Vestry Members Unwittingly Confessed: Same-Sex Marriage Stance is What Ousted Calvary Church Rector
On the day before Christmas Eve, Reverend Jonathan Erdman had a heavy heart. In a somber letter to his parish, he announced his decision to resign as rector, effective January 10, 2016. Invoking Martin Luther, he explained the issue of conscience which made this decision inevitable. “After prayer and study of scripture, I am not able to approve same-sex marriage as rector of Calvary.” Jonathan would not perform a gay blessing, nor as shepherd of the flock at Calvary, could he allow one to be performed in his parish. In an act of pastoral concern for the few LGBT members of his parish this may affect, he arranged for same-sex members of Calvary to be married by other clergy at the Episcopal cathedral nearby. Predictably that was not enough.
As soon as General Convention allowed for same-sex blessings in the Episcopal Church, certain members of Calvary Church were eager to begin. I’m sure the self-righteous indignation was palpable as Fr. Jonathan informed this vestry–a different vestry from the one in place when he arrived to which his views on same-sex marriage were specifically addressed–that same-sex blessings would not take place at Calvary Church. Fr. Jonathan apparently did not give priority in his ministry to arguing from the pulpit for or against the secular social agenda strangling the ECUSA. An orthodox high churchman, graduate of Yale Divinity School, and former curate at St. Thomas 5th Avenue under the now-retired Reverend Andrew Mead, Fr. Jonathan Erdman loved and ministered to parishioners from all walks of life and of all sexual orientations. There are some that too quickly confuse the difference between withholding judgment of an individual’s sins and celebrating them (or allowing them to be celebrated under your authority) as a sacrament of the Church.
Upon the announcement of Fr. Jonathan’s resignation, the lies of those so eager to push him out began. Passing references to “other issues” appear sporadically in comments following blog articles and Facebook posts, which then go on to profess at great length the alleged overwhelming support among vestry members and parishioners for same-sex blessings. A few vestry members under pseudonyms, friends and gay partners of vestry members, and disgruntled former members of the parish mock Fr. Jonathan as a martyr to orthodoxy and try unsuccessfully to claim he resigned for other reasons, not unlike how the vestry colluded with Bishop Terry White’s gay-marriage supporting facilitators to skew a parish survey by reclassifying complaints involving Fr. Jonathan’s gay-marriage stance into any other category possible. The resulting Parish Response Team (PRT) report attempted to claim that gay-marriage was only fourth among concerns with Fr. Jonathan. However, appropriately classifying all statements made by parishioners about gay-marriage into the gay-marriage category leaves no doubt that gay-marriage was by an extraordinary margin the predominant issue voiced by parishioners at the kangaroo court facilitated by Bishop White’s appointees.
In case there remains any doubt that having same-sex blessings at Calvary Church was the purpose behind efforts to oust Fr. Jonathan, a confession by an overzealous vestry member who appears to have accidentally hit “reply all” on a damning email should leave no ambiguity about the issue which has plagued the last few months of Fr. Jonathan’s tenure as rector. On December 15, 2015, an often-absent vestry member sent a resignation letter to the vestry at Calvary Church which includes the following explanation: “It’s not necessary for me to go into all the reasons for what I initially intended to be a brief break from Calvary, to what became a decision not to return. Except for the fundamental reason. I cannot attend any church that refuses to offer the sacrament of marriage to my brothers and sisters of the LBGT community.” This confession alone would be enough, but then there is the unfortunately disseminated response to this resignation by another vestry member: “I hardly know you, but wanted to say that I believe the vast majority of parishioners at Calvary believe what you believe, and, that we are in the process of asserting our beliefs and will soon have new clergy who is in harmony with the will of the congregation. I’m sorry if it’s too late for you but these things do always take longer than any of us want them to. My best wishes to you and I would be sure that I speak for a lot of us in saying that you’d be welcome to re-join us in future months when necessary changes are in place.”
Upon learning vestry members were already telling parishioners that he would be voted out following a lengthy sabbatical suggested by Bishop White’s PRT facilitators, Fr. Jonathan suggested to Bishop White that invoking the dissolution canon may be the only way to end the relentless persecution by a single-minded vestry and protect his theologically orthodox stance as promised in General Convention Resolution A036. The bishop’s responding question is chilling and revealing, though not surprising: Would Fr. Jonathan be willing to accept a potential ruling on the bishop’s part that same-sex marriages had to be permitted at Calvary? Fr. Jonathan responded that the canons of the church make clear that the bishop is not permitted to make such a ruling. Bishop White then indicated that he was nonetheless trying to find a way to force Fr. Jonathan to allow same-sex marriage at Calvary Church. Bishop White told Fr. Jonathan he had two choices, go on a lengthy sabbatical (one the bishop agreed would not achieve reconciliation with the vestry and one which when suggested prompted one vestry member to ask if same-sex blessings could begin as soon as the sabbatical started) or simply allow same-sex blessings to be performed at Calvary Church.
Apparently Bishop Terry Allen White believed he could simply sideline the rector of a parish and invite same-sex blessings to be performed under its roof, and since Fr. Jonathan would not personally be performing such blessing, the “letter of the law” of Resolution A036 would have been honored. Respecting Fr. Jonathan’s theological diversity evidently would not require respecting his authority as rector of the parish. Does being “coerced or penalized in any manner [and/or suffering] any canonical disabilities” include forcing a rector to surrender his authority within his own parish while sin is sanctified under its roof? And even this duplicitous thinking does not explain why Bishop White released the following potentially libelous statement: “The diocese has been aware for several years of the various issues which ultimately led to the mutual agreement to end the relationship.”