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EASTERN MICHIGAN: Three Orthodox Rectors Resign in Diocese. Others weigh options

THREE ORTHODOX RECTORS RESIGN IN DIO. OF EASTERN MICHIGAN
Other Rectors Weigh Options

By David W. Virtue

SAGINAW, MI-(7/24/2004)--Three biblically orthodox rectors in the Flint River Convocation (Deanery), in the Diocese of Eastern Michigan, angry and disappointed by the church's consecration of an openly homoerotic non-celibate bishop; the affirmation of same-sex blessings and other doctrinal innovations, have resigned from their parishes and one has renounced his orders in the Episcopal Church.

There departure will leave hundreds of parishioners rootless, without spiritual direction and nurture and with a theologically and morally flawed revisionist bishop in the person of Ed Leidel who voted for Robinson's consecration and who favors same-sex blessings.

"It's a disaster," said one of the priests, "the bishop has no idea what he is doing. He just doesn't get it. This is a new diocese and he is its first bishop. He will probably be its last. There is no future here. No gospel is being proclaimed, and in time it will all die. The diocese was formed in the Nineties and already has financial problems."

What doubly angered the priests was that Leidel allowed a non-celibate gay man and his partner to come in as an interim priest at St. Jude's in Fenton, Michigan. "We were betrayed, the bishop lied to us. He said he would never do that," they said. Then he did.

The three priests are the Rev. Dr. Greg Tournoux, Christ Church, Owosso; the Rev. Dave Kulchar, Trinity Church, Flushing and the Rev. Scott Danforth, St. Dunstan’s, Davison.

The priests spoke to Virtuosity represent one third of the Flint River Convocation of nine parishes. The rectors are young, and while each is in a different space with regard to how they have acted and their future plans, the Robinson consecration was the last line in the sand for the three men. "We struggled as to whether we should remain in the ECUSA," they told Virtuosity. In the end they resigned.

The Rev. Dave Kulchar, 46, of Trinity Church, Flushing took a three month sabbatical and his parish is discerning their future. "I was told by Leidel that if I spoke to my parish about realignment I would be brought up on charges and that DEPO was not an option."

This week Fr. Kulchar was inhibited by Leidel because he would not pledge loyalty to the bishop. Deposition, though not automatic, could follow.

"In a season of divided loyalties, you would have thought he could have adopted a "don't ask don't tell" policy until we heard from the international community. This means I cannot do marriages, funerals, supply, preach in any way represent myself as a priest according to his letter. I am a PBS (Priest in Bad Standing). That is the pastoral response to those who are walking away from the church? Fortunately the Kingdom and our God is bigger than human institutions. I am now forced to look to the Network for foreign oversight or go the way of the AMIA. For one who wanted to hang in there with other orthodox folks as long as possible I was pushed out."

Kulchar who recently ended a 3-month sabbatical to discern his future says his congregation has been torn apart by the actions of their bishop.

"I saw an early copy of the DEPO document before it came out, and I did not see DEPO as being a viable alternative," Kulchar told Virtuosity. "Leidel asked me if I saw this diocese as being hostile, and I said not up to this point. But then Leidel said that if a priest even speaks about DEPO he will be deposed. How does he know what the priest wants to do if there is no free choice?"

Kulchar, who resigned June 1, had been asked by orthodox parishes to do supply work, but Leidel requested a loyalty pledge. Kulchar refused. "It is a season of divided loyalties, and my hope was that grace would be given till we heard from the Lambeth Commission, and I had hoped to serve those people in the interim. Leidel refused. Kulchar said he briefly did supply work till he was inhibited by Leidel.

Said Leidel, "The canons require the Standing Committee give their advice and consent...after reading your e-mail, they did not give their consent on the grounds that you are not willing to uphold your ordination vows and obey and be loyal to the bishop."

Kulchar said his former parish had 70 souls but it was now down to 30. Over 80 percent opposed the Robinson consecration but they were divided over an appropriate response. "I said we needed to align ourselves with the Network and apply for DEPO. He could not get consensus. I felt in my conscience I should resign and try and be pastoral as well."

The priest said his future was uncertain but he intended to stay and live in Flushing, Michigan.

"What the bishop has done to Fr. Kulchar is utterly despicable and immoral," said Fr. Gene Geromel of St. Bartholomew's in Swartz Creek. "Here is a priest who served Leidel well and at this point he is going after Kulchar's livelihood. The priest has children and he will not allow him to do supply work or any ministry, anywhere," he told Virtuosity.

"They don't just want us to go away they want to obliterate us," said Fr. Geromel. It is not enough to ignore or go your separate way; it is to destroy all that we stand for and to make an example of us to others who might stand up to their agenda. Fr. Kulchar is a case in point."

The Rev. Dr. Greg Tournoux, 45, rector of Christ Church Owosso, resigned for the same reasons in mid June. "General Convention's blessing of same-sex unions and Robinson's consecration was the final straw," he told Virtuosity.

"We had 400 communicants with an average attendance that grew to be the largest in the diocese. Now it is dying. We were particularly successful bearing in mind that the church was in a high unemployment area."

"The parish has given me a sabbatical of six months which ends in December," he told Virtuosity. "I am doing three things - spending time with my family; working on a second doctorate in Religious Studies at Trinity in Indiana, and thirdly I am seeking the Lord's direction. I want to remain a part of the one holy, catholic and apostolic church as we Anglicans have received it."

Dr. Tournoux said he had been approached by four different denominations, but had not made up his mind where to go. "I am evangelical, catholic and charismatic and a member of Forward in Faith, the traditionalist wing of the Episcopal Church." Tournoux says he opposes women's ordination and is not unsympathetic with the AMIA. The rector said that his name has even been submitted for several senior positions in The Episcopal Church, including a bishopric.

Tournoux said he took his congregation from 70 to 300 and he did it through establishing 30 cell groups with leadership development using three distinct Eucharistic traditions. "We were successful bearing in mind that we were located in a rural small town with an average weekly attendance of 240 and an 11 percent unemployment rate. After the Vickie Gene fiasco a trickle of people began to leave."

"One thing is for sure I won't sit around and be a leader of a morgue or mausoleum," he told Virtuosity.

"I don't believe the bishop gets it. The truth is we are a small dying dysfunctional, incompetent, inept outfit. I don’t want to spend the rest of my time that doesn't want to do something great for Jesus Christ," said Fr. Tournoux. "Time is short hell is hot and the stakes are high," he said.

Since departing, Tournoux said the congregation has divided up with four different responses. "One group stayed, another group left for other churches that were not Anglican, a third group left and have not found a church home and a fourth group comprising a new leadership base have begun a new work outside of The Episcopal Church."

Despite his departure, Tournoux said he was still excited about the future, "and I intend to serve in Holy Mother Church."

The Rev. Scott Danforth, 51, rector of St. Dunstan’s in Davison, Michigan chose to resign and renounced his orders. He is an evangelical and charismatic from California and has been in the diocese for nine years. "I have had an ongoing frustration with the direction and theological path of the church and I saw no hope of its ever changing," he told Virtuosity.

"I am looking to teach and have found a non-Anglican congregation that my family and I now attend. I have left St. Dunstan's and ECUSA." He said he plans to pursue teaching. He said General Convention was one symptom of a much larger problem that included theology, integrity and authority.

"I built a solid core of lay leadership, but the church is fractured over the issues. People have taken different directions. We lost a number of people over the issues. We had up to 120 on a Sunday; it dropped to 60 but is now down around 40. The parish will continue to struggle with the unbiblical direction of the National Church as they experience depleting numbers."

The priest said he was in a process of soul searching and reflection.

The Rev. Steve Dewey, 55, Grace Church, LaPeer, MI another orthodox priest in the diocese said he was not threatening to leave ECUSA but was considering joining the NETWORK. "Bishop Leidel said it was schismatic, but we have ceased and desisted all funding to the diocese and the national church," he told Virtuosity.

He said the Diocesan Standing Committee won't harass him about money till the Archbishop of Canterbury speaks in October following the release of the Lambeth Commission report.

"We are hoping and praying for the best, but planning for the worst," he said.

"My parish has sent a resolution to our Diocesan Convention in October that effectively denounces the actions of Bishop Leidel to affirm the Robinson consecration and same-sex blessings. We will see how that goes."

"I have 300 souls and I have to take of all of them and while there is some division in my congregation, we will do what we have to do to proclaim the orthodox faith." Dewey said he had lost four families since the Robinson consecration. "We have done reasonably well helping people to stay on board doing something."

Fr. Dewey predicts there will be a mass exodus of parishioners and priests if the decision is not to discipline the Episcopal Church. "They have denied, delayed and hoped it would all go away. There has been some success, but it won't go away, the authority of Holy Scripture is not up for negotiation." Fr. Dewey describes himself as an evangelical catholic.

Both Danforth and Dewey served as deans of the diocese and were the bishop's right hand men, representing the bishop in their respective convocations, so the betrayal is particularly hurtful.

Said Fr. Danforth, "We served the diocese faithfully; we gave the bishop and the diocese committed service and this fuels the irony of the whole situation."

Fr. Gene Geromel, rector of St. Bartholomew's in Swartz Creek, Michigan left the Episcopal Church over four years ago and is now an independent congregation though it remains a Forward in Faith parish. "I have not been deposed nor inhibited," he told Virtuosity.

He described the departure of the parish as an exceptional circumstance, and said the bishop would never let that happen again. "I do not minister sacramentally to any Episcopalians in the Diocese of eastern Michigan," he told Virtuosity.

Leidel has allowed Bishop Keith Ackerman, Diocese of Quincy to do confirmations, but he is not sure how much longer that will continue, he said.

"We have kept our property and Bishop Ackerman has been allowed to administer, so far. We don't know what the future holds. We have also signed up to join the NETWORK under the Forward and Faith name."

Fr. Geromel said over 70 % of the parishes now had fewer than 70 persons on any Sunday. He reiterated that what Leidel had done to Fr. Kulchar was indeed despicable and immoral. "They want to obliterate us. It is not enough to ignore us; it is to destroy all that we stand for and to make an example of us to others."

"They use canons to see to it that they have absolute power. No Roman bishop has the power that Leidel has seen to it that he has himself. It is very clear to me that when an organization disintegrates it tightens its control. This is precisely what is going on in The Episcopal Church."

Another Anglo-Catholic Episcopal priest, The Rev. Darryl Pigeon of Trinity Parish, Croswell-Lexington, has withheld contributions to the diocese and has said he would not receive communion from Leidel.

Another priest who asked not to be named, said that the diocese has recognized that redirecting funds has hurt them, but there was no sense of panic as yet. The diocese does not receive money to stay afloat, but the diocese is dependent on part time and semi-retired priests and mutual ministry teams for Sunday coverage, he said.

In writing about Anglicanism, the bishop said, "The Anglican Church is a Church that is tolerant of ambiguity," apparently not enough for his orthodox priests. For them he is anything but ambiguous. Leidel said that The Anglican Church is a Church that is more communal than doctrinal, but that too is a fiction.

Bishop Leidel came to the Diocese of Eastern Michigan seven years ago after it split in the 90’s. He is its first bishop. He will be its first and last bishop of diocese, said a knowledgeable insider.

Bishop Leidel did not return an E-mail requesting his perspective on what is taking place in his diocese.

NOTE: If you are not receiving this from VIRTUOSITY, the Anglican Communion's largest biblically orthodox Episcopal/Anglican Online News Service, then you may subscribe FREE by going to: www.virtuosityonline.org. Virtuosity's website has been accessed by more than one million readers in 45 countries on six continents. This story is copyrighted but may be forwarded electronically with reference to VIRTUOSITY and the author. No changes are permitted in the text.

END

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