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Hallo again to all.

Episcopal tabloid

'Convention, it has been said, usually rhymes with contention.' No doubt many who were at the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church — or who followed media reports of that convention — would be inclined to agree. Whilst musing about the recent General Convention, we happened on comments and observations about a diocesan convention in the States to elect a bishop coadjutor. We were surprised at the political tactics, the accusations, and the insults. Here is some of what we read and heard:

'We were told that they were praying for us, but we soon found that they were preying on us'.

Apparently what was called the Evangelical party 'raised a secret fund to pay the expenses of [Evangelical] lay and clerical delegates from churches outside the immediate area' so they could attend the convention and vote.

We also understood that there was 'wholesale "packing" of the diocese. [The Evangelicals] 'spared no effort to bring in to canonical residence ... clergy who would vote for their candidate ... To increase the lay vote at the Special Convention, the Evangelicals established independent missionary societies and imported Evangelical clergy from other dioceses to serve them'.

And there were accusations of secrecy and plotting: 'Like their fund for defraying the expenses of delegates, the preparations of the Evangelical party for the Special Convention were not only highly organized but secret'.

Apparently in their strident advocacy for their candidate, 'an Evangelical-controlled church newspaper assumed such a tone that [the presiding bishop] refused to receive it into his home'.

Silver forkThe run-up to convention was bad enough, but at the special electing convention 'the [elderly diocesan bishop] was personally assailed on the Convention floor, with one Evangelical spokesman asserting that he was "not a praying man" and another criticizing the Bishop's piety on the grounds that he used silver forks at his table'.

In one pre-election pamphlet, written under the pen name 'Hooker', 'the author wrote that High-Church doctrines were defended "with a spirit that had its origin in hell"'. We heard that throughout the diocese, 'emotions ... remained at a white heat. Pamphlets and counter-pamphlets came off the presses in such a quantity that the literature of only this one election for an assistant bishop forms a volume of several hundred pages... '

After the election of a high-church priest and the defeat of the Evangelical party, seeing a high-church bishop's hand in that defeat, a particularly sweeping pamphlet accused that bishop of opposition to the views

Of the Church of England,
Of the Protestant Episcopal Church in America,
Of the senior Bishop of that Church,
Of the Reformers,
Of the noble army of Martyrs,
Of the Primitive Church,
Of the glorious company of the Apostles,
Of the Word of the Most High God...

Party politics from that diocesan election continued to pursue some to the grave, apparently: When a high-church bishop died in an accident while returning from the consecration, 'some of the Evangelicals even interpreted his death as a divine judgment on his participation in such a godless act'.

In the sermon at the consecration of the elected bishop, the preacher said: 'The scenes which we have witnessed, well might we wish that they should forever pass from memory. But I would indelibly engrave them to mark the region of wild uproar and storms ... to admonish [those] to the furthest generations to shun those principles and practices which will inevitably distract, disgrace, degrade their Church and — but that she is founded on the Rock of Ages — ruin her'.

That election, dear friends, of the first assistant bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States was in 1827*. Very few remember very much about the election or the Right Reverend Henry Ustick Onderdonk, who was elected Assistant Bishop of Pennsylvania.

There are always controversies. They fade. The church still stands.

See you next week.

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Last updated: 25 June 2006

(Click for the 25 June update on Cynthia's cancer.)

* David L. Holmes, in his two-part article 'The Making of the Bishop of Pennsylvania, 1826–27' (Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church, September 1972 and June 1973), provides a brilliant and detailed narrative of this still-astonishing convention. Brief quoted excerpts in this front-page letter are drawn from his work. Another comprehensive source for the 1827 convention is The Life of the Late Right Reverend John Henry Hopkins, 'by one of his sons', 1873.

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