would be pouring in to the Episcopal Church as a result of the consecration of V. Gene Robinson. I wonder where all that good 'evangelism' is taking place?" HINT. No diocese whose bishop consented to Robinson's consecration experienced growth last year.

FORWARD IN FAITH, North America announced this week that Forward in Faith president Fr. David L. Moyer is taking a leave of absence from the Presidency of FIFNA in order to reflect and pray about his new ministry as a Bishop in the Traditional Anglican Communion. The consecration is planned for February 16.
Vice President Fr. Warren Tanghe will serve as Interim President and VP Fr. Bill Ilgenfritz will serve as Interim Dean of the FIFNA Convocation of the Network. "FIFNA remains confident in our mission to secure an orthodox Province dedicated and equipped for evangelism, and equally to seek the conversion of those who proclaim and/or are ensnared in a false Gospel", said spokesperson Chris Fouse.

PITTSBURGH BISHOP Robert Duncan goes from strength to strength despite major hassles and setbacks in his own diocese. The orthodox leader of the Anglican Communion Network was elected Chair of the Council of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania on December 14. The group brings together the leadership of 24 area church bodies. The churches have combined membership of more than 2,000 congregations and one million Christians. Christian Associates seeks to draw Christians together in worship, evangelical and social witness and ecumenical relationships. “Jesus prayed that we all ‘may be one.’ I am honored to be part of our ongoing effort here in Southwestern Pennsylvania to bring Christians of many denominations together in witness to our common Lord,” said Bishop Duncan.

IN CANADA this past year, the ESSENTIALS group galvanized into a singular orthodox force opposed to that province's push for same-sex rites for marriages and changing the church's teaching on faith and morals, and linked themselves to the US Episcopal Church's Anglican Communion Network for moral and theological support. Like their spiritual cousins to the south they are feeling the pinch of revisionist inroads into the 'faith once delivered.' The worst offender is Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster who deposed four priests this past year, all of whom are happily surviving under a new AMIA bishop T. J. Johnston and a new primate.

One former Anglican priest in that diocese the Rev. Silas Ng is doing especially well. He was the priest at Church of Emmanuel which was established in July 1996 to serve Anglicans of Chinese origin in Richmond, near Vancouver, and at the same time to bring other Chinese non-believers to Christ. When he tore up Ingham's license and joined the ACiC it was renamed Richmond Emmanuel Church in 2004. "Many wonderful things happened. Our Sunday worship average attendance took off. Worship attendance grew from around 250 to 320. We also moved into a new church site of 20,000 sq. ft. with more than 25 rooms. The sanctuary can accommodate more than 500 people and we have a parish hall that can accommodate more than 200 people."

BUT ALL IS NOT WELL WITH THE BISHOP OF NEW WESTMINSTER a reader told VirtueOnline. A source deep in the diocese wrote to say that very many Anglicans in the diocese are feeling frustrated and betrayed by Michael Ingham and his refusal to take the recommendations of the Eames Report seriously. A good many clergy and laity do not trust Ingham and see him as the direct cause of all the troubles of this diocese. Ingham, who lives in style in one of the richest areas in Vancouver hobnobs with the power brokers in the city of Vancouver and is seen by many of his clergy as an opportunist and social climber. When asked why more of the clergy didn't stand up against Ingham, he replied that they fear him and know him to be vindictive towards anyone who resists him. There appears to be widespread discontent in the diocese, but many people don't know how to voice it, or are afraid of ridicule and further isolation. "Ingham has done a good job isolating any and all who disagree with him. This is not a war between liberals and conservatives, as Ingham would have people believe. Many feel alienated from Anglicanism because of the actions and ideas of Ingham," VirtueOnline was told.

IN ENGLAND they keep losing their religion. A recent British survey reveals that the number of Britons who say they believe in God has nearly halved since 1968, from 77 to 44 per cent; meanwhile, the proportion prepared to admit that they do not believe in God - once a shocking proposition, to be confessed sotto voce - has more than trebled, from 11 to 44 per cent.

"It would be going too far to say that the responses show that we are becoming a godless society. Interestingly, they reveal a lingering affection for the Church of England, and for the role of the Queen as its governor: the poll offers little comfort for supporters of disestablishment. The Prince of Wales, too, may be surprised to learn that his future subjects want their monarch to defend "the Faith" rather than faith in general, as he once proposed. But these are only crumbs of comfort. Nostalgia and an amorphous "spirituality" derived from books and films should not be mistaken for belief. We are becoming a nation of shoulder-shrugging agnostics who, instead of thinking systematically about religion, react to tragedy by improvising rituals with the nearest objects to hand, such as flowers or teddy bears. In doing so, we are exhibiting spiritual impulses, but it is difficult to see how the churches can turn these impulses back into the formal allegiances of the past. British Christianity will not disappear: ironically, the technology that has undermined its appeal will ensure that it is able to transmit its message. But, for the foreseeable future, it will continue to decline. Many miles of beach will be uncovered before the tide turns - if it ever does," said a report in the Telegraph.

There is little sense that Archbishop Rowan Williams' Affirming Catholicism will make much of a dent in the spiritual slide of the nation. Spiritual movements like ALPHA and CHRISTIANITY EXPLORED appear to offer more hope in turning the nation around.

PERSECUTION LOOMS FOR THE WEST. A recent report says that European countries and Western nations in general are turning from their historic Christian roots and accepting a secularism opposed to religious thinking. It is now more difficult for Christians to freely express their faith and for Christian ministers to preach from the Bible without being criticized, fined, sued or even sent to prison. In many post-Christian countries persecution may soon be a stark reality as a Christian religious majority gradually becomes an unwelcome minority. Whilst Christian cultural traditions may still be accepted, the moral and spiritual values are rejected as intolerant and old-fashioned. Modern-day attacks on believers take many subtle forms in the face of a growing aggressive and intolerant secularism. This is especially obvious at all levels of education. Christians in the West need to be aware of the coming danger and prepare for it. The imperative is a true spiritual revival.

VITAL CHURCH MINISTRIES based in Plano, Texas will co-host a conference on Biblical Preaching with Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry and Christ Church in Plano, January 10 - 12, on the Christ Church campus. If you are interested in attending this conference call Cathy Carey of Vital Church Ministries. 214-291-5029 or
cathycarey@vitalchurchministries.org. Information can also be viewed on our website in the EVENTS section: www.vitalchurchministries.org. REGISTRATION: www.regonline.com/17256. Speakers and Workshop Leaders include The Very Rev. Dr. Paul Zahl, Dean of TESM, Keynote speaker; The Rev. Canon Kevin Martin and The Rev. Canon David Roseberry, hosts & speakers; Workshops will also be led by additional faculty from TESM as well as others from the Episcopal Church (Anglican Communion), such as The Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand, The Rev. Dr. Dean Ulrich, The Rev. Martha Giltinan, The Rev. Canon Neal Michell, and The Very Rev. Michael Mills.

IF YOU HAVE TIME TO READ only a few stories in today's digest I strongly urge you to read the upcoming Primates meeting in Ireland and an article KISSING JUDASES by Dr. Os Guinness. This is an excellent analysis of the present day crisis in the church.

TSUNAMI EARTHQUAKE FLOOD DEVASTATION has left tens of thousands dead and millions without homes. The Anglican Relief & Development Fund will support churches in S.E. Asia, Sri Lanka, and South India to ascertain what can be done to help. A letter from Primate Yong Ping Chung has been received and contributions can be sent to ARDF designated for the Tsunami disaster. Your church can send a check payable to: NACDP [NACDP stands for Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes] and note on the memo line: ARDF- Tsunami disaster relief or ARDF - Asian Crisis.
Send Checks to:
Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes
905 Oliver Building
535 Smithfield Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15222.

According to ARDF Executive Director Kerk Burbank, ARDF is working directly with the Anglican Province of South East Asia, the Anglican Church of South India and the Anglican Church of Ceylon to provide immediate assistance in the region. World Vision which has acted as the conduit for Diocese of Pittsburgh Episcopalians' sponsorship of more than 700 Rwandan children, is also collecting donations for relief work. To financially support their work, go online to http://www.worldvision.org or call 888-561-4453.

IF YOU HAVE TO MAKE A DECISION whether you should send a last minute gift to VirtueOnline or those devastated by this awful Tsunami disaster there is no question as to whom you should send a donation - give it to Anglican Relief and Development Fund or World Vision or any one of a dozen organizations involved in this mammoth clean up operation.

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Thank you for your support.

All blessings,

David W. Virtue DD


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