A few days ago, news broke that the deal between the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles and the developer who planned to rebuild the land associated with the parish of St. James the Great had fallen through. In conjunction with that news, the diocese announced that the building would not be returned to the parish, but instead would be treated as a “bishop’s chapel.” The news is nothing short of disgraceful, and both Bishop Taylor and the standing committee should be ashamed of their appalling conduct in this matter.
By way of background, the physical plant was reclaimed from the so-called Anglicans, who lost multiple court cases in which they had claimed the right to seize Episcopal assets for their own use.
Shortly after, Episcopal Bishop Bruno encouraged the parish to work towards health and wholeness. It appears that it did exactly that, and successfully.
In the meantime, however, Bishop Bruno appears to have agreed in secret to sell the building. Loyalists objected to that, and his alleged deception, and filed a Title IV disciplinary case against the bishop.
At the end of the day, the loyalists won. Bishop Bruno is on his way out the door, and the national church has recommended that the diocese and parish begin working towards reconciliation.
But, in true Bishop Bruno fashion, Bishop Taylor has criticized parishioners, claiming that they have behaved badly. But that is disingenuous; parishioners faced with abusive conduct by their bishop may well engage in counterproductive behavior, and that should neither come as a surprise, nor be treated as reflecting badly on the victims of Bishop Bruno’s abuse.
Meanwhile. Bishop Taylor apparently did not talk directly with members of the parish, but instead sent out a press release via email announcing that the building would be a “bishop’s chapel.” But even the most basic notions of respect suggest that those affected by Taylor’s actions should be the first to know. Yet they found out from the media? How does that work? And how does it further the goal of reconciliation?
Moreover, +Taylor has said that guest and supply clergy will officiate at the new, “bishop’s chapel.” This, despite the fact that canon Cindy Vorhees, vicar of the church, and the members, want to move back into their building. Now Bishop Taylor appears to be backtracking, saying that, under the right circumstances, Cindy will be welcome to officiate. But that is a red herring; Cindy and her parishioners deserve to be returned to the property, no questions asked. Issues beyond that are matters for Title IV, or for the bishop to intervene if there are breakdowns in governance. But unless and until those occur, the parish should have the right to democratic self governance.
This comports with church canons, which provide that the primary ownership interest in parish assets is held by the parish, as long as it remains within The Episcopal Church (TEC). If that fails, then and only then do the diocese and the national church have the right to exercise their trust interests in the assets.
St. James the Great has done its utmost to remain within TEC, even when Bishop Bruno tried to shut it down. That was one of the bases of their successful Title IV disciplinary case against Bishop Bruno. And yet now it has no claim to its own assets?
If that is the case, Bishop Taylor has pulled a bait-and-switch, and, as an ethical matter, is obligated to return to parishioners their gifts to the church. After all, they did so with the understanding that they were giving to their parish. Now that +Taylor claims that the parish has somehow magically dissolved, despite the clear provisions of the canons. Yes, I get that the diocese was the entity that wrested assets back from the dissidents, but at the end of the day the building ws paid for overwhelmingly by members of the parish, and not by the diocese.
This all sounds suspiciously like Bishop Taylor and members of the standing committee are trying to punish the “uppity” Cindy Vorhees, vicar of the parish.
I urge the the diocese to embrace a good thing, and welcome a group of loyal Episcopalians into fuller communion with the diocese. It’s time for a “Welcome Home,” party for Cindy and her parishioners, a celebration of homecoming and Thanksgiving, and heartfelt efforts at healing and reconciliation. Nothing more. Nothing less. Just focus on welcome and heal.
Press releases about the future of the building, pointedly vague comments about discernment and the parish, and the other fun and games simply serve to make the diocese of LA and Bishop Taylor look bad.
Moreover, if the diocese indeed believes, as appears to be the case, that Cindy Vorhees and her parishioners have behaved badly, Bishop Taylor has ample resources available to him to address those issues. Specifically, to my knowledge, the diocese would still hold title to the physical assets—how would it hurt to allow the parish to move back in, to worship, and to be near the remains of family members interred in the columbarium?
If bad behavior were to occur, Bishop Taylor would have access to the full range of Title IV solutions, as well as various practical solutions. That includes locking the doors to the church. That said, it seems unlikely that this would be an issue, for none other that the national Title IV panel has noted that Cindy has been very compliant with Bishop Bruno’s directives, even when possibly not in her best interest.
In short, Bishop Taylor, you are sounding increasingly like Bishop Bruno. While you claim you desire health and healing, your actions suggest that you seek a very different outcome.