Two very real theological problems facing Continuing Churchmen and other members of the Anglican Diaspora are about sacraments that have been corrupted by the Episcopal Church in the United States. One is the problem of their current Confirmation Rite (addressed previously by me) and another is the problem of their orders. I have long been accustomed to treating both of these as invalid, following the lead of Bishop Joel Marcus Johnson who openly teaches that Confirmation by the 1979 alleged Book of Common Prayer is not valid, and also that, in its current state as an heretical sect, we cannot treat as valid the orders of the Episcopal Church. Most Continuing Churchmen would agree with this position.
Imagine, then, my consternation when being forced out of the Church of the Atonement by a penny wise bishop, only to see my congregation, the people I had been pastoring for almost two years, given into the care of a man whose only background and “ordination” came from the modern, as in current, Episcopal Church. Here I must speak as eyewitness to a tragedy. In February of this year I was approached by a man who was considering that he might leave the Episcopal Church, having served as a deacon in the Phoenix area for five years, helping right up until the time we met, to build a church in which he, every week, was quite willing to send children into a Sunday School class that was taught by an openly lesbian woman that was raising a child with her partner. He was helping to build this church while men, homosexual lovers, would openly walk up to the altar rail hand in hand in front of the same children after their return from Sunday School. His defense in this matter was that he was trying to be a witness for Christ in such a setting, a defense I find weak.
A retired man, without need for any income from the church, he arranged to fly to Tulsa Oklahoma in March and meet the Rt. Rev. Frederick Morrison, Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of the Southwestern States, Anglican Province of Christ the King, where the two of them discussed his desire (almost stated as a demand) to become a priest, and his promise that, if he were placed in my church, he would bring in hundreds of people who would follow him, and obtain a very large contribution from a widow who has over 33 million dollars, and that he would never need any income from the church (unlike me, a man who was paid a salary from a combination of church funds and Diocesan funds, the Mission having been very small when I took it over in August of 2005). Bishop Morrison called me from Tulsa a week later, and told me that he was bringing in this man to serve as a deacon in the Church of the Atonement. I asked him if he was sure the man really was a deacon, since his only “ordination” came from the Episcopal Church. He did not answer this question. The fact is, at no time was the bishop willing to question the man’s background, or to probe into the problem of holy orders within the heretical sect known as the Episcopal church.
Well, the hundreds of people who followed turned out to be, in reality, one lady and a very nice couple. That was it. Nonetheless, the alleged deacon was able to keep another promise: He was able to live without any money from the church. And, because the Bishop and Rector of the Mission, Bishop Morrison, appointed him there “to serve as a deacon,” my doubts about his orders were overruled.
Stage two of the process was to get rid of me. From the “deacon’s” perspective, this was so that he could be in charge of my church while somehow preparing to become a priest. And from the bishop’s perspective, getting rid of me was a good way to save money (besides which, he had often made it known that he really wanted to close the church, and sell the property, usually a good way to depress and discourage me in the work I was doing). I answered Bishop Frederick Morrison’s call to move my family 2,500 miles, from Maryland to Arizona, so that his Mission could have a priest, giving up the job and ministry I had in order to do so. I performed my duties exactly as he directed, and according to my gifts, education and experience. I never heard any complaint from him, but only praise from him and all the other bishops of the Province of Christ the King. Nonetheless, on Monday in Easter week, while I was thoroughly exhausted from all the services of Holy Week, I received Bishop Morrison’s letter, dated on Good Friday, firing me and telling me that his Grace would be impossible to reach since he was taking a much needed post-Easter vacation. This was, of course, the most convenient time for him to give me the sack, since he could avoid talking to me. The immediate result of this unexpected letter was that my wife passed out and was hospitalized (Bp. Morrison was later informed about this, as soon as he returned from his restful vacation. He showed no concern at all, never calling or writing to ask how she was). There was no severance pay, none whatsoever, and it cost us $10,000.00 (not that we had such an amount. Without the help of my elderly parents we would have been stranded) simply to get back to Maryland in order to avoid being made homeless.
The Lord provided for our family, and we did get back to the Eastern Shore, and will finish our move into the Saint Andrew’s Rectory on July 2. But, as a pastor I feel like a man who has been forced to give his children over to a stranger. When I arrived in Arizona, this congregation knew almost nothing about the substance of their faith. My job, I was told, was to elevate the liturgy. First, however, I had to elevate the understanding, that is, to teach with patience. And, it was working, in fact working very well. But now, these dear people are in the hands of an Episcopalian, someone who may mean well, but who came full of the silliness, ignorance and presumption of that sect. That does not mean that he endorses the Episcopal Church’s immoral views on abortion or sexual license; but, it does mean that he needed time to learn from us and, at least, to be checked out by the Diocesan Standing Committee. He was, when last I spoke with him about it, unwilling to take a stand against women's "ordination."
On what basis, I must ask, has Bishop Frederick Morrison given a Mission church over to a deacon of the Episcopal Church after meeting him only one month before? How can churches of his diocese be treated to such reckless and irresponsible behavior? Aside from the question of orders, is it reasonable to give this kind of responsibility, the cure of souls, to a man who is virtually unknown? And, of course, on what basis are the orders of an heretical sect treated as if they are valid? Is the Apostolic Succession merely a relay race without the need for at least enough theology for the most minimal sacramental Intention? I have called on the bishops of the APCK to investigate these facts, and have Bp. Morrison face charges that could lead to possible deposition from the sacred ministry. But, I expect no action to be taken.
So now, does the APCK recognize as valid the orders of the Episcopal Church in its current condition? What does it take to notice that a sect is heretical?
The following statement was prepared by the Rt. Rev. Joel Marcus Johnson:
STATEMENT: The Reverend Robert Warren Hart, II, thanks you for your inquiry regarding his removal from the Mission Church of The Atonement, Anglican Province of Christ the King (APCK), Fountain Hills, Arizona, which he has served as Vicar since August, 2005. On Easter Monday, Fr. Hart received a letter dated April 6, Good Friday, 2007, from The Rt. Rev. Frederick G. Morrison, Ordinary of the APCK’s Diocese of the Southwestern States. Fr. Hart was informed of his immediate termination, without cause, and that he would be paid through Easter week. His keys were confiscated the next day by Mr. Daniel Robling, a deacon of The Episcopal Church (TEC), who was appointed in-charge of the mission by Bp. Morrison. As Bp. Morrison was on holiday during the Octave of Easter, he was unavailable for any clement discussion with Fr. Hart. Any subsequent corporal work of mercy was denied by Bp. Morrison in response to Fr. Hart’s plea for himself, Mrs. Hart and their family, in their hour of peril. During Fr. Hart’s twenty months of service at Church of The Atonement, he had received no complaints regarding his priestly work from either communicants or Bp. Morrison, and had received neither reprimands nor godly admonitions from the Bishop. For reasons unknown, Fr. Hart received no communications from Bp. Morrison for approximately three weeks prior to his termination, and none afterward. Citing scripture, Fr. Hart has declined to sue Bishop Morrison and the Diocese of the Southwestern States. Subsequently, Fr. Hart has returned to the Anglican Diocese of The Chesapeake, in which he has been canonically resident since his ordination to the priesthood in 1999 by The Rt. Rev. Joel Marcus Johnson, Bishop of The Chesapeake. Bishop Johnson has appointed Fr. Hart as Canon Theologian, with oversight for The Dahlgren Memorial Theological Library and its staff, and for the Home at Nazareth Institute and its seminarians. He will continue as a Contributing Editor of Touchstone Magazine, writing for other journals, and with a work in progress on the Jewish prophecy of the Christian Sacraments, aiming at publication in 2008. Wishing no spectacle to be made of his life and vocation, this is the only statement issued on Canon Hart’s behalf regarding this anguished incident. Canon Hart and his family now reside in the Rectory of St. Andrew Anglican Church, where he has rejoined the clergy staff. He may be reached at The St. Andrew Rectory, 215 Goldsborough Street, Easton, Maryland 21601.