Correspondent Jerome Politzer and Editorial Associate Cheryl Forbes covered the sixty-fourth triennial General Convention of the 3.5-million-member Protestant Episcopal Church in Louisville, Kentucky, September 29 through October 11. Here is their report:

“The three P.B.s were the basic issues at the convention—the Presiding Bishop, the Prayer Book, and the priesting of the biddies,” wise-cracked a bishop’s wife in summarizing the way it was at this year’s triennial meeting of the Episcopal Church. The Prayer Book issue—the traditional versus the contemporary—had threatened to raise many pre-convention temperatures (signs along Louisville’s highway I–65, for example, showed a padlocked prayer book with the words “Save the Prayer Book” painted large). But three more years of Services for Trial Use, commonly known as the Green Book, were approved with little debate by either the House of Bishops or the House of Deputies.

The other two issues didn’t go as smoothly. At the opening hearing on women’s ordination to the priesthood, only about half of the sixty-five scheduled speakers got to the podium. Women ordained to the diaconate (in the Episcopal Church there are three orders of ordination: the diaconate, the priesthood, and the episcopate) and priests favoring ordination of women pleaded with the crowded gallery not to ignore the vocational calling of many Episcopalians. Reasons for ordination of women were summed up by a deacon (in 1970 “deaconess” was dropped) serving in Auk Bay, Alaska, who told the gathering of her inability to administer communion to, baptize, or marry the isolated people with whom she works. But Dean James Carroll of the Chicago cathedral argued that to ordain women to the priesthood would damage ecumenical talks with both Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions. “Nothing less than our Catholic authenticity and evangelical integrity is at stake,” he concluded.

The deputies voted against ordination, maintaining the historic Anglican and Catholic practice of admitting only men to the priesthood and episcopate. Some said the complicated voting procedure was to blame for the defeat of the resolution. In the 904-member House of Deputies, half the delegates are clergy, half laity. A deputation (consisting of four clergy and four lay delegates from a diocese) can request a division of the house on any vote. Each diocese is then polled by clergy and lay order. A divided 2–2 vote in a clergy or lay delegation automatically counts as a negative vote. According to John Coburn, president of the House of Deputies, the reason for this rule is that the diocese and not the individual is the basic unit in the denomination.

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On the ordination roll-call vote, fifty clergy delegations voted yes, forty-three no, and twenty were divided. The laity voted forty-nine yes, thirty-seven no, with twenty-six divided.

Earlier in the convention, the deputies voted down a move that would have changed the negative vote ruling. Later, the house approved a constitutional change that would make a vote by order possible only if three deputations request such a vote. The change requires a second reading at the next triennial convention, to be held in Minneapolis.

A related resolution aimed at keeping the issue alive at grass-roots level likewise failed.

At the defeat a deputy reassured the women deacons that “they were ordained before God, if not before the episcopate.” Deputies from pro-ordination dioceses declared that they would “continue to work for what they believed in,” and that the issue of women’s ordination would not go away. As Edgar Romig, rector of the Church of the Epiphany in the Washington, D. C., diocese, put it, “ordination of women will come up at every subsequent convention until it passes.”

Women deacons working with the committee on the ordination of women varied in their reactions. Twenty of the twenty-four women deacons who would have been eligible for ordination this January were actively present at the convention. Some of the older ones expressed a sense of frustration that ordination to the priesthood would come too late for them. In a statement, the group declared their outrage at the decision but proclaimed their determination not to “abandon our vocation.”


Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn minces no words when it comes to disciplining a player or coach, nor does he mince words when it comes to his Christian stand.

At a meeting of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at the University of Delaware earlier this year, Kuhn called athletes marked men who are admired and imitated. Urging his listeners—mainly high school and college athletes—to live Christ-like lives, Kuhn declared that “there is nothing I know more certain than that Christ lived for us and died for us on Calvary.”

Kuhn, a 48-year-old Episcopalian, sparked a chapel movement similar to the National Football League’s program among the National and American baseball leagues. According to Watson Spoelstra, an ex-sportswriter and a leader of the chapel movement, sixteen of the twenty-four teams now hold pre-game services on Sundays when they are on the road.

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Of the play-off teams that vied for a place in the World Series, only the Cincinnati Reds hold regular chapel services, said Spoelstra. The services were begun by Reds manager Sparky Anderson after he attended a Spoelstra-led chapel at this year’s All Star game. While chapel services at some teams attract only a dozen or so, Anderson assembles everybody in the clubhouse for services, said Spoelstra.

Newark deacon Nancy Wittig considers the refusal to ordain women as “a definite move to the right” on the part of the church. Most of the deacons expected, she said, that at this convention ordination would be approved (it just narrowly lost in 1970). John Coburn, known as a leading advocate of ordination of women, could have changed the picture, asserted the Reverend Carol Anderson, who serves as his assistant. If he had stepped from the chair to speak in favor of the proposal, she insisted, “it would have turned the tide.”

Deacon Wittig, wife of a Methodist minister, refuses to consider leaving the church, saying she loves the Anglican tradition. Characterizing herself as “pro-evangelism—I attended Virginia Seminary and it was instilled into me”—she said she was looking forward to eventual ordination in her church. Some observers think that John Allin’s election to the office of presiding bishop immediately preceding the vote on women’s ordination (see following story) may have influenced the voting.

Others think Allin’s election may also influence the church in another way. While Allin feels the presiding bishop cannot lead or move the church in any one direction, the more liberal elements in the church fear he may indeed move the church away from “empowerment”—the term applied to the church’s controversial anti-poverty, self-help campaign. Conservatives say that the church itself has already moved from the years of emphasis on social action and that they are, in one bishop’s words, “very excited” about Allin’s election.

In a denominational survey initiated last fall to learn where the man in the pew sits on various issues, church education and evangelism received the highest priority from the 16,000 polled. “Empowerment” is apparently no longer given top priority, though even the most “evangelical” in the church do not reject the social-action emphasis as part of the proclamation of the Gospel.

Alexander Stewart, bishop of Western Massachusetts (and a trustee of Barrington College), while declaring that the church by 1970 was “close to spiritual bankruptcy,” said he does not want to see the church neglecting the social arena. But unless we “add the unique dimension that only Christians have, secular social agencies could do the same job.” Stewart calls empowerment the “sacred incantation these days.” And he too emphasized spiritual empowerment, “an empowerment from on high.” When asked which direction the church was taking, Stewart declared it was “very decidedly moving back to an evangelical trend.” The bishops are becoming increasingly aware of the mood of the laity, he said, but those who have viewed the thrust of the church totally in one direction may find it difficult to face in the other direction.

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The major problem with the findings of the survey, however, is implementation. Bishop Coadjutor William G. Weinhauer of Western North Carolina says that the church is confused as to “materials and methodology” in education and evangelism. While Weinhauer hopes the church will move in a more biblically oriented direction, that is, in proclamation of the Gospel and nurture of the saints along with social aid to the oppressed, he thinks the church is “afraid to move” and “split down the middle.” And other than revision of the marriage canonA priest with consent of his bishop may now remarry a divorced person without waiting a year after legal decree of divorce, as was previously necessary. The new canon will become effective no later than January 1, 974., he said, “this convention has taken no great new adventuresome steps.”

Other bishops and deputies feel that Allin has a balanced perspective between empowerment and proclamation, but whether the church will turn to a more centrist—or rightist—position both politically and ecclesiastically depends somewhat, they say, on staff appointments in the national office after Allin takes over. Just what kinds of programs are developed in evangelism and education will also tell part of the story, they add. While evangelism and education don’t form big parts of the $13.6 million budget, church conservatives are unworried at this point. As one bishop said, spiritual renewal doesn’t cost a lot of money. William Folwell, bishop of Central Florida, said he’s not concerned this year because the national church doesn’t yet know how to program and budget for evangelism anyway. “But I may not feel the same next year.” (Folwell is scheduled to speak at next year’s Second Episcopal Charismatic Conference, to be held in Denver. Bishop William Frey of Colorado, himself a charismatic, spoke at this year’s meeting in Dallas.)

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The black-empowerment funds of program director Leon Modeste were slashed by about 40 per cent in a shift to channel more money to other minorities—and, as one bishop said, to give headquarters more control over grants.

Allin in an interview told CHRISTIANITY TODAY that he wants to “respond to and hear what the church is saying.” “I hate to sound simplistic,” continued the presiding bishop-elect, “but the mission of the church can be summed up in John 3:16.” He wants to balance social activism and evangelical proclamation, viewing his—and the church’s—task as a “both/and” proposition, but recognizing that “we haven’t been doing a very fervent or eloquent job of evangelism.”

Amid speculation that he would replace most of the national staff, Allin said he doesn’t anticipate any major changes. Nor does he think that the office of Presiding Bishop needs more power. “I do not believe that I have been elevated, but pressed down into the center of the church’s business.”

Just what emphases the church will make its prime business in the next three years seems uncertain just now. As Coburn told a press gathering, the convention is at a standstill, unsure of which direction and which goals to pursue. But there is hope among a great many that the Episcopal Church may be getting back on the track of both serving the “oppressed, depressed, and the deprived” (Allin’s phrase) in Christ’s name and proclaiming his Gospel.

Bishop John: The New Chief Apostle

A benumbed John Maury Allin, 52, the Arkansas-born bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Mississippi and presiding bishop-elect, told the House of Deputies amid laughter and applause, “I don’t have a great speech—not that you didn’t give me time to prepare one.” He was referring to the unprecedented three-hour closed-session debate the deputies had over his election by the bishops to the highest office in the Protestant Episcopal Church. The clergy and delegates by a two-thirds vote ratified the election, hitherto a virtual rubber-stamp action.

Allin, elected on the second ballot by eighty-four votes—the bare minimum needed out of the 167 votes cast—will become, when consecrated, “chief apostle on earth,” according to church tradition and theology. He will be the church’s twenty-third presiding bishop, an office dating back to William White of Pennsylvania in 1789 but elective only since 1926. He is scheduled to begin the twelve-year term next June when strife-harried Presiding Bishop John E. Hines retires “to the golf course.” (Hines was not elected until the fifth ballot at the 1964 convention.)

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For the first time in the church’s history the House of Bishops released the names of the nominees prior to election. Others: bishops Robert Spears (Rochester), Christoph Keller (Arkansas), J. Kilmer Myers (California), John Burt (Ohio). They received fifty-eight, twenty, three, and two second-ballot votes respectively. Allin is generally regarded as the most conservative of the five, Burt the most liberal.

The history-making debate in the House of Deputies arose because a minority report from the election committee questioned whether Allin will move the church backward, which means, according to observers, away from Hines’s social-action policies.

While Allin is considered by many to be a moderate-conservative, the presiding bishop-elect told a packed press conference that Mississippians would be surprised to hear it: “I would be called a liberal there.” Despite his record of racial reconciliation and aid to blacks, part of the opposition to his election came from northern black deputies.

Allin voted against the ordination of women at last year’s conference of bishops in New Orleans. The issue of ordination of women is “secondary,” he told reporters. “The primary issue is the renewal of the whole ministry of the church, which includes all orders.” He added that his stand against ordination of women had nothing to do with ability.

After graduating from both college and seminary at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, Allin was ordained deacon in 1944 and priest the following year. He currently chairs the executive committee of the joint commission on ecumenical relations and serves as a member of the Anglican-Roman Catholic consultation.

When asked whether he would fire Leon Modeste, director of the denomination’s controversial anti-poverty program, a program that some see as dividing the church, Allin said, “Wait and see what happens.”

Allin claimed that his one qualification for office is “my many inadequacies,” and said he plans to seek his fellow bishops’ aid in fulfilling the office. He left immediately after the press conference to spend twenty-four hours in prayer and meditation about the future and the response he should make to his election.

In his brief address to the House of Deputies, Allin told members and visitors that his desire was to reconcile and renew the church. “You may have elected a fool, but I hope you have elected a fool for Christ’s sake.”


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