A Christmas Meditation

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 24 December 2003 0 Comments
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Our Diocese (the Diocese of the Rio Grande-Episcopal) has passed a resolution disassociating itself from the Diocese of New Hampshire over the ordination of Eugene Robinson as its bishop. We have withdrawn from our church in protest. The Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold has ignored our request for guidance on two occasions. Do you have any suggestions?


The Diocese of the Rio Grande, under the leadership of its present bishop, Terrence Kelshaw, has drifted into the backwaters of the Episcopal Church. It was once an exciting Diocese. Bishop Kelshaw had a hard time adjusting to women priests and he clearly has a hard time with the issue of homosexuality. He is not highly regarded in the House of Bishops. I remember one occasion in the House of Bishops when he was supposed to lead the House in a discussion on Evangelism. His presentation was so poorly prepared and incompetent that the vast majority of the bishops decided that they needed a coffee break or a toilet break, so more bishops were in the halls than on the floor of the House. He has very little respect in the House except among the most ultra-reactionary types and they are few in number. He is not even a leader among them.

Terry Kelshaw knows full well that Eugene Robinson's election was confirmed by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. So the whole church, at its highest decision making level, has approved New Hampshire's decision and its election. So for him to disassociate himself and the Diocese of Rio Grande from just the Diocese of New Hampshire is an empty gesture and amounts to ecclesiastical grandstanding. The honest thing for Bishop Kelshaw to do is to leave the Episcopal Church, but he knows that a significant part of the clergy and people of that diocese would not go with him. So he huffs and puffs in this silly and meaningless way. The fact is that Terry Kelshaw has not agreed with much of anything that has happened in this church in the last 50 years. But if he pulled out of the Church over this issue he knows that the dissident
movement would not survive. They need something external to be against in order not to turn on one another. His little group needs a common enemy in order to be at peace in their negativity. So don't expect him to do anything very courageous.

In the meantime what should you do? I think you should try to find another church that will nurture you and your family until The Diocese of Rio Grande realizes that the world will not stop so that they can either get off or adjust to a new reality. I'm sure there is some church in El Paso that could be your spiritual home. You do not need to leave your church in order to worship in another for a period of time. If you go this route be up front about it and tell the pastor of the church you plan to attend exactly what you are looking for, what you plan to do and why. A public witness helps to raise everyone's consciousness. The word will surely get around the city.

Another option might be to stay in your own Episcopal Parish worshipping regularly but inform your rector, your vestry and your bishop that until they rescind their attempt to dictate to a church in which they are a clear minority, you will send your weekly contribution either to the national Episcopal Church or to the Diocese of New Hampshire. If you do this loudly and publicly it will have a salutary effect and will encourage others who might be intimidated to do likewise.

In the meantime have patience, be loving, avoid anger but be firm. You will soon discover that petty people, even when they are in positions of leadership do not last long nor do they make lasting impressions.

-- John Shelby Spong




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