Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) for parishes who cannot
accept equality for gays
"We as bishops are not of a common mind
about issues concerning human sexuality. Different points of view on these
matters also exist within our dioceses and congregations."
The House of Bishops of the
Episcopal Church, from their document: "Caring For All The
Faith groups, particularly those with a democratic organization
structure, often have difficulty implementing major policy changes --
especially those involving moral questions. Such groups lack a single leader
who can define "truth" for the entire denomination. The individual
members and the clergy have the responsibility of effecting change.
Unfortunately they will inevitably hold a range of opinions. It can take many
decades for the denomination to reach a near consensus. Over the past
15 decades, this happened in the Anglican Communion with such important
conflicts as the abolition of slavery, the morality of couples using
contraceptives for family planning, the ordination of women, the
consecration of women as bishops, etc.
As each topic achieves a high profile, it becomes obvious that:
Some in the denomination are very keen to maintain the traditional
beliefs and practices intact. They feel that change is inconceivable.
Others interpret the topic in terms of human rights and want change
to occur immediately. They feel that maintaining the status quo is
Feelings can run so high that serious talk of schism surfaces. The
Episcopal church is currently divided over the ordination of non-celibate
homosexuals. Two additional potential conflicts have the potential of
intensifying in the near future: establishing church rituals to
recognize same-sex relationships, and performing a marriage ceremony for
same-sex couples. Some Episcopalians feel that they cannot remain part of a
diocese which ordains sexually-active homosexuals. Some even want to
distance themselves from a bishop who favors such ordinations.
In 2004-MAR, the Episcopal Church, USA developed a
"Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight," (DEPO) procedure. It allows
parishes that refuse to accept the consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson
of New Hampshire to receive pastoral oversight from another bishop, "who
neither supported the election [of Robinson] nor supports the ordination of
homosexuals to ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church."
The procedure stresses that all are to understand that this oversight is to be
a temporary arrangement. All parishes are expected to return under the full
authority of their diocesan bishop. This may not be readily achievable. In many
conservative parishes, public opinion is overwhelmingly opposed to granting
equal rights to sexually-active gays, lesbians and bisexuals. Those beliefs may
continue unchanged for decades. Female ordination may be one indicator of the
slowness of change within the Episcopal Church USA. The Church formally changed
its canon laws to allow women priests in 1976. Yet,
bishops in some dioceses still refuse to ordain women.
As of 2004-JUL, one parish in Newark, NJ, has been
granted delegated oversight. Six churches in Massachusetts -- Christ
Church in Watertown, St. John's Church in Bristol, St. Paul's
Church in Darien, Trinity Church in Bristol, Christ & The
Epiphany Church in East Haven, and Bishop of Seabury Church in
Groton -- are considering requesting oversight. 2
"Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight," (DEPO)
Starting on 2004-MAR-19, bishops of the Episcopal Church attended an
intense two-day retreat at Camp Allen, TX, for a period of intensive
conversation and prayer. They developed a statement titled "Caring For
All the churches: A Response of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church
to an expressed need of the Church." The specific need referred to is an option for individual parishes which "...find
themselves in distress because of the actions of the 74th General
Convention." That Convention approved the
consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, in 2003-AUG. He
is a gay man involved in a loving, committed relationship with another man.
Some parishes find it difficult or impossible to remain under the leadership
of one of the majority of bishops who voted to affirm Robinson's
The Oversight procedure starts with a meeting between a congregation and
their bishop "...with a consultant, if needed, to find ways to work
together." If reconciliation cannot be achieved, then the leadership of
the congregation "...may seek from their diocesan bishop...a conference
regarding the appropriateness and conditions for Delegated Episcopal
Pastoral Oversight." Alternatively, this step can be suggested by the
bishop. "...the bishop may appoint another bishop to provide pastoral
oversight" for the congregation. If conflict continues, "there may
then be an appeal to the bishop who is president or vice-president of the
ECUSA province in which the congregation is geographically located, for help
in seeking a resolution." Oversight plans are aimed at reconciliation
and "for a stated period of time with regular reviews" and reports to
the Presiding Bishop, the Council of Advice and the House of Bishops. 2
The document stresses that the term "Oversight
means the episcopal acts performed as part of a diocesan bishop’s ministry
either by the diocesan bishop or by another bishop to whom such
responsibility has been delegated by the diocesan bishop. In other Anglican
Provinces, the term 'pastoral oversight' signifies what we mean by 'pastoral
care.' In our Episcopal Church polity, 'oversight' does not confer
Positive response to the Oversight document:
Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswald issued a statement which praised the
bishops for their work. He wrote:
"I could not possibly be more proud of our bishops, who with great
care and deliberation sought to articulate our shared ministry of
reconciliation in ways that are generous toward those who feel
themselves in some sense alienated from our common life."
"The honesty and generosity of spirit that have prevailed throughout
this meeting make it clear that we as bishops, regardless of our several
points of view, are deeply committed to the costly work of
reconciliation, not only within the church but for the sake of the
"We are moving beyond winning and losing. Together we are coming to a
new place of mutual discovery and trust."
Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana, president of the Presiding
Bishops Council of Advice, said:
"This is more of a plea for reconciliation, for mutual respect,
for dignity, for making room for one another. It is not a change in our
polity, or in the constitution and canons of the church, but a
recognition of our brokenness. It is bishops taking the lead in seeking
reconciliation." He emphasized that the oversight process "...has
no canonical or constitutional standing. It is finding a way
Bishop Mark Sisk of New York, chairperson of the planning committee of
the House of Bishops, said:
"The bishops are very serious about their responsibilities as
pastors and there is a real desire to reach out to the folks in our
Church who feel displaced. It was also important to say something that
would be helpful to the Anglican Communion." 3
Negative response to the Oversight document:
Rev. Todd H. Wetzel, Executive Director of Anglicans United &
Latimer Press regards the document as being
seriously flawed. A main concern is that all of the power in the process is concentrated in the diocesan bishop. Rev. Wetzel concludes: "And so, the crisis in
ECUSA deepens.....This institution has for decades cast itself as
concerned for the oppressed, yet can find not a shred of compassion for those
who feel marginalized by this church’s recent decisions." 4
The Rev. Michael Carreker, a member of the Council of Forward In
Faith North America, criticizes the document on three levels:
Theological Level: Church beliefs are to be based on the
Bible, church tradition, and reason. The Bishops have adopted secular
presuppositions "which change and alter according to the spirit of
the age.....For them, the Bible is unclear and variously interpreted.
Tradition, in their view, is equally fallible, and clings to perceptions
of human relationship that are beset with the prejudice and ignorance of
former cultures....Their state of 'disagreement' has translated itself
into permission for - and an implied blessing of - homosexual
practice....We must conclude that the House of Bishops has no current
relation to historic Christian authority and, therefore, is adrift from
the theological moorings of the Church. Their presuppositions leave them
bereft of theological knowledge and moral conviction.
Ecclesiological Level: "Because the House of Bishops has
divorced itself from Catholic authority, they have no reference for
theological or moral truth beyond their own surmise, and with no
reference for truth, they lack a clear understanding of the moral good
they must love.....[The bishops have fallen] back on Canon Law. This
they do with total indifference to the counsel and fellowship of the
Bishops of the worldwide Communion who retain historic Christian
authority....the House of Bishops has forsaken theological and moral
authority for legal power. Canon law and geographical jurisdiction have
replaced the supremacy of the Scriptures and the wisdom of the Church.
And here the Bishops err gravely..."
Pastoral level: "What the Bishops have espoused in their
statement, and accomplished by their actions, disregards the essence of
communion. Different presuppositions have created different world views.
Within this current condition, there is not and cannot be any truly
shared participation in the knowledge and love of God....the only power
they now wield is canonical, not spiritual. They are responsible for
shutting off the faithful from a living relation to the Church Catholic.
Indeed, they have rendered their own position illegitimate." 5
A radical departure:
The oversight procedure implements a radical departure from church
tradition. The worldwide Anglican Communion has established 38 national churches or "provinces"
in the world, such as the Episcopal Church in the US, the
in Canada, the Church of England in England, the Scottish Episcopal
Church in Scotland. Each province has wide powers of self-government. Each
church subdivides its territory into many dioceses and selects a bishop to
lead all of the parishes in her/his diocese. In
the document "Caring For All The Churches" the bishops affirm "....the
teaching of successive Lambeth Conferences that bishops must respect the
autonomy and territorial integrity of dioceses and provinces other than
their own." 1
Having one or more parishes under the oversight of a visiting bishop who is
not the diocesan bishop is a very unusual circumstance.
A possible implementation of the procedure:
The Bishop and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Central
Pennsylvania has issued a statement describing how the oversight process
might be implemented in their Diocese:
The procedure would apply only if the relationship between a parish and
the bishop had deteriorated because of "differences in perspectives about
issues in human sexuality."
A Rector and Vestry desiring oversight would be expected to meet with
the Diocesan Bishop at least three times over a four month interval. There
would be at least one all-parish meeting with the bishop during that time.
All are to understand that any oversight is to be temporary.
The Diocesan Bishop will select the Episcopal Visitor in consultation
with the Rector and Vestry.
The activities by the Episcopal Visitor are to be clarified by a "Letter
of Understanding between the Diocesan Bishop, the Rector, the Vestry and the
The Rector, Vestry, Episcopal Visitor and Bishop of the Diocese would
meet annually to review the status of the relationship. 6