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American Anglican Fellowship Writes Open Letter to Episcopal Church Bishops

American Anglican Fellowship Writes Open Letter to Episcopal Church Bishops


From Bradley Hutt
March 23, 2023

An Open Letter to Presiding Bishop Curry and All Bishops of the Episcopal Church U.S.A.

Greetings to you in this Season of Lent a time of reflection and rededication of our lives to Jesus Christ our King of Kings,

This is a painful letter to write because it concerns four related matters that have undermined the good order and spiritual health of our church. We write you because of your responsibility for that good order. We write as Laity who have served our church for more than forty years in leadership positions. We pray that despite the painful nature of our concerns that we place before you, you will have a clear and open mind to receive them as we send them.

First, the Trustees of the American Anglican Fellowship (AAF) thank you for your approval of the recent settlement initiated by Bishops John Chane and Maryanne Budde of the Washington Diocese and the Vestry of Christ Church Accokeek, Maryland. A dispute that began with their vestry right to call a priest of their own choosing and ended with their right to leave as they entered The Episcopal Church, USA (TEC) with its property.

The AAF was involved from the very beginning in Accokeek's heart-breaking dispute with Acting Bishop Jane Dixon in 2001. Her stunning rejection of Accokeek's elected Rector, Father Samuel Edwards, led her to file a personal secular lawsuit as Jane Dixon citizen, after he was cleared of all her charges by his own Diocese of Ft. Worth. We refer to the following 2001 article by Episcopal News Service (in part):
"Federal Judge Hears Arguments in Dixon v. Edwards"
Episcopal News Service (ENS) August 24, 2001 [201-228],
Jim Buie, Freelance Writer, Washington D.C.

"......Dixon has asked [Judge] Messitte to take four immediate actions: Prohibit Edwards from officiating at Christ Church; prohibit the vestry from barring Dixon from officiating at the church; declare Edwards' contract invalid because he was hired over Dixon's objections; and declare that the Episcopal Church owns the parish property. . ."

Bishop Dixon not only rejected Edwards' call but astonishingly claimed that TEC owned the Accokeek Parish property.

Diocesan Bishop Ron Haines initiated a stunning policy in 1991 of rejecting white heterosexual males for ordinations and rectorships in the Washington Diocese with very few exceptions, continued by temporary Bishop Dixon during her tenure (2001-2003). The rejected applicants were highly qualified heterosexual white males who had to go elsewhere to be ordained or elected rector, such as Bishop of Bolivia Ted Lyons. who personally confirmed to AAF he was denied ordination in the Washington Diocese, and the Rev. Gene Tucker in Pennsylvania, a retired Army Major who also confirmed he was denied a Rectorship at Christ Church Clinton, Maryland.

During this same time, Bishop Dixon, presiding over the Washington Diocesan Convention, stated that "if she had her way, she would put gay clergy in every parish in the Diocese". She then proceeded to carry her wishes with her Clergy Development officer, the Reverend Ted Karpf, who started pressuring search committees to call gay, pro-gay, or minority clergy as rectors -- much to the shock of many such search committees and wardens in the diocese. Five parishes reported this pressure in writing to our organization: Christ Church Clinton; St. Barnabas Leeland; All Faith Charlotte Hall; Christ Church Chaptico; St. Thomas Croom. Such pressure sought to exclude white heterosexual men. Our Chair Bradley Hutt spoke with Bishop Dixon personally and said "...if the pressure does not stop immediately, I will make the letters public." Within weeks of that conversation the Clergy Development officer was transferred to a similar position in South Africa.

The Vestry of Christ Church Accokeek believed they were denied their call of Father Samuel Edwards to be their rector because he was not only a white heterosexual, but Edwards was also President of the Forward in Faith Organization and a strong traditional voice in TEC. After Edwards was forced to leave the rectory by court order, Accokeek was assigned an interim rector by agreement, the Rev. Stephen Arpee. Eventually, the vestry called the Rev. Brian Vanderwell to be its Rector with approval of newly elected Bishop John Bryson Chane. The Accokeek defense attorney Charles Nalls reported that the Washington Diocese spent $850,000 in legal fees and associated costs, an amount reduced by half from the original $1.7 million billed by attorneys hired to remove Father Edwards.

The AAF is familiar with the vestry and many members of Accokeek and know them to be fervent Christians who had the courage to stand for their faith in such a trying time. When Bishop John Chane was elected, the officers of AAF met with him and Chancellor Paul Cooney and encouraged them to meet with the Accokeek Vestry so they could discover that the Vestry members were not mean-spirited persons as Dixon had described them, but good, faithful Christians who only wanted to elect a rector of their choosing. Chane and Cooney became true friends of the Accokeek Vestry members and remain so to this day. We must then ask, is this known diocesan interference with parish search committees selection of their rectors continuing or has it been stopped and those violaters held accountable?

The Diocese of Washington under then Suffragan Bishop Jane Dixon also in 1996 engaged in forced visitations at three parishes that did not recognize women's ordination, gay ordination, while also opposing Dixon's rejection of the basic tenets of Christianity and the authority of Scripture and tradition. This was done after Dixon publicly promised as a candidate that she would respect those parishes and not require them to receive her visits. The three parishes were St. Paul's K Street, Washington, D.C., Ascension & St. Agnes, Washington, D.C., and St. Luke's, Bladensburg, Maryland. These parishes were affiliated with Forward in Faith, an organization of traditional priests and parishes within the Episcopal Church. The forced visitations led to an exodus of parishioners at all three parishes, with nearly the entire congregation of St. Luke's Bladensburg leaving to form a new congregation in the Roman Catholic Church. Others in the three parishes joined the Russian Orthodox Church or independent Anglican provinces affiliated with orthodox Anglican bishops in Africa. Some demoralized parishioners ceased attending church.

Second, we are also very concerned about TEC's litigation against parishes which have left the denomination, and those who now want to leave TEC with their property. In that litigation, TEC claims that even though parish property is owned in fee simple by the parish, the property is held in trust from the diocese, even though there are no such documents specifying that to be the case. As you know, this status was allegedly created by General Convention's 1979 passage of the Dennis Canon (Canons 1.7.4 and 1.7.5) to prevent parishes from leaving TEC. To enforce this canon, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and her assigns-initiated litigation in secular courts in violation of pre-existing Canon IV.19.2, which states:

"No member of the Church, whether lay or ordained, may seek to have the Constitution and Canons of the Church interpreted by a secular court, or resort to a secular court to address a dispute arising under the Constitution and Canons, or for any purpose of delay, hindrance, review or otherwise affecting any proceeding under this Title."

More than eighty-four secular lawsuits have been filed by TEC against dioceses, parishes, clergy, and volunteer vestry members seeking to depart TEC with their parish or diocesan property to which they held title. These lawsuits were filed in sixteen states: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin. We must ask why do these secular lawsuits continue when secular lawsuits are in violation of Episcopal Church Canons? and secondly, do these property settlements with the parish vestry stipulate their buying back their property from the diocese, property that the vestry has owned, maintained and managed in fee simple for hundreds of years?

Third, we are equally concerned about the status of all faithful Episcopalians still within TEC who, by reasons of conscience and faith, cannot accept blessing of same sex marriages and ordination of homosexuals in view of their bishop's forced resignation by TEC. We urge you and General Convention to reconsider these actions and accept the mainstream interpretation of Scripture, Tradition and Reason to honor the 1998 Lambeth resolution 1.10 of the world wide Anglican Communion and restore the good order of TEC where all are accepted, and none despised.

Fourth, the above litigation also violates Canons IV.4.1 and I.4.5 when TEC renounced the clerical status of our bishops and priests who honored their clerical vows and departed TEC with their dioceses More than seven hundred clergy and fifteen bishops have been affected by this litigation, which can also affect their retirement incomes and benefits. We pray these actions will be dropped, and their retirement pensions and benefits restored. What is the current status of these 700 clergies and 15 Bishops regarding to their standing and benefits in TEC?

TEC's litigation and punitive administrative actions discredit all in TEC as they contradict (1) Christ's teaching to be charitable and loving towards fellow Christians (Mt. 5:43-48); (2) Apostolic instructions not to sue other Christians (1 Cor. 6:1-7); (3) Policies of past Presiding Bishops who allowed parish departures with property; and (4) Practices of other denominations (e.g., Presbyterian and Lutheran) to allow such departures. TEC should do nothing less.

There is no doubt most Episcopalians are deeply troubled by TEC's litigation and want it to end as it is also squandering more than a reported $ 62 million dollars of church funds. Those parishioners and clergy departing TEC are not mean-spirited people, but as Bishops Chane and Bishop Budde have indicated, they are fellow faithful Christians acting out of Christian conscience. They should not be targets of litigation by TEC.

We believe there is a reason membership in TEC has declined by nearly half since the 1960s, from 3.4 million members to 1.8 million last year, according to General Convention statistics. These numbers are stunning when one considers the 1960 Census reported a national population of 179,323,175, and the 2020 Census reported 331,449,281 -- a 54.1% increase. The primary reason is the radical actions of TEC approving the blessing of same sex marriage, the unauthorized irregular ordinations and the seizure of 7,000 parish properties by TEC's creation of the Dennis Canon in 1979 to stop parishes from leaving with their property.

It is the constitutional aspects of the Dennis Canon that concerns us, not the federal or state law. The Dennis Canon purports to declare a trust which exists on every single piece of parish-owned property across the full extent of TEC. But the trust is not an ordinary trust, because the same language that purports to create it, goes on to provide that the parish vestry may use the property any way they choose -- they may throw away the old hymnals and replace them with new ones, with diocesan approval, they may even sell their property and move to a new one.

Every trust must have a trustee. The Dennis Canon does not name the trustee as such but leaves the implication that the diocese is the trustee. Unlike a normal trust, however, the trustee in this matter does not hold and keep actual possession or take care of it for the benefit of the beneficiary. Instead, the legal owner of the property retains title and possession to it, which is why the Dennis Canon never shows up on any certificate or claim of title -- and which is also why most all parishes remain blissfully unaware of the trust's existence. Until that is, they vote to leave the diocese to which they belong.

The crux of the matter is how was General Convention granted the power to legislate a trust upon individual parish property when it had no power delegated by Parishes directly to General Convention; none whatsoever. Instead, they delegated some powers to their dioceses, and some of those dioceses granted some of their powers to General Convention. The powers so delegated are to be found not in TEC's canons, but in its Constitution.

We urge you to stop enforcement of the Dennis Canon effective immediately; restore all rights and benefits to the 700 clergy and fifteen bishops who were dismissed without trial or hearing within TEC; resolve all issues agreeable to all those within the church; and end all legal actions in secular courts.

For those who have or wish to depart TEC, we ask you to call for a 2023 Special General Convention to strike the Dennis Canon in its entirety to end any and all claim to the 7,000 Parish Properties, and to approve their leaving TEC with their property, and do so with your Blessing in Christian Love and Friendship, for we are all brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus.

Thank you for your attention to the above four matters, they are extremely important to all Episcopalians, and a resolve of the issues that divide us that will restore the good order and spiritual health of the Episcopal Church once known as the Church of Presidents.

Bradley Hutt is Chairman, AAF Trustees and Members of the American Anglican Fellowship Inc.

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