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WESTERN NEW YORK: Bishop Faces Financial Backlash To Robinson Consecration

WESTERN NEW YORK BISHOP FACES FINANCIAL BACKLASH TO ROBINSON CONSECRATION

By J. Michael Garrison

The Fair Share is the means this diocese has chosen to support the Episcopal Church beyond the level of the parish.

Each annual convention of our diocese approves the specific amount of money asked of our various communities for the support of the programs and commitments that carry out the work of our community of faith both here in Western New York and beyond. We believe that this support is vital to the mission of the Church.

Our parishes and missions have been most generous over the years in making our giving a sign or sacrament of the generosity of our God in giving us all that we have.

The system has worked well because all make an annual commitment to continue to support it. We have come now to a place of crisis in our life together as this diocese. The decision of General Convention to confirm the election of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire has angered a number of our members. Some are choosing to withdraw their giving from the Church or, often at their clergy’s urging, choosing to divert their giving away from the Diocese of Western New York.

This saddens me greatly. The parishes of St. Stephen’s, Niagara Falls; St. Bartholomew’s, Tonawanda; St. Michael and All Angels’, Buffalo; and St. Mary’s, Salamanca; have decided to send the diocese a pittance, rather than a “fair share”. Saint Mark’s, Orchard Park, has reduced its pledge by one third. These, and smaller cuts by others, mean that our projected budget will be short by at least $135,000*.

I have urged us to remain one Church in Western New York, one Church of interdependent parishes and missions. Our interdependence is made real by the commitments that our annual budget supports. When one or more of our communities of faith are unfaithful to the “fair share”, it means that the rest of the diocese must make up the difference, or that basic commitments must be eliminated. Our interdependence is meant to be a reflection of our relationship in the Body of Christ. All of the parts of the body need all of the other parts of the body. None should say to another, “I have no need of you,” or “Your interests or commitments are not important to me.” So what is the effect of these actions taken by some of our congregations?

Will the General Convention be effected? The answer is, “No.” Will our deputies and myself who voted to confirm Bishop Robinson be “punished” for voting as we did? Again, the answer is, “No.” What will happen? Our diocesan staff will be reduced and/or the diocesan program will be cut. So, who will be punished? Those members of our staff who will lose their jobs, and their families, will be, as will the diocese as a whole because services and resources that have been provided in the past will no longer be provided.

What will also be punished is the mission of this diocese. I believe there is a sad spiritual arrogance connected to actions that are meant to punish one another in the Body of Christ, especially for actions that resulted from much thought, much prayer, and much deliberation by bodies constitutionally chosen to make such decisions. Money does have power in our society’s life. Sharing what we have been given can be the sign of our response to our wondrous God’s generosity in giving us all that we have. Withdrawing it can be the sign of wielding power both to harm and injure, rather than to build up and empower.

I believe some of our members have chosen to do the latter, and it saddens me greatly. The image that has come to my mind is that of a child who takes his or her toys and runs away from playmates because they are not playing as the child wants them to play.

In our Baptismal liturgy parents and godparents are challenged to help their children “grow up into the full stature of Christ.” In other words, we are called upon to become mature Christians. I believe that withdrawing support from our diocese is a childish act that does not represent a mature Christian perspective on the use of time, talent, or treasure.

I am writing to our protesting communities and reminding them that the long name of our Church is the “Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America.” Our Church was born in dissent and protest, and I fully support all of our members. and communities’ right and duty to protest the actions of General Convention or the actions of the leadership of this diocese.

However, I do not believe that the action of the parishes mentioned above is about protest. For me, it is a sign that we are in a profound period of being disconnected as the Body of Christ.

I have made myself available to hear the protests of the people of the above parishes and all our communities. I believe that we have had frank exchanges of our respective points of view. After my visits with two of the above congregations, I have been surprised at the written assessment of the gatherings.

I have felt vilified for my attempt to go and listen and allow others to share their perspectives on our decisions. I feel that I come as a person of good will and a person who believes very strongly in God’s love and yet I have been likened to Satan in the comments of some of our members. I mention all this as a prelude to asking this: How in the midst of this time of dissent in our Church’s life will we model what Jesus would do?

For me, the great sign of the presence of the Spirit of Jesus is found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. He reminds them that the fruit of God’s Spirit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” If the “fruit of the Spirit” is not present, how will we learn to disagree agreeably? When will we learn that in the midst of our disagreement we are meant to hold each other and cherish each other as beloved children of our God?

The Epiphany season challenges all Christians to remember that God’s life and love dwell within each Christian. We are called upon to let the light of that life and love shine for one another and for the world. The bottom line for those of us who supported the decision made in Minneapolis is that we believe we have internalized the call of the Baptismal Covenant to strive for justice and to respect the dignity of every human being.

We believe that we have acted prophetically as a Church in our stance on issues of human sexuality. God, in God’s time, will provide the ultimate answer to our questions and debates. In the meantime, let us remain in the way of Jesus.

Shalom,

The Rt. Rev. J. Michael Garrison Diocese of Western New York

* This number ($135,000) was derived from figures available as of press time. Final figures had not yet been reported by all congregations. – from Church Acts, the diocesan newspaper for the diocese of Western New York.

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