PLATTSBURGH — Clair “Toby” Touby and others are concerned that Bishop William Love is trying to lead the Diocese of Albany out of the Episcopal Church altogether.

“He says he is not going to leave, but actions speak louder than words,” Touby said.

Touby, who lives in Saranac Lake, is the president of Albany Via Media, a group of moderate to liberal Episcopalians. He has been urging parishioners to attend a series of meetings Love has held throughout the diocese in the past few weeks.

Love will be at Trinity Episcopal Church in Plattsburgh at 5 p.m. Tuesday for a prayer session and to discuss the Episcopal Church’s General Convention, which took place in July in Anaheim, Calif.

“We have sincere questions about what (Love) means by ‘not leaving the church,’” Touby said.



GAY CLERGY

The Episcopal Church has been split on the issue of gay clergy since Bishop V. Gene Robinson was elected by the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire as the church’s first openly gay bishop in 2003.

At the General Convention in July, Episcopal bishops voted to reaffirm that the ordained ministry is open to gays and lesbians.

That vote was opposed by conservative bishops, including Love.

Albany Diocese rules, however, do not allow same-sex unions or blessings of same-sex unions.



DIVISION

Touby believes there may be more issues causing the divide, but he thinks the issue of sexuality “has been seized upon by conservatives because it will get them more backing.”

He is optimistic that most Episcopalians want to remain in the church.

“Most Episcopalians believe in an open church that invites all people and that we have no intention of discriminating against anyone for any reason,” Touby said.

However, he has reason to foresee a greater divide on the horizon.

This past summer, four Episcopal dioceses left the church and joined a religious group named the North American Anglican Communion.

“They are trying to make it a parallel church in the Anglican community that is not subject to the Episcopal Church rules,” Touby said.

“They are attempting to set up this new province of the church, and I don’t think they are going to be successful. But I don’t know.”



CHURCH PROPERTY

On Sept. 1, Love and other conservative bishops traveled to London to hold a private meeting with Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, to discuss the General Convention and the Anglican community.

Touby says that conservative clergy have been looking for ways to break from the Episcopal Church and take church property with them.

According to Touby, Episcopal churches are founded at the diocese level, but it is understood that the property itself belongs to the Episcopal Church of the United States.

He said the goal of some actions by conservative clergy is to overcome consistent court rulings that any Episcopal property must stay within the Episcopal Church.

“If these conservative people want to leave, they need to do so without taking the endowments and all of the property of the church,” Touby said.

“(Conservatives) have been trying to change that so courts will allow them to hold church property.”



MOVEMENT

As many as 20 other Episcopal dioceses are experiencing challenges related to differing views on sexuality and the direction handed down at the General Convention, according to Touby.

He is unsure if a church would be able to move out of one diocese and into another, as dioceses are established based on geographic areas.

“To the best of my knowledge, there is nothing in the Episcopal Church that makes that possible.”



‘SCARE TACTICS’

Love has said at previous meetings, which drew as many as 125 laity members, that the discord in the church is the work of Satan.

Touby said he, too, believes in Satan but does not agree with bringing the subject into the conversation.

“I have an aversion to the use of scare tactics, in life, in politics and in a community of faith.”

When the Press-Republican tried to contact Love, the diocese directed reporters to the Rev. Bob Haskell, the bishop’s assistant. Love has not spoken to media outlets about issues discussed in the meetings.

Haskell said he does not think the meetings the bishop is holding are controversial.

“The purpose of these meetings is for Bishop Love to speak about what went on at our denomination’s General Convention in July and to explain some of the issues and explain where he is on the issues.”

Haskell preferred not to attempt to summarize Love’s position on the topics to be discussed at Tuesday’s meeting.



DOCTRINE VS. DISCIPLINE

The Rev. A. Wayne Schwab of Trinity Episcopal Church in Plattsburgh, who is also president of the religious organization Member Mission Network Inc., said that what the church decides about sexuality is a matter of discipline, not doctrine.

There are only two doctrines that all Christians are asked to follow: the Trinity and the Divinity of Jesus, Schwab said.

“Who gets ordained and blessed is a matter of discipline, and that can vary from province to province. What I think we are struggling with is whether or not the blessing of homosexuality is doctrine or discipline.”

The Episcopal Church has always been “roomy” in the area of discipline, according to Schwab, but differs on secondary matters.

“I’m working to stay together,” he said. “In our parish here, some people have grave reservations about the blessing of homosexuality, and others are quite in favor of it, as I am.”

Touby hopes that all Episcopal church members will turn out for Love’s meeting Tuesday.

“There is only one way to overcome this challenge, and that is to get the individual members of the church to stand up and say: We want to stay in the Episcopal Church.”

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