I am sorry to say that I can’t share my friend Phil Terzian’s pleasure that a court in Virginia has ruled that the Episcopal Church can reclaim property from a so-called breakaway Anglican group.
Phil says: “If people want to abandon the Episcopal Church, they are free to do so; but they cannot take historic Church property with them, or deprive Episcopalians of their parish homes.”
But who has abandoned the Episcopal Church? I would argue that the real abandoners of the Episcopal Church more rightly include those who have kept the miters and want to keep the property but have ditched all semblance of doctrine.
Of course, the Episcopal Church always had a certain latitude regarding faith and morals (good taste, not so much), but sadly it has become in many ways a post-Christian institution. This was most recently and outlandishly manifested in the first sermon given by the Rt. Rev. Marianne Budde in her capacity as spiritual leader of Episcopalians in the nation’s capitol. The bishop took as her text a poem by New Age poet David Whyte and referred to “Jesus and all of the great spiritual masters before and after him.”
Long ago, back when I was an Episcopalian, Christ was the Son of God, which ranks even higher than a “great spiritual master.” I have many dear friends like Phil who are hanging in there with the Episcopal Church, and I don’t want to offend them. I know the love that the Episcopal Church inspired in all of us. I will always be grateful that my parents — the two least literary people you’d ever meet — gave me the gift of hearing Thomas Cranmer’s English as a living thing.
But I am willing to bet that the people buried in historic cemeteries on Episcopal Church property would hardly recognize what their church has become. They might even hope that those who stand for the Church’s historic character be allowed to have the historic properties.
Of course, property is a matter of law, not sentiment. I am only sorry that the Episcopal Church has decided to spend so much money suing for property. I wish the church as a whole would follow the path of the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, the highly orthodox bishop in South Carolina who has sent quitclaim deeds to all the churches in his diocese. That way parishes get decide about the property — in all likelihood bought and endowed by their ancestors — rather than Episcopal HQ in New York.
I must admit that I suffered greatly when I had to give up the old Book of Common Prayer (the ’28 version!) upon swimming the Tiber. But now Pope Benedict XVI has given it back to us with his invitation for groups for former Episcopalians to bring our beautiful patrimony into the Catholic Church.
Speaking of which, may I invite you to join the St. Thomas of Canterbury Anglican Use Society in a festive Evensong to celebrate the erection of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter for former Anglicans and Episcopalians and the appointment of the new ordinary, Father Jeffrey Steenson?
Evensong is one of the most beautiful and characteristically Anglican of liturgies. Ours will be at St. Anselm’s Abbey, January 21, at 4 p.m. I can promise splendid music and reverent language, and, being former Episcopalians, we will lay on something more exciting than coffee at the coffee hour immediately following the service.