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WESTERN NEW YORK: Diocese hit by fiscal jolt in protest to gay cleric


By Jay Tokasz
News Staff Reporter
The Buffalo News


The Episcopal Diocese of Western New York is facing a major budget deficit caused in part by the withdrawal of more than $100,000 in pledges from parishes that disagree with the confirmation last summer of a gay bishop.

At least five parishes are withholding most of their "fair share" gifts to the diocese in 2004 because of the national church's confirmation of the Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire.

An additional 22 parishes - out of 63 in the diocese - have yet to submit a pledge or have pledged less than the diocese requested.
The total revenue deficit - including shortfalls stemming from other reasons - is more than $200,000 in a budget of about $1.1 million, said Bishop J. Michael Garrison.

The bishop cited a combination of economic difficulty within many parishes and a "significant amount of protest" over the approval of a gay bishop.

The shortfall will lead to the imminent layoffs of the equivalent of two full-time diocesan employees, and reductions in part-time staff, he said. The layoffs could come within a few weeks, he said. The diocese currently employs 11 people in its offices on Delaware Avenue and five field staffers.

The Episcopal Church USA affirmed Robinson, who is openly gay and involved in a long-term relationship with another man, at its general convention last August. Garrison was among a majority of bishops nationwide who voted to confirm Robinson.

The confirmation shocked and outraged church members who view it as an affront to Scripture and historical church teaching, and bishops across the country are now struggling to mend fences with many parishioners.

Garrison said he was saddened by the stance of the five parishes in Western New York: St. Stephen's in Niagara Falls, St. Bartholomew's in the Town of Tonawanda, St. Michael and All Angels in Buffalo, St. Mary's in Salamanca and St. Mark's in Orchard Park.

In a column he wrote for the diocesan newspaper, Church Acts, he chided the parishes for their "childish act" and urged them to reconsider.

Garrison also sent strongly worded letters warning the parishes that they could be designated "dependent" and "delinquent" for their failure to support the diocese. Those designations would mean the loss of autonomy in making decisions such as who serves as clergy.

The diocese currently operates on an annual "fair share" pledge system. Each year, it requests a gift of about 15 percent of a parish's revenues averaged over three years.

St. Bartholomew's, for example, had average revenues of $436,849 for the last three years. The diocese's fair share was set at $67,565 for 2004.

Last fall, the St. Bartholomew's vestry, a council of 11 members that governs church finances, voted to hand over only a small percentage of that amount.

"We didn't believe that the national church was headed in the right direction," said James Glownia, senior warden for the parish. "It was the only thing we could really do to protest against it, so to speak."

Glownia said giving at the church actually has increased since the vestry voted not to send the money to the diocese. The gifts are being passed on instead to six local Christian ministries and to the American Anglican Council, a national network of parishes and individuals opposed to Robinson's confirmation.

The Diocese of Western New York is one of a few in the country that do not have required assessments on its parishes, and Garrison has proposed amending the diocesan canons to make the "fair share" mandatory.

Such a change would have to be approved by a vote of the Diocesan Convention, which meets this fall.

Garrison said he would work to mend the gap between the diocese and those parishes that have publicly disagreed with him on the Robinson vote. But clergy from those parishes said the bishop's stance on finances does not seem conciliatory.

"As far as I'm concerned, money should never be the basis for our union," said the Rev. Arthur W. Ward Jr., rector of St. Bartholomew's.

The vestry of St. Stephen's in Niagara Falls also voted to redirect the parish's giving to other ministries. The Rev. Richard Molison, rector, worries that the diocese will try to recoup fair share giving from the first quarter of 2004 - money that already has been spent elsewhere. "The people have a right to choose how they want their money spent," he said. "How can we now go back to our parishioners and violate the ethical contract we've entered into with them?"

Acknowledging discontent by some parishes, Garrison said most congregations had put the vote last summer behind them.
"As I go around the diocese," he said, "in most places, it's water under the bridge."


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