Low-budget fight-back begins in Maryland

by
02 November 2006

JIM INCE stood in the Memorial Hall at his parish church on a Tuesday night and welcomed 30 people to the latest conservative revolution in the Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA).

Not everyone in this quietly elegant room of Christ Episcopal Church, Chevy Chase, Maryland, was ready to sign up. Three were reporters, and Mr Ince welcomed six fellow parishioners "from the other side" of the denomination’s decades-long discussion of homosexuality.

Even so, Mr Ince and his fellow organisers have formed Lay Episcopalians for the Anglican Communion (LEAC) (News, 10 and 17 March). They are dreaming big. Mr Ince said that the nascent group spent only $600 on its first project, a three-question blind survey of whether Episcopalian bishops have changed their minds since a majority voted to consecrate Gene Robinson, an openly gay man with a partner, as Bishop of New Hampshire.

LEAC — Mr Ince pronounces the acronym as "Lee-Ack", and jokes that he welcomes media attention "as long they spell our name right" — plans four other initiatives, possibly including other surveys, before the General Convention convenes in June. Mr Ince was not ready to disclose the details of those initiatives, but he estimated that achieving LEAC’s dreams would cost $90,000.

Mr Ince said that LEAC’s efforts might have to include "vivid, hard-hitting, sometimes grotesque education" if Episcopalians were to be roused from their complacency.

As Mr Ince described it, LEAC is more ambitious than both the American Anglican Council and the Anglican Communion Network, its larger forebears among conservative activist groups in ECUSA.

He says that he has talked to leaders of both organisations, and he disagrees with what he describes as their strategies to save only the members of their groups from the wayward ship of the Episcopal Church. "That seems to me to be too small a goal."

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Mr Ince believes that 15 per cent of the Episcopal Church consists of conservatives who are active in trying to preserve the Church’s traditional teachings, and that liberal activists account for only five per cent. "LEAC believes there’s potential to save a lot of those people in the 80-per-cent middle."

But votes at the General Convention and diocesan conventions, and the memberships of both the AAC and the Network suggest that Mr Ince overestimates the conservative percentage, and underestimates liberal forces.

"We anticipate this is an organisation that will grow to considerable size," Mr Ince said. "Maybe it will be something like Howard Dean discovered about the potential of the internet."

He also reflected briefly on Lord Carey’s endorsement of LEAC’s survey. He said that he had approached Lord Carey while the two men were running errands one day. The former Archbishop has been serving as an assistant curate at Christ Church while doing research at the Library of Congress.

Mr Ince was initially reluctant. "I thought it could put Lord Carey in an awkward position." But, once he had approached Lord Carey, "within 15 seconds he was writing his note, on his knee, in the car."

Fighting fund allocated. The Episcopal Church has allocated $100,000 from its short-term reserves as seed money for the legal costs of dioceses and congregations caught up in property disputes, writes Pat Ashworth.

In the power struggle between liberals and conservatives, there has been a string of protracted disputes with dioceses over property rights when clergy or congregations have chosen to break away from ECUSA or affiliate themselves with other Anglican bishops or church bodies.

Some have gone right to the Supreme Court. An ad hoc Task Force on Property Disputes was set up by the House of Bishops last October, amid concerns that future litigation could jeopardise the finances of dioceses and congregations.

The Bishop of Lexington, the Rt Revd Stacy Sauls, told ECUSA’s Executive Council meeting in Philadelphia last week that it was important to be prepared for an increase in the number of property disputes.

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