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WILLIAMSPORT: Central PA Bishop Blasts Forward in Faith at Anglo-Catholic Parish


By David W. Virtue

WILLIAMSPORT, PA (9/9/2004)--The Bishop of Central PA., who voted for the consecration of V. Gene Robinson, argued vociferously before an angry Anglo-Catholic vestry and parish on Thursday that he was an orthodox, traditional Christian follower of Jesus Christ, and deeply resented being labeled a revisionist, calling the label "immensely offensive."

Standing before some 50 parishioners at the traditionalist downtown Christ Church congregation whose vestry and rector, Fr. Darren K. Williams had voted 11 to 1 to affiliate with the ECUSA recognized traditionalist organization Forward in Faith, Bishop Michael W. Creighton said he wanted "other voices" to be heard in the parish to balance out the traditionalist views of this organization.

The bishop erupted in anger as he opened the debate, the veneer of niceness quickly evaporated as he launched into a bitter attack on "forces of exclusion" in the Episcopal Church, arguing that he was an orthodox, traditional Christian. "The mainstream is true to the faith handed down to us through the ages," said the bishop. "Forward in Faith does not represent the mainstream. I am characterized as not even being a Christian, which I find an abomination and offensive. I have been maligned. I am looking for an apology. I value and treasure all points of views and perspectives."

The bishop said he had received e-mails from concerned parishioners who did not want to join Forward in Faith, but when challenged could not produce their names.

One parishioner fired back. "I have been here 27 years, I know everyone in this parish, who are these people you say are opposed to the traditional teaching of the faith?"

Undaunted by the bishop's attack on them, orthodox parishioners fought back asking the bishop why and how he could call himself orthodox when he voted for Robinson's consecration.

Dr. Gary R. Hafer, college professor and vestryman asked the bishop: "What is your theology in voting for Robinson?"

Creighton: "I voted and supported the discernment process of that diocese. They approved him and their witness of him that he was an outstanding priest, confirmed by his bishop, his former wife, children and the diocese, people who knew him, and had the highest respect for him."

Hafer: "How do you reconcile your understanding with your actions that the church has seven sacraments, one of which is marriage? By your actions in confirming Robinson you have placed in question the whole sacramental system." General Convention invalidated that, he said.

"Allow us to be a member of Forward in Faith. We had no dialogues about this when I was at St. James and the church was destroyed. The tactics were very similar where members tore one another's heads off, the rector is sacrificed and the bishop steps in as the savior. You are not fooling me."

Creighton: "How inclusive has Christ Church become? I get phone messages from upset parishioners and they are voluminous. Why don't they feel valued? The bishop admitted that he was hearing a lot of conflicting voices and said, "I don't have the answer."

"You have an office in this church, when you are not in Harrisburg," piped up another parishioner. "You can always come whenever you want and see the rector and vestry. You only have to ask." The truth is you never come, said another.

"You say you receive disgruntled letters from parishioners but Fr. Williams was never notified. They won't speak with Fr. Williams and yet they notify you! Where was the concern over Robinson's consecration by you? Rowan Williams asked Griswold to hold off...and he didn't. Why didn't you speak up?"

Parishioner: "You say we must hear other points of view. We do. We get Episcopal Life, the diocesan newspaper and news from your office and the national church...all we ever get is the other side. Now we want to hear a traditional catholic viewpoint that upholds the faith and you get upset!"

Parishioners praised the appearance of FIFNA spiritual director Chris Fouse who had come to the parish and spiritually touched many lives in her speeches."

"Her appearance is a tactic I don't appreciate," said the bishop.

Parishioner: "Is it a tactic to articulate my Christian Faith...it is a witness," said an angry parishioner.

"I have no tactics," said the bishop.

Parishioner: "Will you eliminate us if we join Forward in Faith?"

Bishop: "Forward in Faith is most welcome in parishes, but as bishop I would like other perspectives. I won't punish this parish; all I am asking is for the parish to stay in the life of the Episcopal Church." The priest, Fr. Darren, said he would.

"I am also very concerned with the health of this parish. My pastoral ears also wonder what is going on. There are two different voices in this parish."

But another parishioner accused the bishop of fomenting the problem then when all the parties were fighting he appeared as a "pastoral" savior. "Would you be here having this discussion if Integrity (the openly ECUSA pansexual organization) wanted to come into
this parish asked another parishioner?"

The bishop said he would come if it created a pastoral problem in the parish.

Another parishioner (vestryman) said that Fr. Darren had brought peace into the parish for the past 7 years after a series of dysfunctional priests had nearly decimated the Anglo-Catholic parish.

Bishop Creighton then accused the rector of not participating in sexuality dialogues in the diocese following General Convention.

"What is there to dialogue about," said the priest. "Scripture is clear that God allows only sex between a man and a woman in the state of Holy Matrimony or celibacy; there is no other option."

Kent Lomison, 47, vestryman and Sunday School teacher, made a moving statement when he said; "I am a gay, celibate man, and we [the Episcopal Church] have broken tradition with the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Church. I don't believe in women priests, I want to hold to the true faith; I don't want to go with the mainstream. I believe in Scripture, Satan can read Scripture. Satan has slipped in on us and he is dividing this church. I want to keep the true apostolic faith and I don't want to be condemned for holding error. If the faith of the Eastern Orthodox Church is right then the Episcopal Church is wrong. I won't go along with an active homosexual lifestyle. If I became a priest I would be celibate."

The crowd clapped.

One dissenting parishioner said he did not want to see the church go down the narrow pathway of Forward in Faith and pled with the parishioners not to let Forward in Faith into the parish.

But the pain and anger was palpable as one vestry person after another expressed their views arguing against the bishop's stand on sexuality issues.

"I want a non-judgmental environment," said the bishop.

But under intense questioning, the bishop admitted that since General Convention he had been under enormous pressure from all quarters of the church and then he apologized to the parish for his attitude.

"We have been much divided since General Convention. Many have left the church in knee jerk fashion. People have distanced themselves because of the actions in NH. We have to find a way to reconcile together in immense diversity. It is a great witness to the value of everyone...our church includes all of humanity...not just for one perspective on a particular issue." The bishop said no minds had been changed, "but I value and treasure all relationships."

The bishop said his own family was divided. "One brother phoned called saying what the hell do you think you are doing; the other said right on."

Parishioner: "I am a member of this church. I am an orthodox catholic Anglican. I have a personal homosexual orientation. I understand orthodoxy to be incarnational before it is relational. You declared the bible to be Word of God. I believe the Bible is the Word of
God and it says I must conform my life to what God says and not the other way round. The road to hell is paved with the skulls of priests and bishops."

Creighton: "I fully accept the authority of Scripture...."

Parishioner Ken (interrupting)"...then how could you vote for Gene Robinson?"

Creighton: "Scripture has been interpreted in different ways...the story is authoritative, but the word of God can be interpreted in many ways."

Parishioner Ken: "Pennsylvania Bishop Charles Bennison said Jesus was a forgiven sinner and the Bishop of Washington said the resurrection of Jesus is conjecture, what do you believe bishop?"

Creighton: "I am one of your brothers in Christ...it's important to look at the context of things."

Parishioner: "Why is it such a concern to you, and so upsetting, when an official of an organization (like FIFNA) that has the imprimatur of Rowan Williams and certain members of the HOB, if we are an inclusive church?"

Creighton: "FIFNA is okay as long as other perspectives are presented."

Fr David Moyer, President of Forward in Faith asked if he could speak, as the bishop had demanded that all parish vestry meetings be open. Demonstrating a certain winsomeness, the Anglo-Catholic leader said Forward in Faith was an officially recognized organization of the Episcopal Church like Faith Alive, Marriage Encounter, Cursillo, NOEL and could be found in the Red Book along with Daughters of the King and is highly recognized within the ECUSA. "I am personally a friend of Rowan Williams and FIFNA is recognized as the strong orthodox voice in the Anglican Communion. FIFNA is not a schismatic organization."

The bishop said it did not help the dialogue to characterize people without even talking to them. He said he was upset because he had been excluded from important parish meetings.

Eschewing labels, the bishop then said we have "informational Christians", "relationship Christians" and "I am mixture of both." We need to listen to each other and to Jesus about love, compassion, forgiveness and embracing sinners. I am not a policeman. I believe in Scripture, tradition and reason. Scripture is the large wheel but Forward in Faith seems to exclude reason, he said.

Fr. Williams said he could no longer remain silent about the direction of the Episcopal Church. "With integrity I have to speak up and say that the decision of General Convention last summer was wrong; to say nothing is to concur. I can no longer be silent and stand on the sidelines. I am here to do that."

The crowd clapped.

Creighton: "The difference for me about FIFNA is the difference that in the history of the ECUSA there have been societies that have a perspective usually on abortion, NOEL, gun control and spiritual renewal and education that are challenging. When I read the literature from FIFNA to reform the whole ECUSA I am upset. Their webpage says they are based on Scripture and tradition, but what happened to reason? I like to look at reason. I like to ponder and dialogue. Forward in Faith says they are the presenting the true church."

Moyer: "The majority of the Anglican Communion some 90% percent live in impaired communion with ECUSA...90% of worldwide Anglicans. We are 1.8 million, and they say ECUSA has erred. FIFNA is part of the 90% of Anglicans. We stand with 400 million Orthodox believers and 1 billion Roman Catholics. The Episcopal Church has gone off the tracks and we need to get it back on track for our children and grandchildren."

Creighton: "I am glad for the conversation. We had a wonderful companion relationship with the Diocese of Recife in Brazil. After the Robinson vote we were dismissed, our delegation was divided. Bishop Cavilcanti said we can't have any relationship with you. I
consider it unchristian."

Creighton said he could hear huge grenades being lobbed around the church...but relationships will continue.

Moyer: "My bishops find it grievous, we have warned you so many times. Our bishops tell us they are fighting with Muslims because of General Convention's decisions. Are you listening?"

Creighton: "I ordained a deacon who was colossally upset with Robinson."

Parishioner: "There are talks about inclusivity and diversity and diverse groups of people, but there is nothing being said about why you don't want to be inclusive of us."

Parishioner: "I wrote to you after General Convention bishop. You wrote back saying my letter was cynical. I was not cynical, I am concerned. My husband was in the military for 28 years. Not till we came back to the US did we get our first Episcopal chaplain on the base. I went to the service but it was totally foreign to me. The way down your road I am being shown another direction. I have done my homework...it comes down to choices. My question is, you have made your choice, are you going to be man and Christian enough to let me make mine."

Creighton: "Yes."

Parishioner Ken: "You mentioned FIFNA was in opposition to women's ordination. The Episcopal Church erred in its choices, is this an inclusive diocese, is there room for me and for my understanding of Holy Scripture?"

Creighton: "There are parishes that will never call a woman..."

Parishioner: "I want to go with FIFNA. I have heard it over and again you can take any Scripture and mould it to your own agenda. I am speaking for my own inner peace and for my soul."

Creighton: "I have made it clear and I have not changed my mind there will be no same-sex blessings in this diocese."

Parishioner: "You have been sliding things through the back door. I gave it a good try for over 26 years."

David Rawson, FIFNA chancellor, said he had gotten the message that there wasn't really any room for FIFNA people in ECUSA. "This parish wants to affirm traditional theology and be recognized and supported. Now they are being beleaguered...there is a double standard that excludes us. We are not leaving the ECUSA or the diocese we just want to join and support the denomination. I will come to Harrisburg and speak to you and any other support group in the church."

Parishioner: "After today we should sleep on it."

Parishioner: "We were all invited one on one. I want the vestry to have a mind of its own. I am tired of being embarrassed because the Episcopal Church is not standing up with Scripture. I have no problems with homosexuals, but I have two teenagers and I teach them that sex is only between a man and woman in marriage and you are undermining that."

Creighton: "Will you stay in the church?"

Rector: "As I understand FIFNA it is a witness to apostolic faith, catholic order and promotes the same within the churches of the Anglican Heritage. It is my intention to stand against all decisions and actions which contradict that catholic faith and order. It is my desire and that of the vestry to stay in ECUSA and we are seeking support because we feel very alone in this diocese. We wish to stay in the ECUSA without being ridiculed and treated with prejudice."

Stanley Bright, rector's warden, Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, PA said, "you have complained bishop of being maligned, but you have maligned Forward in Faith. It is you who have not been recognized by the Anglican Communion. These people are entitled to remain committed to the Anglican Communion and its historic belief, beliefs you made a vow to uphold when you were consecrated."

Creighton: "I have been cut out of important discussions and I have been personally maligned. I've got a backbone and I will witness to Jesus Christ."

Parishioner: "I feel I am one being pushed out of this parish, by aligning with Forward in Faith."

Fr. Williams: "The vestry vote was 11 to 1."

Parishioner: "I am a new member of vestry. I was not sworn to any secrecy. The meetings are open for anyone to come and speak about ECUSA, there is no secrecy."

Ruth Anne Strobel: I feel that FIFNA does have something to offer, but not given other choices. Our bishop should be a role model."

Creighton: "I try to witness... and I apologize...I am an inclusive person...I want a total package faith."

Fr. Williams: "I came to Christ Church 7 years ago. I have asked no one to sign anything. If you concur with the vestry to affiliate with Forward in Faith we will do so. I haven't asked anyone to leave. I haven't excluded anyone; there is a gay community in this parish. I can't account for how other people feel, I can only account for myself and if people want to leave, they can. If they want to sign up to be a Forward in Faith parish they can; the altar rail is open to anyone. I have no intention of leaving the diocese or ECUSA, no one is treated offensively, but I stand on the historic Christian Faith as it has been delivered to us...this is what we stand for... Amen"


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