Bennison to make forced visitation on Orthodox Parish
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Sat May 5 01:37:43 EDT 2001
BENNISON TO MAKE FORCED VISITATION ON ORTHODOX PARISH
Bishop backs off visits to two other evangelical parishes
By David W. Virtue
Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison will make an unwelcome
visitation to a parish that has left both the diocese and the national
Episcopal Church. Recent mediation efforts between the parish and the
Mediation efforts had been underway between the Episcopal Diocese of
Pennsylvania and the traditionalist parish of St. James the Less,
Philadelphia, and its rector Fr. David Ousley for more than two years.
During that time the parish chose not to come under any other
Mediation efforts ended May 1 without an agreement and so the bishop
says he will visit St. James this Sunday. He will sit in the pews, said
Fr. Ousley, and later distribute a letter to the parishioners about why
he should be their bishop and stay in The Episcopal Church and be
allowed to make a full visitation.
But in a letter dated April 29 to the Bishop, Standing Committee and
Diocesan Council, the parish with its rector and wardens says they
regard Bennison's visit with "grave concern". St James disaffiliated
from the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Pennsylvania over two
years ago for reasons of conscience. "The visit as intended seems
designed to assert a claim of oversight and control, and, indeed, to
practice a ministry of intimidation. We regard the intended visit as
provocation in the extreme."
Ironically Bishop Bennison recently told two other parishes, the Anglo-
Catholic Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, and the
evangelical/charismatic Church of the Good Samaritan, Paoli, PA that he
would not make unwelcome visits to their parishes. They had strongly
protested Bennison's coming because of his theological and moral
Bennison subsequently cancelled a visit scheduled for May 15 to Good
Good Sam, as it is known to locals, received assisting PA bishop
Clarence Coleridge in February and the rector Fr. Greg Brewer says he
is comfortable with him. He will come to Good Sam, June17 in place of
Bennison. Parishioners at Good Sam told the rector that because of
pastoral considerations they would not want Bishop Bennison as a
confirming bishop. Bennison agreed to step aside for Coleridge.
Bennison has visited other orthodox parishes including St. John's,
Huntingdon Valley; and All Saints', Wynnewood where he sat in the pews.
The Rev. David Ousley, expressed disappointment that mediation efforts
ended without an agreement. Bennison has said he will never let the
parish leave the diocese because of its unique history in the diocese
and the city of Philadelphia, but the congregation still hopes for a
settlement over their property and status. The parish is uniquely
placed in a neighborhood that has seen little numerical growth. It is
understood that the parish is well endowed to fight Bennison in a legal
battle should that occur.
An enforced visit such as this raises the ante for costly litigation.
The canons require Bennison to make at least one full visitation to
each parish in the diocese once every three years. Because of
Bennison's views the parish left the diocese and does not recognize his
The parish, which has 125 members, is one of the "seven sisters"
orthodox parishes aligned with Forward in Faith, North America (FIFNA).
They oppose Bennison and other revisionist ECUSA bishops on issues like
the authority of Scripture, women's ordination and homosexual behavior.
"Speaking with one voice, we urge you to reconsider this course of
action," they wrote.
Ousley said that details of the failed mediation would be reported to
parishioners at their annual meeting this Sunday. A professional
mediator from the outside would be named.
"The diocesan representatives want to discuss reaffiliation," said
Ousley. Parish representatives said they would discuss that "on the
condition that if we failed on that, we would go on to discuss
property. Since we ended without an agreement, it's safe to conclude we
didn't agree on either.
"The diocese thinks they own the property. We believe the evidence
shows that it belongs to us," Ousley said. "The property is titled in
our name, the diocese has never put in any money here, and we are
unaffiliated with the Diocese of Pennsylvania."
Bennison has requested mediation efforts be conducted by a secular
corporation called the Public Conversation Project, a Boston group that
helps disputants identify common ground.
This may delay the inevitable some note. Bennison is playing for time
but at the end of the day it will be recognized that two religions now
exist in ECUSA and only will be standing when it is all over.
A story in The Philadelphia Inquirer story connected Bennison's desire
not to play hardball with increasing scrutiny by overseas Anglican
leaders who are distinctly conservative in theology. But Bennison is
also coming up short from his fellow liberals, many of whom regard him
as "disconnected" and his missionary program to jump start the diocese
a disastrous non-starter.
Under the previous bishop, Allen Bartlett, flying bishops came to All
Saints' and other traditionalist parishes, but Bennison reneged on that
promise when he became bishop.
Fr. David Moyer, Good Shepherd, Rosemont, said he does not regard
deadlines and veiled ultimatums as conducive to open mutual respect.
Moreover, they stated that Bennison "has demonstrated, on numerous
occasions in his dealings with us and with others, that he is not a man
of his word."
Moyer is critical of Bennison because the diocese has rejected the
authority of Scripture, and accepted women's ordination and the
ordination of persons openly co-habiting with members of the same sex.
It has broken communion with the Church Catholic," he said.
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