Sunday, December 14, 2008

Change of Heart: Diocese of Rio Grande

RIO GRANDE: Diocese disaffiliates from Anglican Communion Network: Standing committee unanimously reaffirms commitment to The Episcopal Church.

"Now that is a headline I can get behind."

Pat McCaughlan reports for the Episcopal News Service. This story first aired yesterday, December 12, 2008.

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande voted unanimously at its December 9 meeting to disaffiliate from the Anglican Communion Network and to reaffirm its commitment to The Episcopal Church.

"In response to the announcement that the Anglican Communion Network (ACN) has chosen to leave the Episcopal Church and join in forming the Anglican Church in North America, the Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande voted unanimously to disaffiliate from the ACN," according to a December 11 press release. "The Area Deans, and the Cathedral Dean, added their unanimous endorsement to this action of the Standing Committee."

The Very Rev. Mark Goodman, dean of the Cathedral of St. John in Albuquerque, said the ACN's future direction had been a source of concern for several months. "The threshold was reached on December 3 when the network moved its allegiance under the Common Cause Partnership and the new province," said Goodman, who is not a member of the standing committee.

He added that the diocese is "a pretty diverse mix. I think the picture people have in their mind about the Diocese of Rio Grande being a very conservative and evangelical diocese is, in many ways, not an accurate picture of where we are today.

"There are a good many parishes, the Cathedral being one, that are diverse theologically and socioeconomically; the differences with the Episcopal Church were differences of primarily the (former) episcopal leadership."

The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey N. Steenson was elected the diocese's eighth bishop on October 24, 2004. He had served as canon to the ordinary under Bishop Terence Kelshaw, who had joined 20 other bishops in dissociating from General Convention 2003's decision to ratify the election of an openly gay bishop. Kelshaw retired in 2004 and subsequently joined the Anglican Church of Uganda.
Steenson announced his resignation September 25, 2007, in order to join the Roman Catholic Church.
Retired Bishop William C. Frey of Colorado is serving as assisting bishop; a search process for the ninth bishop of Rio Grande is in its early stages, according to the diocesan website.

The standing committee's statement acknowledged congregations "who have sympathy with the work of the Anglican Communion Network" and offered reassurance that "they are valued parts of the Body of Christ that is the Diocese of the Rio Grande."

Goodman said that "a good many parishes and congregations … see their relationship with the leadership of the national church in a much more positive way. That's not to say everyone agrees with everything, but I think there's a sense of positive engagement and wanting to be part of TEC and seeing that as something to be worked toward."

While some congregations may still feel estranged from TEC as well as decisions of Executive Council and General Convention, "most of those congregations are remaining engaged and working hard to do so," he added.

The Rev. Peter Frank, ACN communications director, did not return telephone calls on Friday.

The diocese was formed in 1952 from the Missionary District of New Mexico and Southwest Texas and covers an area of 153,394 square miles. Geographically it is the largest diocese in the contiguous United States, according to the release.

The diocese includes 58 congregations representing about 20,000 Episcopalians and encompasses the entire state of New Mexico and the area west of the Pecos River, which includes El Paso and western Texas to the border with Mexico along the Rio Grande.

-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for the dioceses of Province VIII. She is based in Los Angeles.

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