Piety Hill Musings

The ramblings of the 52 year old Rector of St. John's Episcopal Church of Detroit. Piety Hill refers to the old name for our neighborhood. The neighborhood has changed a great deal in the over 150 years we have been on this corner (but not our traditional biblical theology) and it is now known for the neighboring theatres, the professional baseball and football stadiums and new hockey/basketball arena.

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Location: Detroit, Michigan, United States

Friday, January 13, 2006

Stirrings in the Diocese of Michigan

By now many have heard about one of the priests in the Diocese of Michigan leaving the Episcopal Church and taking a good number of parishioners with him. Fr. Allen Kannapell is a friend and fellow traditional-minded Episcopalian. My wife and family have spent time with his family (we both homeschool) and I value his contribution among the "Hopeful Clergy" (a group of more conservative clergy in the Diocese). The news of their departure from ECUSA has been widely distributed by on-line reporter David Virtue. His article can be found here http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/article.php?storyid=3474

The article was distributed to the St. John's email list, and there has been some fear that this is the beginning of a pogrom by the diocese/bishop to eliminate the traditionalists from the Diocese of Michigan. Below is my email response to members of our list.


Thank you Paul for sending along the article on Fr. Kannapell and the people from St. Andrew's, Livonia. It is a sad situation all the way around. First of all, the author of the article that was forwarded, David Virtue, is an old acquaintance of mine from my days in Philadelphia. He does much good work in reporting things that don't get reported in the 'mainstream' church-run press. But David has a way of reporting one side of the story, and sometimes with exaggerations.

First of all, let me assure the people on this list that St. John's is not in trouble, is not being targeted along with other traditionalists by the Bishop's office, and we do not need to devise some extrodinary defensive bunker plan in case any of the above might happen. The situation in Livonia is one which has deteriorated over the last several months, if not years. The Rector and Vestry at St. Andrews actually began to make overtures leave the diocese last spring without informing the full parish. We had a family visit St. John's this summer who left there because these plans were only revealed to the parish after the bishop's office got wind of them, and they did not want to be a part of that.

After the original confrontation in the Spring, the Bishop's office became pro-active in keeping St. Andrew's in the diocese. They were offered Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight - which means they were offered the opportunity to have another bishop take care of their spiritual needs. However, what St. Andrew's wanted was to be completely assigned to another diocese, perhaps not even in the Episcopal Church USA, something that is not permitted in the Canons of the Diocese or National Church (Canons are the rules governing the Church). Despite the Bishop's attempt to work within the Canons and to offer care for the priest and parish of St. Andrew's, they decided last week to disassociate from the Diocese and the National Episcopal Church.

The Canons are clear that those who are clergy serving as Rectors, and members of the Vestry do so in allegiance to the Episcopal Church. Once that allegiance has been broken, the vestry and priest are liable to be removed (vestry) or disciplined (clergy). Fr. Kannapell sent a letter to the parish and the bishop, dated January 5, signed by Fr. Kannapell and members of the vestry, announcing their intention to leave unless the bishop "transfer jurisdiction of this parish to an overseas primate of our choice." Bishop Gibbs cannot do this without violating the canons of the Episcopal Church, and their decision to proceed tied Bishop Gibbs hands in what he had to do, canonically.

Yes, lots of things in the past 30 years have been done by others contrary to the Canons: the attempted ordination of women in 1974, ordination of those holding views of human sexuality contrary to scripture, marriage/partnership of those involved in that lifestyle choice and now the latest - open communion of those not baptised. But as I have to remind my children "TWO WRONGS DO NOT MAKE A RIGHT!" I would hope that those of us who hold the the traditional biblical view of the Church would expect to make honesty and charity cornerstones of how we interact with the Diocese and would expect that we, and those who we interact with, will act in accordance with those Canons.

Friends, these are trying times in the Episcopal Church and our Worldwide Anglican Communion. Disagreements abound based in scripture, theology, and competing views of reality and human nature. In the coming years there is a possibility of great division in our worldwide Communion. BUT WHAT THE DEVIL REALLY WANTS is to distract us from our primary purpose to Know Christ and Make Him Known! We could spend a lot of energy wringing our hands, shaking our fists at the Diocese/National Church/Bishop(s), and devising plans to build bunkers, hide assets, or make plans to jump ahead of the decisions of the godly bishops around the world, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who are praying and discerning a way forward. But this is a distraction that can envelope us and prevent us from growing in grace!I have shared this with you before, and am not ashamed to say it again. There is one way to make changes in the Diocese and National Church. Rather than politicking, we just have to out-evangelize those whose message is contrary to the traditional apostolic teaching of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church! There is discussion about closing parishes in Detroit. Only a few parishes are growing in this diocese, and nationally the Episcopal Church is shrinking. But St. John's continues to grow; not just as a sanctuary for those fleeing theologically inventive parishes, but in the fact that many new people are coming to Christ: adults being baptised, and entire families too. This is the work of the Church! If we continue to be faithful, God will prevail in growing this parish and other biblically sound parishes that focus on preaching and teaching The Good News as Jesus has revealed Himself in scripture. Other parishes will begin to follow this example as there are changes in leadership in their parishes and they want to emulate the growth at growing parishes (change or die). Remember, in the 1970's the Diocese of Pittsburgh was among the most liberal. It is now among the most conservative. That change came by faithful witness, not jumping ship.

Already St. John's is an important part of the structure of the diocese - more now than since the the 1960's. We have parishioners who are on The Diocesan Council, Diocesan Commission on Ministry, the Deanery leadership, and the Cathedral Chapter. One parishioner (Cindy Grimwade) is first alternate to The triennial General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Other traditional clergy and laity are being appointed or elected to leadership, and they are witnessing from leadership positions to the success that comes from submission to the Truth of our 'old time religion and biblical faith'.

Additionally, Bishop Gibbs has been exceedingly supportive of St. John's, more that any other bishop in recent history. He speaks about us as an example of growth, and has allowed us to have foreign bishops (Bishop Biggers) visit, and a more traditionally minded bishop (Bishop MacBurney) to celebrate and confirm. He told diocesan council that St. John's should be considered for a scholarship for a curate. We haven't requested Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight, but Bishop Gibbs has made sure that we are cared for and supported. He is an honest, up front man. Despite our theological differences (and believe me, I don't see how he can believe some of the things the modern Church has adopted), we have an honest, up-front relationship and he doesn't hesitate to call me to the carpet when he needs and explanation from me, and vice-versa! This sort of honesty leaves room for Grace to take over and show us the way forward.

It is sad that St. Andrews Livonia and Fr. Kannapell felt conscience-driven to leave. It is sad that Bishop Gibbs had to invoke the due canonical consequence for their actions. It is sad that those who do not agree with our traditional position now have a suspicion that is this what all the traditionalists are plotting (and I have spoken on the phone with other rectors this week - no one is make plans to follow their lead). It is sad that there is one fewer priest (and possibly parish - depending on what happens to the remnant) to vote and give voice for biblical norms at our Diocesan Convention. It is sad that we have been distracted, albeit only temporarily I hope, from our primary purpose by worrying about this situation and how it might affect us.

So in a nutshell, the Vestry is not making any plans to leave, and neither am I. And I believe the bishop that he doesn't have any scheme to destroy traditional parishes through some sort of pogrom. The National Church will meet in Convention in 2006, and the International Bishops will gather in 2008. Maybe we will have some answers by then. Or maybe not - it took 300 years to settle the controversies that resulted in the Nicene Creed! Until then we are going to be faithful about preaching Jesus Christ - crucified, dead, and risen - becoming saints on His terms by a grace-filled life of prayer, sacraments, and service to others, and by sharing Him with others!