In the end, the Edwardsville church and its bishop just couldn't get along.
So after three years of increasingly ugly bickering, members of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church have asked a bishop across the river to take them under his wing. At least for a while, until things cool down -- say, three to five years.
The church in Edwardsville says its bishop, Peter H. Beckwith of the Episcopal diocese of Springfield, Ill., a theological conservative, has refused to provide pastoral care. Things came to a head last year when Beckwith refused to confirm a lesbian, and, later, anyone at all at St. Andrew's. In retaliation, two of the church's eucharistic ministers -- lay people who help the priest during communion -- refused to accept the Eucharist from Beckwith.
In response, he stripped all 15 of St. Andrew's eucharistic ministers of their licenses.
The story is really well-written and chock full of details. He puts the local story in perspective. It turns out that Bishop Beckwith was one of the American bishops who asked the Archbishop of Canterbury for different oversight after the recent election of a female to the post.
I do want to raise one point with the piece. Note how Townsend describes why the bishops asked for new oversight:
They were angry that the American church had elected a progressive leader, Katharine Jefferts Schori of Nevada.
Note how he describes why a plan for alternative oversight was developed:
To appease angry conservative congregations, the church's House of Bishops developed a plan in 2004 that allowed disgruntled parishes to separate from their bishops and seek leadership elsewhere.
I am not sure if "angry" is the best word to describe the response of traditional Episcopalians to the doctrinal changes their church is undergoing. Not that they're not angry -- but some bishops have a doctrinal problem and are seeking a way to address it. It emphasizes an emotional response at the expense of a global theological rift.
Also note the unanswered quote from St. Andrew's Rector Virginia Bennett about Ed Salmon of South Carolina, one of the potential alternative bishops they've asked for:
"We might not see eye to eye every day, but we need a bishop who would love us, and Ed would."
Townsend is a great reporter. If a story is significant, he'll look at it from different angles over days or weeks. I hope that in future coverage, he will let traditionalists respond to the idea that church discipline is not pastoral or loving.
Church discipline is a difficult issue to cover. If he covers it, I think Townsend will find many pastors say that discipline should be motivated by love and concern for an unrepentant sinner or congregation. In other words, pastors are so worried about their parishioners' salvation that sometimes they take drastic action to bring the unrepentant sinners back to a right understanding.
It would be a shame if that action -- apart from the theological difference at play here -- were characterized solely as unloving, unpastoral or angry.