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SPRINGFIELD: Springfield's 129th Synod: "We are One in the Spirit"

By Deborah Zacher

Bishop Peter Beckwith speaks with a priest during the Diocese of Springfield.    

[Episcopal News Service]  The Episcopal Diocese of Springfield, Illinois met for its 129th Synod October 27-28, hosted by St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Alton.

"Our national leadership has no intention of taking the Windsor Report seriously," said Bishop Peter Beckwith in his Synod address. "They have adopted secular values and rejected orthodoxy. It challenges the appropriateness of the Episcopal Church to claim the title Christian."

Beckwith is vice president of the American Anglican Council (AAC) and Vice President and chairman of its bishops network. The diocese has joined the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (NACDP) and the bishop recently requested Alternative Primatial Oversight (APO).

Beckwith warned that some congregations in the diocese are struggling.

"The membership of the Diocese of Springfield has decreased from 7,300 to 5,900 members since 2002," he said. "From 1995-2003 contributions rose from $2,650,000 to $3,600,000, dropped $200,000 in 2004 and were up $50,000 in 2005. Two congregations, St. Anne's, Caseyville and St. Alban's, Olney, have suspended operations. I count eight other congregations that are in jeopardy of suffering the same fate."

Edward Robinson de Barros Cavalcanti, deposed bishop of the Diocese of Recife in Brazil, preached at the October 28 Eucharist.

"We became companion partners with the Diocese of Recife when we learned they were being attacked and persecuted for their stands," said Beckwith. "As you know they have recently ordained another bishop."

Beckwith said Cavalcanti was admonished by the province. "When Central Pennsylvania dropped them as their companion diocese we picked them up as ours," he said.

Springfield also has a companion diocese relationship with the Diocese of Barbados. Frank B.H.H. Marshall, dean of that diocese's Cathedral Church of St. Michael and All Angels, preached at the October 27 Evensong.

The Rev. James O. Cravens, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, in Lincoln, Illinois attempted to amend the budget to reduce an increase in Beckwith's compensation from 8 percent to 3.3 percent, the equivalent of Social Security's latest cost-of-living increase.

"The diocesan outreach fund has been reduced by almost half in two years from $101,000 to $57,000," said Cravens. "The bishop has had an 18.9% increase over two years. I would be very surprised if any priest in this diocese received that kind of increase."

"It's not about Peter Beckwith, it's about support of the bishop," said the Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Langford, diocesan Division of Administration and Finance director. Langford quoted an Episcopal Church study of bishops' compensation in comparable dioceses and said Beckwith was the lowest paid of that group.

Tom Carr of St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, Salem, said it is difficult to explain to the congregation that there has been a decrease in almost every part of the budget except the episcopate.

Chuck Evans of St. George's, Belleville, said 20 percent of the total income in the diocese's 1994 budget supported the episcopate; in 2007 that expenditure is up to 32 percent.

Cravens' request for a vote by paper ballot on his proposed amendment to the budget failed on a vote by orders. His amendment was defeated by a standing vote. He said he requested a written ballot because it was more accurate, due to intimidation of those who disagree with the majority.

Miriam Burns of St. Andrew's, Edwardsville expressed similar concerns to Beckwith on the second day of Synod.

"My priest [the Rev. Dr. Virginia Bennett] is not here today because she feels intimidated by your behavior," said Burns.

St. Andrew's made a formal request to Bishop Beckwith for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) in a letter dated October 8, alleging that Beckwith refused to confirm people at St. Andrew's and criticized Bennett for her vote in 2003 as a 2003 General Convention deputy in support of Gene Robinson's election as bishop of New Hampshire.

"The best thing I can say at this point is that this coming week the Archdeacon and I will be discussing how we can proceed," said Beckwith.

On October 29, Susan Lukasik of St. Paul's, Alton, asked Beckwith to explain Alternative Primatial Oversight (APO) and say if the request meant he wants to leave the Episcopal Church.

Beckwith said his request changes nothing canonically. "To change that requires action of this body. I can't lead this diocese out of ECUSA," he said. "There will come a time when we will have to choose. APO will affect you indirectly but not directly. Our diocese is an Anglican Communion Network (ACN) diocese because of the action of Council. How has that affected you?"

Richard Noel of Emmanuel Memorial Episcopal Church, Champaign, asked Beckwith if he would prefer to have oversight from a primate from the Global South rather than Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts-Schori.

"Yes, I would be much happier with a Primate from Nigeria or the Southern Cone, somewhere such as Recife," said Beckwith.

"For me this is not about women's ordination," said Beckwith. "We have women clergy in this diocese because of my leadership. I didn't have to allow it. I said that gender is not an issue for ordination. It is not about sexuality either. The standard is marriage between a man and a woman. It's about moral theology, what God calls us to and what it means."

Springfield is one of seven of the Episcopal Church's 111 dioceses and convocations that originally requested a relationship with an Anglican primate other than the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, in what is being called Alternative Primatial Oversight (APO). The others were Central Florida, Dallas (which requested a relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury), Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Quincy, San Joaquin and South Carolina. The bishops of Fort Worth, Quincy and San Joaquin refuse to ordain women to the priesthood or deploy women priests in their dioceses.

Only the Diocese of Quincy's convention has ratified the APO requests. Dallas Bishop Jim Stanton said recently that he had withdrawn his request for a "direct primatial relationship" with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, South Carolina and Springfield all have annual conventions later this year. Central Florida's convention is set for late January.
"We should be anticipating the next meeting of the Primates in February 2007 and the Lambeth Conference of Bishops in 2008," he said. "If Gene Robinson is invited to the Lambeth Conference I hope every Bishop will go and we'll have it out. If the Global South doesn't go to Lambeth I'm not going to Lambeth. There is no purpose in it."

"I am concerned that we have become a fractured communion of parishes and missions," said Marilynn Belleville of St. George's following Synod. "Everyone is on pins and needles and doesn't know who they can talk to. Our diocese is being run by the missions and supported by the parishes. This is one of the reasons why the parishes were fighting the Bishop's pay increase. They are paying for it. It's like taxation without representation."