[Diocese of Connecticut] Former parishioners and clergy of Bishop Seabury Episcopal Church in Groton have made a decision to depart the property and [held] a final service there on Aug. 5. This decision comes six years after the members of the congregation declared themselves unable to fully participate in The Episcopal Church and later joined the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), described as a “missionary district” of the Anglican Church of Nigeria.
The choice to depart was made by the congregation and its ordained leaders from among six options given to them by the diocesan bishop, the Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, in recent conversations. These choices included, but were not limited to, returning to the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, remaining in The Episcopal Church under Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight, or renting the building as an independent congregation unaffiliated with any religious organization seeking to supplant The Episcopal Church. Representatives from the bishop’s office will receive the keys, parochial records and all parish property in August according to a schedule worked out with a lay leader who is departing.
Responding to the departure, Bishop Douglas said: “I am sad to see these faithful individuals leave The Episcopal Church. We are diminished by their departure.”
The differences between the former parishioners and clergy of Bishop Seabury Church and The Episcopal Church began in the 1970s with the church’s acceptance of women into ordained leadership, changes to the Book of Common Prayer, and later as The Episcopal Church, through its democratic processes, affirmed the full inclusion of lesbian and gay sisters and brothers in Christ in the life of the Church. The Diocese of Connecticut has always been clear that differences of opinion and theology about such decisions are welcome and valued, and works to embrace the breath of such diversity as a manifestation of the wideness of God’s love for all people.
A series of legal suits and appeals to gain ownership of the parish property ended this past June with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to review the Connecticut Supreme Court’s decision that the property of Bishop Seabury Episcopal Church was held in trust for the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut and The Episcopal Church; and that individuals seeking to depart The Episcopal Church do not have a right to parish property and assets that are held in such trust.
Looking to the future, Bishop Douglas said: “The next step for us in The Diocese of Connecticut is for lay and ordained leaders who are committed to Bishop Seabury Church to come together to pray about and consider how God would like us to use the property and its assets to further God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation. We need to ask: What does God want us to do and be next in Groton and at Bishop Seabury Episcopal Church? The faithful witness to the love of Christ will continue.”