Abandonment is a Title IV matter unlike other Title IV Offenses. It also is one of the few times that the Title IV Canons involve the Standing Committee and the bishop. Title IV.16 details the procedure when there is belief that a priest or deacon has abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church. The Standing Committee notifies the bishop, who may or may not restrict the ministry of the cleric at that point. If the Standing Committee determines the abandonment to be true and the bishop agrees, the bishop proceeds with possible disciplinary action as determined in the Canons.

Few Title IV actions seem to stir up a diocese as does the knowledge a cleric has left The Episcopal Church. There may be discussion about who might be next or how the bishop will handle the matter. It is delicate, especially since members and even entire congregations wait to see how abandonment cases unfold. Bishops and other experts who have been through processes addressing abandonment have determined several best practices to employ in this unique Title IV proceeding. The Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs of the Diocese of Michigan says the bishop can defuse the effects of abandonment on a diocese. He recounts how he “lowered the temperature” with his sincere prayers of Godspeed to those who saw the Lord calling them elsewhere.

The Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs, Bishop of Michigan

The Rt. Rev. Wallis Ohl became the Bishop Provisional of the Diocese of Ft. Worth at a time when nearly 50 clerics voted to abandon The Episcopal Church en masse a year earlier at a diocesan convention. Bishop Ohl says he reached out to them as a bishop and pastor and left it up to them to take the canonical way out of the church. 

The Rt. Rev. Wallis Ohl, Retired Bishop of Northwest Texas

Best practices call for following the Canons even if it is obvious that the clerics are not interested in keeping their vows of ordination. This allows an opportunity for reconciliation.

The Rt. Rev. Wallis Ohl, Retired Bishop of Northwest Texas

Even though they didn’t want to hear it, Bishop Ohl says it was necessary to inform the clerics that there was a much better way to leave The Episcopal Church than just “walking out.” Very few bishops will face as many clerics abandoning at once as did Bishop Ohl. However, in every case, he says follow the Canons to the letter, even if the departing cleric won’t.

The Rt. Rev. Wallis Ohl, Retired Bishop of Northwest Texas

As the Rt. Rev. Wallis Ohl indicated, pastoral care or even communication is difficult in abandonment. The Rt. Rev Katharine Jefferts Schori witnessed the abandonment of bishops and other clerics during her tenure as Presiding Bishop. She says it is still necessary to continue offering a Pastoral Response and an advocate to the cleric who wants to leave The Episcopal Church.

The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop Assisting of the Diocese of San Diego, 26th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

Bishop Jefferts Schori says the goal is to maintain open communication. She compares it to a divorce in a marriage where former partners might strive to maintain a relationship of some kind. She has witnessed what she calls “remarkable examples of amendment of life.”

 The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Assisting Bishop of the Diocese of San Diego, 26th Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church

If a cleric does decide to be restored to ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church, it is necessary to start with rebuilding a relationship of trust. Best practices start with trust long before they start with canonical restoration. 

The Rt. Rev. Wallis Ohl, Retired Bishop of Northwest Texas

In supplemental educational videos, The Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori says the Title IV Canons concerning abandonment are not meant to be punishment, but rather to provide clarity.  She agrees with Bishop Wallis Ohl that it is our task to bless the journey a cleric is taking.

Bishop Ohl further says it is vital that a bishop do everything in his or her power to keep the community together. 

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