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ECUSA: A Tale of Two Churches


News Analysis

By David W. Virtue

This is a tale of two churches. By any standard they would be considered successful. Both churches are large with significant ministries. Both are wealthy and both are powerful forces in their communities. One is old money, one is new. They are landmark churches in their dioceses and at least one rector is the apple of his bishop’s eye.

Their rectors are known nationally and each is respected for their work and ministry in the circles they travel.

But now all that is all changing.

Recent events in the Episcopal Church – the consecration of an openly homoerotic bishop - is profoundly affecting the unity of the church and the polity of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It has also affected both these churches, but in vastly different ways.

Here are their stories.

The Very Rev. Samuel G. Candler is the Dean of the Cathedral of St. Philip in downtown Atlanta. The cathedral is an historic landmark erected in 1848 and it was consecrated the first Episcopal Church in Atlanta. It is much respected for its place in the community.

The cathedral is also the epicenter of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta’s pansexual community. Furthermore Dean Candler is an extremely vocal advocate of the church’s doctrine of inclusion of homosexuals and has done yeoman’s work in the diocese and in
Cathedral publications justifying his views. He has traveled extensively around the Southeast speaking his mind on the issues and has the ear of Bishop J. Neil “Heresy is better than schism” Alexander. This bishop voted last fall in favor of Robinson’s ordination and consecration.

But the effect of Dean Candler’s push for homosexual acceptance has come with a large price tag. His cathedral is in financial free fall. As one observer noted, “Candler’s gas allowance is about to go down, as the downtown homosexual community hasn’t been able to make up for the financial losses from the few remaining orthodox members at the cathedral.”

In the cathedral newsletter Candler whines about the church’s declining finances and asks the question: Is the Cathedral a Rich Church?

He asks, “Will our parish be able to make ends meet in 2004?” The answer it would appear is no.

Pledges, he says, are down 3.5% from last year. “This is more than disappointing to me.” As a result there will be no general staff raises, a reduction in requested diocesan pledging and no replacement of vacant staff positions that he says “are desperately needed.”

Furthermore several staff positions will remain vacant including an administrative assistant, registrar, and information technology, “our staff will continue to work with the discouraging squeeze of more demands and less support.”

Candler then went on to cite increased expenses including increased property insurance of $54,000 (and more to come), utility increases of $36,730 (and more to come).

Then he drops the big news. He says that the cathedral has lost more than $200,000 in reduced pledges from folks upset with the Episcopal Church General Convention’s actions on sexuality. “Some of those folks have told me that they want to make a financial protest.”

Candler then says, “but that statement does not directly affect places like New Hampshire, it directly affects the spirit and the life of our parish.”

There you have it. The sins of New Hampshire are visited upon Atlanta, and Candler is feeling the pain.

And to add fuel to an already blazing fire, Candler announced that he needs another $70,000 in pledged income to meet new interest costs on new construction. He whines that the church has no “sugar daddies” and says that the problem might be that the church is perceived as rich in “both material and spiritual resources” but it is only a perception with the result that people are spiritually lazy, he says.

In 2003 the budget was $3,647,000 with expenditures and costs $3,515,000. The year ended with a surplus of $132,000. Average Sunday attendance for 2003 was 1262. But now all that is crashing and burning.

The church has built a whole new wing that has cost $17 million. So far the church has raised $10 million and needs $7 million to complete it. A source said that it is very unlikely that he will ever get that kind of money again. It is believed that Candler’s family money is Coca Cola.
The interest alone is causing a headache for the church.

But what Candler won’t admit is that it is not just demographics and an aging Episcopal Atlanta population that is doing him in, but his theology on human sexuality. He just doesn’t get it. Blessing sodomy is not a draw card for white or black middle class, upwardly mobile Atlantans. They like their sexuality straight up, and, er… straight.

Now consider another church in another part of the country. This church is growing and thriving because it has a different theology and a different understanding of sexuality and mission.

This one is in Plano, Texas and it is called Christ Church, and its rector is Canon David Roseberry.

Roseberry is making a name for himself having sponsored the Plano gathering earlier this year that drew several thousand orthodox Episcopalians following General Convention’s affirmation of Robinson’s unbiblical lifestyle and his elevation to the episcopacy.

But unlike the Cathedral of St. Philip’s in Atlanta, the Robinson consecration has not affected Christ Church, Plano, because Canon Roseberry has a different gospel, with an age-old message that he won’t change to suit the passing fashions of our times.

“The Robinson consecration has galvanized the church to take a biblical stand for orthodoxy,” said Roseberry to Virtuosity.

“If there is one thing I have learned about ministering in a large church, it is that large churches thrive on clarity and Christology. We have to be clear about who Jesus is and the effect he has on personal life transformation. That is what the Good News is.”

People come to church to find out what God has to say about pressing social issues, said the canon, one of Bishop James Stanton’s outstanding priests. “The bible is very clear on what the most important subjects are. People can find out what the world believes from magazines and a newspaper rack; but what God believes in, what Holy Scripture declares is a wholly different matter. The church has a theology and a moral responsibility to share that Good News with its people.”

And as a result his church is growing nicely and his budget is up. “Attendance figures are up. Week by week we see 2,200 people coming to four services. Our projected giving for the whole year will be $4.2 million.”

According to figures released by the church, in 2003 the total pledged budget was $2,950,000. In 2004 pledges will reach $3,362,000, said Roseberry.

Total giving will be over $4 million, making it one of the most prestigious and powerful parishes in the Episcopal Church. The parish income alone is bigger than some whole dioceses.

“The average donation in 2003 was $4,545.00, in 2004 it will be $4,865.00, and that is in a down economy,” said Roseberry.

So why is one church successful and the other failing? “To the extent that we are faithful people will come. God will always send His people where they can be cared for,” said Roseberry.

That might be a lesson Dean Candler could learn as he watches pansexuality ravage his cathedral.

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