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Sr. Warden writes to the Parishioners of St. John’s Church - Versailles, KY

Statement to the Parishioners of St. John’s Church in Versailles, Kentucky

In August, 2002 our previous rector Alan Hansen left the parish. The bishop
met with the vestry and recommended that the vestry be frozen until a new
rector was called. We have remained in place in an effort to “keep the
wheels on” and I think we have been successful in doing so. When Alan left,
we were in a critical financial crunch, and the effects of 9/11 added to
the crisis. The vestry worked diligently to reduce operating costs, and
with the involvement of our dedicated parishioners, we were able to turn
things around.

Our year-end balance sheet shows assets of:

$246,165.48 in checking, money market, and investment accounts
$1,056,972.58 in buildings and property
$561,383.59 in restricted funds/trusts
Total Assets of $1,864,521.65.

In December, the vestry made the following charitable contributions to
various, deserving, outreach ministries:

Salvation Army - $2,000.00
Food For The Poor - $5,000.00
St. Agnes House – 3,000.00
Shoes For Kenya - $1,500.00
10 Scholarships for Youth Quake - $1,800.00
ACTS 29 Ministry - $1,000.00
Woodford Ministerial Association (Food Pantry) - $1,200.00
Woodford Educational Endowment Fund - $1,000.00
Woodford Project Graduation - $500.00
Tuition to Asbury Seminary for Youth Minister Ron Garner - $2,500.00
For a total of $19,500.00

The budgetary surplus for 2003, after meeting our entire diocesan pledge
amounts to $39,961.66. This alone should indicate how seriously this vestry
has taken its stewardship responsibility. There can be very few churches in
this diocese able to make a similar claim.

In August, 2003 after the National Convention, a letter was written to the
bishop, stating clearly that the vestry was in disagreement with his vote
in favor of the consecration of an openly gay bishop and the blessing of
same-sex unions. We subsequently had four meetings in our church regarding
differing viewpoints on what had transpired at the Convention, including
one at which the bishop shared his opinions. In November, the vestry sent
out surveys to see how each parishioner felt on the issues and in what
direction they wanted our church to move. Of the 300+ surveys sent out,
over 170 were completed and returned. A compilation of results told us that
over 75% of St. John’s parishioners were in disagreement, that they would
not be pledging as in the past, and that over 60% were in favor of aligning
with an orthodox bishop within ECUSA, if it were a possibility.

A small group of parishioners went to the bishop to complain about what the
vestry was doing. They clearly thought that we were planning on bringing in
a new rector who would “take us out” of the diocese and the Episcopal
Church. We were, in fact, searching for a rector who fit our parish
profile, and we had hoped that eventually there would be adequate
alternative oversight available. Never have we considered taking St. John’s
out of the Episcopal Church. In fact, I wrote to one of this small group to
explain that in a worst-case scenario, what would likely happen was that
the vestry would resign at some point, leave St. John’s, and form a new
mission church under an orthodox, biblically centered, Anglican
affiliation. I further stated that we were not interested in seizing the
property of St. John’s, and were certain to leave the church in better
financial condition than that in which we had found it. I defy anyone to
demonstrate where this vestry has been anything other than completely
devoted to the care of our congregation, deliberate and honorable in our
search, true to the majority opinion of our congregation, and above
reproach in the administration of our fiduciary duties to this parish.

On December 9, 2003, the vestry submitted the name of our chosen candidate
for rector. The bishop replied December 9 that he was “happy to give
consideration to our candidate”. On December 13, the bishop convened a
meeting of the Executive Council to request that St. John’s be reduced
to “mission” status. The vestry was not made aware of this meeting, and in
fact, was hopeful that the bishop would initiate his background check and
plan meetings with our candidate. On December 18, the bishop contacted our
candidate and suggested that they meet January 5th and 6th, 2004. After
cordial, but fruitless meetings, we awaited the bishop’s answer. On the
evening of January 6th, records of the Executive Council meeting of
December 13 were found, quite by accident, having been posted on the
diocesan website. Vestry member, Judge Wilson met immediately the next day
with the bishop, and was invited to the Executive Council meeting held that
same evening, January 7. At this meeting, Judge pleaded with the bishop and
the Executive Council to reconsider their actions. After facing a grueling
session of questioning and intimidation, Judge left completely devastated.
The Executive Council ended having granted the bishops request to reduce
St. John’s to “mission” status. The vestry is to be removed, and the bishop
is to take control of this church.

For 156 years, St. John’s has been aligned with the Protestant Episcopal
Church. St. John’s is a corporation registered in the state of Kentucky.
All property is titled to the senior warden and vestry of St. John’s
Church. We have been asked repeatedly over the years to hand over the deed
to this church to the bishop, but we have never done so. We have never
borrowed money from the diocese. Clearly, the only way that the bishop can
take over the property is by removing us from our elected positions and
putting in place those persons who would be willing to turn the property
over to him. The only concern the bishop has had throughout the process of
the Executive Council meeting was in regard to the property and assets of
St. John’s. In explaining the outcome of the meeting to me, Fr. Jay Pierce
said those words to me verbatim.

Under the administration of this bishop, within this diocese, you can find
5 churches without rectors. Having bought a huge, old house in Lexington
for use as an office, at a cost to the diocese of over a million dollars
and restoring it at an additional cost of another half million dollars,
this bishop now finds it necessary to extend his credit line from $100,000
in 2003 to $500,000 in 2004. He is taking money from trust funds to pay
operating expenses, and is finding that pledges have diminished, making a
budget impossible. As a result, he has enacted Canon 28, calling for an
assessment of 18% of annual parish revenues. Based on our 2002 revenues,
this assessment would total $64,213. An initial, adjusted assessment (to
make it more palatable) brings our bill to $33,404 this year.

You now have the facts before you. I urge you to consider them carefully,
before you allow this bishop to take control of your church. There is so
much at stake here. The actions of this bishop toward St. John’s have been
destructive to individual families within our parish, to the unity of the
parish family, and the diocese as a whole. Our fate is to serve as an
example for all the other parishes in this diocese. As a bishop, this man
is expected to lead his flock, not beat it into submission.

We have asked for alternative Episcopal oversight as set forth by the
Primates of the Anglican Communion. We are not, nor have we ever sought to
be anything other than faithful, orthodox Anglicans. One of many examples
is that for a decade, we have been a primary advocate of the Alpha Course
throughout the state. Alpha is a uniquely Anglican approach to
evangelization enthusiastically endorsed by the past and current
Archbishops of Canterbury. The only reason we can imagine why this bishop
would act in such an uncanonical and unethical manner towards us is his
deep animosity towards evangelical and orthodox Anglicans.

I am saddened by the prospects for my church. Serving this church alongside
such dedicated people has been a great honor. However, the effort has
become a heavy burden. Our lives have been filled with fear, pain, anger,
and ultimately, great sadness. That is not what God intended for his
people. We will continue to pray for each of you, and always for our
beloved St. John’s Church.

In His service,

Mr. Thomas J. Thornbury
Sr. Warden, St. John’s Church, Versailles, Kentucky

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