Bennison makes provocative, intimidating visit to Traditionalist Parish

David Virtue DVirtue236 at AOL.COM
Wed May 9 00:03:24 EDT 2001


Special Report

By David W. Virtue

Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison made an unwelcome "provocative"
visit to St. James the Less parish on Sunday and delivered a letter to
the congregation urging them to receive an "official visitation" from
him even though the parish has left the diocese and the national
Episcopal Church.

Fr. David Ousley, the rector did not acknowledge the bishop's presence,
nor did they meet during the hour-long visitation. Bennison, brightly
dressed in red cassock appeared with about a dozen church officials and
sat in the pews. He left without speaking to the rector.

The bishop's visit was surrounded with controversy not only from a
hostile parish that sees itself as being no longer in communion with
the revisionist bishop who endorses same-sex marriages and non-celibate
homosexual priests, but from a civic association that completely
supports the parish and rector and would like Bennison to leave them

"We want Bishop Bennison and everyone in the Philadelphia region to
know how much this church means to us and to this neighborhood," said
Mr. Ralph Wynder, board spokesman for the RAH Civic Association.

"The church plays an important social and educational role in our
community and we hope that Bishop Bennison will understand this and
choose to leave the church alone," said Wynder.

"We are touched by the willingness of our neighbors to rally in support
of us," said Fr. Ousley. "We believe that our mission in this
neighborhood is a critical part of our Christian identity and therefore
we fully intend to remain here in unity with our neighbors."

In his letter Bennison said, "we recognize that you are feeling
estranged." This has got nothing to do with it, said Ousley. "We don't
feel estranged, there is a substantive division. It is a question of
truth not feeling."

"The canons of the church require the bishop to visit your parish at
least once every three years," wrote Bennison. "We are not subject to
the canons," said Ousley. We no longer belong to the Episcopal Church."

"We are astounded that he cites as evidence his good will at licensing
our associates," said Ousley. "As far as we are concerned this is
irrelevant because the associate The Rev. Arthur Willis left us for the
Orthodox Church in America."

"We do have an associate and the bishop's refusal to renew his license
in 1999 unless he left St. James was evidence of the bishops' lack of
commitment to the ministry in this place and contributed to the

Bennison wrote that he invited the rector and wardens to join in this
process with the Boston-based Public Conversation Project, (PCP) though
this is the first we have heard of it said Ousley.

"We felt that the mediation was and is the proper context for resolving
our differences, not a secular organization that would not understand
the theological differences we face.
We each appointed three people and sat down with a professional
mediator in Philadelphia."

"When Bennison said we had already been invited to the PCP the rectors
and wardens had never heard from him about it."

In an earlier letter to Bennison and the Standing Committee, the
rector, wardens and vestry of  St. James said the parish was "not in
organic union with the Diocese of Pennsylvania." The letter went on to
say "that the visit intended seems designed you assert a claim of
oversight and control, and, indeed, to practice a ministry of
intimidation. We regard the intended visit as provocative in the

Bennison's wants the "the parish move forward together". That seems
unlikely. It will now be up to Bennison to make the next move.

St. James the Less is one of "seven sisters" traditionalist parishes at
odds with the 162-parish, 65,000-member diocese. These parishes oppose
women's ordination, uphold the 1928 Prayer Book and oppose homosexual
behavior for clergy and same-sex marriages.


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