Yesterday the oldest recognized parish in the Diocese of the Rio Grande, the Pro-cathedral of St. Clement's in El Paso held a congregational vote to divorce themselves from the Diocese and TEC.
Recently I began to read a history of our Diocese written by a past bishop, the Rt. Rev. Stoney, an interesting (at least to a geek like me!) account of the challenges, hardships, and successes of the pioneering folk who dedicated their lives to the growth of an Episcopal presence in what was and still is, in some areas, a beautiful yet harsh environment. The book is named "Lighting the Candle" for those interested in the history of TEC in New Mexico & Texas "west of the Pecos".
St. Clement's plays an significant and recurrent role throughout the history. So, witnessing the parish's withdrawal from the Diocese while i've been reading +Stoney's book has been odd as well as sad.
Our local diocesan message board has been abuzz with questions about our Bishop's negotiations with St. Clement's Provost & Vestry over pastoral and property concerns. There are rumors and allusions to a property settlement between Bishop Jeffrey Steenson, the Diocesan Standing Committee and the St. Clements's clergy and vestry. However, details are sketchy, and the Diocesan leadership is so far keeping the details to themselves. The (unconfirmed) gossip is that the agreement apparently involves an escrow payment of 2 million dollars to the Diocese for the historic parish property & buildings, which are apparently worth much more.
Though it troubles me that our Diocesan leadership has been less than transparent thus far with regards to their negotiations & settlement with the St. Clement's secessionists, it's the statements from St. Clement's Rector, William Cobb, which bother me the most.
For example, a copy of a 'pre-vote' letter from Bishop Jeffrey to the St. Clements parishioners was circulated on the diocesan message board a couple of weeks ago. In this very pastoral & caring letter, +Jeffrey addressed specifically the feelings of the secession-leaning parishioners, even stating that he was sympathetic to their position (he is a 'Windsor' Bishop, after all). Mr. Cobb's response? To snipe in a very contentious way about the two sentences wherein the Bishop gently & quite rightly reminded them of the TEC stance regarding parish property, the fiduciary responsibilities he is legally charged with, and his strong desire to negotiate a mutually agreeable settlement & avoid litigation. This was all Mr. Cobb responded to, completely ignoring that the Bishop clearly was inclined to negotiate favorably with the St. Clement's vestry, insofar as his legal responsibilities allowed.
In an article published in the El Paso Times last week, Mr. Cobb stated:
the Church of St. Clement of El Paso began as a mission in 1870, received its original charter in 1889, and predated the formation of the diocese by 60 years. Members built and paid for the church themselves, and we own our own deeds and titles. Why should we leave the property and buildings?
What utter spin. Several parishes here predate the recognition of the Diocese of the Rio Grande in the 1950s. None of them predate the establishment of the PECUSA Missionary district which preceded diocesan status. Also, Mr. Cobb completely ignores the support, both monetary & pastoral, given to the parish & their clergy from the national church throughout the early decades of our district.
Then again, why should i be surprised at the dishonorable actions of a fellow who would willfully break the vows of his ordination? No matter what argument someone might make to support the errant Rector, the fact that he has abandoned his ordination oaths cannot be denied.