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Swift Movement Against Dissenters in New Hampshire: TLC 11.15.03 November 15, 2003

Posted by geoconger in Living Church, New Hampshire.
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First printed in The Living Church magazine.

Supporters of two dissenting congregations in the Diocese of New Hampshire point to two recent incidents as evidence that differing theological views may not be tolerated in practice locally.

Two-thirds of the congregation of the Church of the Redeemer in Rochester walked out of a Sunday service Nov. 9 in protest over the firing of their 72-year-old priest-in-charge, the Rev. Don Wilson, earlier that week. Right before the sermon, Jacqueline Ellwood and Ginger Carbaugh stood up, read a statement of protest to the bishop’s representative, the Rev. Canon Marthe Dyner, and walked out of the building, but not before a brief tussle with Canon Dyner, who snatched the letter from one of the protestors. They were followed in their departure by about 40 members of the congregation.

 

Fr. Wilson told The Living Church he had been summoned to the diocesan office Oct. 25 to discuss parish business. The agenda quickly changed, he said, and the Rt. Rev. Douglas Theuner, Bishop of New Hampshire, began to berate him for his previous opposition to the consecration of the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson as bishop coadjutor. Fr. Wilson stated he was not leaving the Episcopal Church nor would he oppose visitations by Bishop Robinson, but he would not affirm the consecration to suit the bishop. The priest said Bishop Theuner chastised Fr. Wilson, reminding him that he was not a rector but a priest-in-charge. The bishop instructed Fr. Wilson to have the wardens lead a special parish meeting Oct. 26, called to discuss the Robinson consecration.

After Fr. Wilson said he would rather stay home and not attend the parish meeting, if he could not conduct it as priest-in-charge, Bishop Theuner instructed him to attend and be silent, adding that representatives from the diocese would monitor the proceedings. At the meeting members of the congregation voted 18-5 in protest to the Robinson consecration. Observers from the diocese, led by Canon Dyner, voided 18 absentee ballots. All 18 absentee ballots were cast in opposition to Bishop Robinson. The following week Bishop Theuner’s secretary telephoned Fr. Wilson to schedule a second meeting.

“I said I didn’t want to go to Concord and asked to meet in Rochester instead,” Fr. Wilson said. For refusing to agree to a second meeting in Concord, Fr. Wilson said he was summarily charged with “insubordination” and removed from his cure.

The confrontation between Canon Dyner and the parishioners at Redeemer follows a similar contretemps between Canon Dyner and members of St Mark’s, Ashland, over the American Anglican Council. Meredith Harwood, of Orford, N.H., said she attended a gathering of 30 New Hampshire Episcopalians and five clergy on Oct. 16 in a private home to discuss forming an AAC chapter. Canon Dyner insisted on joining the gathering and began to take notes of the conversation.

“We asked her to leave for a half hour, telling her it was a private meeting,” Mrs. Harwood said. “She refused, saying she wouldn’t leave unless the owner of the property asked her to leave. Canon Dyner told us, ‘It was not appropriate for a private organization to ask me to leave’.”

Canon Dyner said she attended the meeting in “a private capacity” and was there “to listen and learn.”

Accounts differ as to what words were exchanged. Canon Dyner said she could not remember any specific comments, but denied Mrs. Harwood’s charge that she told the gathering “You have no place to go” as she left the meeting.

“Bishop Theuner’s actions represent an act of war against a small church of 100,” commented AAC president the Rev. Canon David Anderson, who called upon Bishop Theuner to restore Fr. Wilson’s license. Bishop Robinson did not respond to a request for comments.