By Julia Duin
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Published January 27, 2005
Virginia Episcopalians, who at 89,000 make up the country's largest Episcopal diocese, will meet tomorrow and Saturday in Reston to discuss finances and whether the denomination needs to stop ordaining homosexual clergy.
Things are looking up a bit for the Diocese of Virginia this year, as contributions, also known as pledges, are up 5 percent from last year, when a financial boycott by conservatives caused a $860,000 drop in the 2004 diocesan budget.
Thus, this year's budget, which delegates will vote on, is $4.05 million, up $160,374 from last year's $3.89 million budget. One cost-saving measure will be $40,000 from the salary of Assistant Bishop Frank Gray, who will retire July 1. As the bishop will do some part-time work, there are no immediate plans to replace him.
However, several of the diocese's largest -- and most conservative parishes -- are withholding contributions to the diocese because of the Episcopal Church's decision in August 2003 to ordain a homosexual bishop.
A majority of the Diocese of Virginia's delegates agreed with that vote when it was taken at the church's General Convention.
"The decisions that will be made in the next couple of months will determine the direction for the future of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion," said the Rev. Tom Herrick, vicar of Christ the Redeemer Church in Centreville. "The gravity of these decisions call for seeking God's wisdom, discernment of God's will, and the courage to follow it."
Three of the 19 resolutions up for vote deal with how Episcopalians should give to their diocese. Two recommend either forcing parishes to tithe their earnings or return to their pre-2003 giving levels.
This same issue arose at last year's diocesan convention, resulting in the formation of a diocesan "task force on giving." After several months of hearings, it recommended Dec. 15 that the Diocese of Virginia rely on voluntary, not forced giving.
The 979 clergy and laity attending the diocesan meeting, at the Hyatt Regency Reston, also will elect deputies and alternates to the 2006 Episcopal General Convention in Columbus, Ohio, the 2.2-million-member denomination's decision-making body.
Also among the 19 resolutions, the diocese council will consider six on the "Windsor Report," a document issued in October by a task force set up by the archbishop of Canterbury, head of the 70-million-member Anglican Communion.
The report sought to resolve the Anglican Communion's crisis over authority and homosexuality, by criticizing blessings of same-sex unions in U.S. and Canadian churches and the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, a divorced man living with a male lover.
To date, U.S. Episcopal bishops have expressed only "regret" for the "pain, hurt and damage" caused by the consecration, according to a Jan. 13 statement.
One church has taken the meeting especially to heart, calling for a 21-day churchwide fast for its 300 members. The parish-wide fast for Christ the Redeemer Church ended Sunday.
"We'd like to see true repentance, not just 'regret' for the church's actions," Mr. Herrick said.
A report also will be given about the findings of a "reconciliation commission," set up last year to work out differences between liberal and conservative Virginia Episcopalians.
The commission's chairman, the Rev. Andrew Merrow, did not return calls asking for comment.
The Rev. Richard Crocker, associate rector at Truro Church in Fairfax, noted that Diocesan Bishop Peter Lee "is trying to keep everyone at the table" in a diocese split between liberals and conservatives.
This has been appreciated widely, Mr. Crocker said, adding, "but it's a temporary peace because the fundamental differences still exist."
"There are not many people happy with this holding position," he said.