Tales from ACNA-Land: Quincy

Those who have stomped out the Episcopal Church in anger like to play the victim card.. The narrative goes something like this: “We are innocent, faithful Christians, just trying to live the authentic, timeless Christian faith. We have been chased out of our church. We just want to keep the buildings and things we bought and paid for. Poor, persecuted us!” Too bad that narrative bears little resemblance to reality. Over the next few days, I’ll explore ACNA-Land a little. You, dear reader, can go on a tour and see that the victim card just doesn’t work. We begin in Illinois, with the Diocese of Quincy.

Quincy had always been an Anglo-Catholic diocese of a conservative bent. Under Bishop Keith Ackerman, the diocese went from conservative to tragically militant. Though no one was forcing them to accept women as priests in their diocese, they developed a siege mentality. Finally, Bishop Ackerman and a bunch of clergy he imported from across the country (many of whom never lived in Quincy, but they were a handy voting bloc) voted themselves over to the Province of the Southern Cone.

Things have not gone well since. Ackerman and his cronies have decamped Quincy. Congregations have been torn apart and needlessly splintered. I’d like to post a few excerpts from a letter to the editor of the Peoria Journal-Star. The author is Canon John Blossom, who chose to remain in the Episcopal Church, though he is no progressive and not a particularly big fan of the liberal drift of the Episcopal Church. Here are a few snippets from the letter with my comments below.

…local leadership remaining in the Episcopal Church discovered that the breakaway group transferred $100,000 to a law firm as a prepaid legal fee from endowment funds given by donors to the Diocese of Quincy for mission and ministry.

The breakaway group has demonstrated its willingness to spend $100,000 from the Diocese’s endowment fund for a law firm retainer, yet [the Rev’d John] Spencer is quick to criticize the Episcopal Church for spending “millions of dollars in the last few years suing churches.” The only money spent here will now be in defense of the suit his group has filed.

Yes, that’s right. Only moments before they purported to vote themselves out of the Episcopal Church, the duly elected Council of the diocese transferred $100,000 into an account to pay for the defense of the inevitable lawsuits when the Anglican diocese was sued for doing things like misappropriating funds. Kind of undercuts they whole “you shouldn’t spend lots of money on lawsuits” argument, not to mention the “we were shocked — shocked! — to get sued” faux innocence.

One of the remarkable injustices of this ordeal occurred when the membership of one large church of the Diocese voted by a substantial majority to remain, with the breakaway group asserting that a majority vote is not adequate. Again the breakaway leadership is attempting to bend the truth to support its goals.

This is a good one. Ackerman and company required congregations to vote if they wanted to stay in the Episcopal Church. Get that? The Bishop foisted schism on his parishes and insisted that they vote against this scheme or be swept along for the ride — right out of the Anglican Communion. So one congregation’s membership, in a duly convened meeting, voted 62% in favor of remaining in the Episcopal Church. Ackerman said that wasn’t good enough, claiming they needed 67% to stay. The breakaway diocese menaced those loyal to the Episcopal Church, so they abandoned their building to start a new congregation in a new building. That one undercuts the whole “it’s not all about the property” argument and “respect the will of the people” line of thinking.

For whatever reason, these people have manipulated the facts and pursued a relentless legal strategy to take possession of things that were never theirs. Though no one forced them to leave — or even to embrace progressive ideas — they claim to be expelled. Christ’s Body is certainly bruised and battered in the Diocese of Quincy. Thankfully, there are some good lay and clergy leaders there now, and most of the secessionist leaders went on to do their work elsewhere. Perhaps the diocese will continue to know God’s healing presence. Pray for them. Kyrie eleison.

This post is part of a series, Tales from ACNA-Land. Read the next post.

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4 Responses

  1. Matt Kennedy says:

    “We just want to keep the buildings and things we bought and paid for.”

    Scott unfortunately for your narrative, that is precisely the truth.

  2. Scott Gunn says:

    So, Matt, here’s my question:

    Suppose I donate $100,000 to a project at my church to install stained glass windows. A couple of years later, I get angry about something and decide to go to a different church. Am I entitled to take the windows with me? Of course not. I gave the money, as a gift, to the church. If I leave, the church keeps the windows. Who paid for them is a moot point.

    Likewise, congregants gave money to build an Episcopal Church. If a bunch of people, or even most of the people, decide to leave the Episcopal Church, they are not *entitled* to take the church with them. This point was uncontroversial in the Episcopal Church right up until the last few years. Who paid for the building is moot.

    Sadly, a tragic combination of congregationalist polity and supremacy of individual rights has taken hold in some quarters. Hence the conflict we see today.

    That said, if it were up to me, I’d want to reach amicable and equitable settlements with congregations in cases where the vast majority of congregants seek a new denominational home. The viciousness of behavior from both sides is sinful.

    Pax,
    Scott

  3. Father Ron Smith says:

    Matt Kennedy, I read your story on the ‘Stand Firm’ web-site and, frankly, wondered why you had to leave your obviously valuable ministry in the parish to which you were appointed by TEC?

    If I had not known the background, I would have been furious with your Bishop and the Diocese of Quincy for putting you into the situation. However being aware of the secessionist behaviour of your Bishop’s predecessor, and the way in which you and certain other clergy in the Diocese were encouraged to disciple your congregations into schism from your Episcopalian roots, I can understand a little more of the circumstances.

    However, all that being said; perhaps you were, in a way, the author of your own misfortune. You had made an oath of canonical obedience to your Bishop in TEC, and you chose to follow the path of his predecessor, who is no longer in TEC. How could you have expected to retain your place in TEC while yet disagreeing with its polity and the vows you made to abide by that? However, I admire your pluck, if not your perspicacity.

  4. Matt Kennedy says:

    “Suppose I donate $100,000 to a project at my church to install stained glass windows. A couple of years later, I get angry about something and decide to go to a different church. Am I entitled to take the windows with me? Of course not. I gave the money, as a gift, to the church. If I leave, the church keeps the windows. Who paid for them is a moot point.”

    Bad analogy.

    Suppose you are a 13th English peasant. You build a straw house, occupy it, pay all the bills, cut the lawn, do the repairs etc. You live there for 30 years.

    You are loyal to the King but happen to be the vassal of a lesser nobleman and from time to time he rides about to collect an assessment. You give it willingly recognizing that this particular nobleman also pays homage to the King.

    It just so happens that at some point, your nobleman decides to revolt.

    You decide that your loyalties will remain with the king.

    The lesser nobleman decides that because your house lies within his jurisdiction, it has now become his house. He kicks you and your family out.

    Is it legal? Possibly. Is it just. Hardly.

    “Likewise, congregants gave money to build an Episcopal Church. If a bunch of people, or even most of the people, decide to leave the Episcopal Church, they are not *entitled* to take the church with them.”

    Again, that a Christian organization would claim ownership over a building it neither built, occupies, pays for, ares for, maintains or invested in in any way–kicking out those who have done all of those things for 130 years or more is morally sickening.

    In secular property law, if a landlord tried to pull that kind of thing, he’d be laughed out of court.

    “This point was uncontroversial in the Episcopal Church right up until the last few years. Who paid for the building is moot.”

    That’s simply not true and I think you know that.

    “Sadly, a tragic combination of congregationalist polity and supremacy of individual rights has taken hold in some quarters.”

    Sadly, greed, unconscionable malice, and a penchant for pettiness has taken hold in others. Hence the conflict we see today.

    “That said, if it were up to me, I’d want to reach amicable and equitable settlements with congregations in cases where the vast majority of congregants seek a new denominational home.”

    nice of you.

    “The viciousness of behavior from both sides is sinful.”

    Agreed.