Mississippi’s Episcopalians to consider national ties

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 9, 2004

[2/6/04]Mississippi Episcopalians begin today their first state meeting since ordination of a gay bishop in New England last year and will consider changing their relationship with the Episcopal Church of the United States.

Delegates to the state diocese’s annual council in Hattiesburg were to consider 10 prefiled resolutions, including one that could reduce the level of money given to the national church and another to declare a “state of impaired communion” with the national church and any diocese that blesses same-gender unions.

Another would study how a parish may obtain uncontested title to its property, important because, while church members may leave, church property is centrally owned.

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The meeting is the diocese’s 177th but its first since the Episcopal Church of the United States confirmed the Rev. V. Gene Robinson of the Diocese of New Hampshire, the church’s first openly gay bishop, in August.

Episcopal churches in Vicksburg and Warren County, including Church of the Holy Trinity, Christ Church, St. Alban’s of Bovina and St. Mary’s, planned to have delegates at the meeting.

Joe Graham, attending from Holy Trinity, said the delegates are “absolutely uninstructed” and would arrive at the meeting today in time to listen to all the discussion on the proposed resolutions.

“At some point between then and the time we vote I’ll make up my mind how I’m going to vote,” Graham said. “I need a lot more information than I’ve got.”

Other Holy Trinity delegates are Bobbie Marascalco, Carol George and the Rev. Michael Nation.

From St. Alban’s are Betsy Selby, Richard Read, Ann Tompkins and the Rev. Ann Whitaker. Also from St. Alban’s, 17-year-old Kelsey Artman will represent the Old River Convocation as its youth delegate, Whitaker said. The convocation includes the churches in Warren and counties south along the Mississippi River to Woodville, she said.

State Sen. Mike Chaney, R-Vicksburg, Inez Ehrgott, Nancy Osborn and the Rev. Chan Osborn de Anaya will represent Christ Church.

No representative of St. Mary’s Episcopal Church was available.

All Saints’, an Episcopal boarding and day school in Vicksburg, would not send representatives, a spokesman for the school said.

The diocese’s bishop, the Rev. Duncan M. Gray III, said the resolutions had been being considered for some time. He added that a committee will consider them and may change them before they are brought to a vote.

“We will construct our time together so that we can have a conversation about those issues,” he said.

“My hope is that we can have a serious and charitable conversation about matters in which we are in disagreement among ourselves and with the larger church, and that we can affirm our unity in Christ as he has been known through the Episcopal Church.”

Gray voted against Robinson’s confirmation at the national convention in August, but has said the church should work to overcome factionalization.

The meeting is scheduled to end Sunday morning, with votes scheduled to take place by late Saturday.

Dioceses of other states are also having their first meetings since the Robinson decision around this time of year, and similar resolutions have been proposed by them.

The North Carolina diocese based in Raleigh and the Diocese of Florida met last weekend. The North Carolina diocese remained in line with the national church and defeated a resolution to reduce its financial contribution to the ECUSA.

The Florida diocese, as it had done the year before, allowed parishes to decide individually whether to donate to the national church and said it remained in a state of “impaired fellowship” with dioceses that supported Robinson at the convention.

The Mississippi diocese contributed 19.1 percent of its budget to the national church in 2003. The diocese’s annual budget that year was about $2.3 million. About 80 to 90 percent of that amount comes from annual contributions from individual parishes, Gray said. The national church receives a similar proportion of its revenue from its dioceses, he added.

Reduced giving from some parishes has had a ripple effect in some dioceses, reducing the amount given by dioceses to the national church.