On Renouncing My Orders

I wrote, a while back, about becoming a priest of the Scottish Episcopal Church. At the time, I was mostly looking back into the murky church history of the years between the Reformation and the repeal of legal restrictions on episcopal worship in Scotland; this morning, I take up the topic again to check in after an unsettling, but ultimately (I think) benign chain of events.
When I first came over to Scotland, I arranged with the Dean of the Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway to be licensed (as a priest whose residence lay in another diocese) to serve at the cathedral, and all was well. Blessings abounded, I went to meetings of Synod even though I didn’t have to, helped out at St Mary’s and other congregations, and relished working in the Diocese.
As the years rolled by, though — and as it became clear that I wasn’t about to return to the States — it seemed that I really ought to say to Glasgow, ‘This is where I belong’. It bothered me, a bit, to receive clergy mailings from Chicago (and not from Glasgow); it felt odd to serve on the Doctrine Committee of the Scottish Episcopal Church when my canon-legal identity bound me to Chicago. So I wrote back to the Diocese of Chicago and said, in effect, ‘Let’s arrange a transfer from Chicago to my new home diocese. You’re Episcopalians, we’re Episcopalians, what will be the bother?’
Didn’t hear anything for a while — and then, several weeks ago, I received an email from 815, the Episcopal Church Headquarters in New York City. From one of the very important offices in 815. And the email explained to me that in order to become canonically resident in Glasgow, I had to renounce my orders.
That bowled me over. There was no way on earth I wanted to renounce my orders; my ordination to the priesthood was exactly what I wanted to preserve, but in a different location. I had heard and read about clergy turning their backs on the US Episcopal Church because of the directions it has taken on particular topics of urgent contemporary concern, but that wasn’t me. I’m not a conscience-driven or disgruntled departee, seeking a more congenial theological-ideological haven. Scotland is possibly next after the US and Canada among Anglican provinces in our leftward inclination. Honesty requires that I acknowledge having some ruffled feathers about the convulsion at Seabury and my scramble to find work after having been turned out of my (tenured) position; nonetheless, I started this correspondence precisely because I did find a job, and I just wanted to minister, as a Scottish Episcopal priest, where I live.
I wrote to several trusted [U.S.] Episcopal Church friends, who responded with sympathy and dismay, and with an indication that (a) I was not alone in feeling stunned that I would have to renounce my orders, and (b) it was not as dramatic a step as it sounded. As emails volleyed back and forth between me and canon lawyers and Church Pension Fund officials (yes, I am anxious about my hypothetical retirement, and no, this doesn’t rise to the level of a matter of conscience for which I’d throw away my pension), the message gradually shaped up that this was a step more formidable in its title than in its effects. I am obliged to renounce my orders in the [U.S.] Episcopal Church, but not to renounce altogether my priestly orders. I must ask Bishop Lee of Chicago to be released from my vows of obedience to him, but I am not thereby defrocked.
The terminology sounds 100% wrong to me, as it did to Bishop MacDonald. I take the point that, since the relations between the [U.S.] Episcopal Church and the Scottish Episcopal Church are collegial and not corporate (as it were), one diocese cannot merely hand me over to another. And the pastoral angle of this — that it seems not to have occurred to anyone that talking me through the process would make sense, and that I might have intelligible questions about the terminology and consequences of the process — was pretty much a train wreck. Assuming that everything I’ve been told holds true, this is my word to clergy moving from one provnce to another: it’s OK, ‘renouncing your orders’ in this context just means being released from your oath of obedience to one diocese so that you can make that oath truthfully somewhere else, and don’t worry about your pension (unless the circumstances of your departure make someone suspect that you’re undermining the [U.S.] Episcopal Church. But someone at 815 (at least at 815, if not on a diocesan level) should be in a position to recognise these circumstances and oversee the transition.
This morning, I wrote to Bishop Lee, copied to relevant administrative figures, saying that if and only if my understanding of the situation holds true, I would like Bishop Lee to release me from my oath to him — I would like, in these terms, to renounce my orders. I think the story ends happily here, with me in Glasgow, with Bishop Gregor, and robins singing and the sun shining (Americans, did you know that our robins over here are different birds from your robins? That’s really disorienting.) The weather is lovely, Margaret is home from an enlivening and encouraging theological conference, I’m a happy priest of Glasgow and Galloway, and it’s all OK.

20 thoughts on “On Renouncing My Orders

  1. As one of the clergy of the Diocese of Glasgow & Galloway who has appreciated your ministry in my congregation (as have they), and who has been licensed in four Provinces of the Anglican Communion, and never been required to renounce my Orders, I can only say I am bemused……

  2. AKMA – this is bizarre terminology indeed, but I’m glad it’s not as drastic as it sounds. Congratulations on finding a long-term home in Glasgow. Had any good vegetarian haggis lately? 🙂 Love to you and Margaret.

  3. That is definitely an odd choice of words. When I saw the title of your post I was concerned, and wondered what was up. Glad to see it was just an administrative change and glad it worked out well, (different) robins and all.

  4. In this case, do they still publish a letter to every priest in Chicago and every standing committee in ECUSA that AKM Adam has renounced his orders and is prevented from exercise of the ministry?


  5. At least if I get one of “those” letters about you, AKMA, I’ll know the truth. And I hope they’ll change their terminology. Godspeed!

  6. That’s crazy.

    I wonder if this calling canonical actions by nondescriptive titles explains the penchant that ECUSA seems to have for “deposing” some of the priests and bishops who left for ACNA, CANA, and so on? If it just meant that they can no longer serve ECUSA, that’s one thing, but 815 made it sound like laicization.

  7. The canon in question is Title 3.9.8:

    If any Priest of this Church not subject to the provisions of Canon IV.8 (‘Of Renunciation of the Ministry by Members of the Clergy Amenable for Presentment for an Offense’) shall declare, in writing, to the Bishop of the Diocese in which such Priest is canonically resident, a renunciation of the ordained Ministry of this Church, and a desire to be removed therefrom, it shall be the duty of the Bishop to record the declaration and request so made. The Bishop, being satisfied that the person so declaring is not subject to the provision of Canon IV.8 but is acting voluntarily and for causes, assigned or known, which do not affect the Priest’s moral character, shall lay the matter before the clerical members of the Standing Committee, and with the advice and consent of a majority of such members the Bishop may pronounce that such renunciation is accepted, and that the Priest is released from the obligations of the Ministerial office, and is deprived of the right to exercise the gifts and spiritual authority as a Minister of God’s Word and Sacraments conferred in Ordination. The Bishop shall also declare in pronouncing and recording such action that it was for causes which do not affect the person’s moral character, and shall, if desired, give a certificate to this effect to the person so removed from the ordained Ministry.


    IANAL, but my own situation seems more like III.9.6.e (‘Officiating outside the Church’s jurisdiction’ which envisions a temporary relocation to somewhere else), only on a long-term basis — but the current canons seem mute on clergy moving to another Province in communion with ECUSA for a non-temporary interval.

  8. In years past, it would have been possible simply to transfer your canonical residency.

    If you look at Episcopal Church Annuals (the ubiquitous Red Book) of a decade or so ago, in the clergy list in the back, there was a section for “Depositions/Renunciations/Releases/Removals”. Then there were sections for “Clergy Transferred to Other Churches” and “Clergy Received from Other Churches”. The “Other Churches” were other provinces of the Anglican Communion and the province would be given: England, Scotland, Uganda, Singapore, etc. Clergy who moved to another province of the Anglican Communion were listed as transfers and not renunciations.

    The current regime at 815 has changed the way this works now, without any change to the Canons or any other action that would require the approval of General Convention. It began when clergy started transferring their residency in protest at the direction of the Episcopal Church. Some of these clergy transferred to other provinces but continued to reside and minister in the US. So 815 started requiring any priest who moved his/her canonical residence overseas to renounce his/her orders.

    It was a silly and unnecessary change. Any clergy who had moved their residence to another province would still require a license from the local bishop to minister in a US diocese. But requiring them to renounce their orders made it easier for the local bishop to deny a license on the basis that the priest had renounced his/her orders. It also made it easier for TEC to denounce these clergy as those who no longer had orders or a license to minister in the US. It MAY have other consequences, but the requirement to renounce one’s orders simply to transfer to another Anglican province is relatively new and unprecedented, so it is hard to tell. The PB herself has been challenged on this and maintains that it is the way it has always been done. But this is patently false, and their are too many clergy who have transferred in years past who know the truth of the matter.

    If I were in your situation, I would not renounce my orders under any circumstances, and I would simply continue to minister in Scotland under a license from the Bishop there, no matter how awkward that may seem. But, if you do renounce, I hope you’ll let us know in a couple of years how it is working out for you.

    Oh, and don’t be surprised if your mail from 815 and the Church Pension Fund starts coming addressed to “Mr.” AKM Adam.

  9. Thank you, Fred. What you describe fits exactly my impression, and the heading you describe (‘Clergy Transferred to Other Churches’) from the Red Book jibes with my recollection.
    I now have received assurances from the Church Pension Group, the chancellor of my [former] diocese, and my [former] bishop that neither the validity of my orders (oddly, since I seem to be ‘renouncing’ them) nor my vested benefits at CPG will be affected by this step. I understand that in the complicated legal world we inhabit, the word of one’s bishop may not be probative, but I can’t live by suspicion and mistrust, so I’m going forward with this step. Glasgow and Galloway offers me a safe, coherent home diocese. Best of all, at the end of this saga, I’m very relieved to have moved to a province that doesn’t operate from the same procedural repertoire as seems to govern the US Episcopal Church.

  10. I would not renounce my orders under any circumstances unless I was also pleading guilty to a heinous crime or had completely lost my faith. I agree with Fred Ayers above. Don’t do it.

  11. James, I’m a priest of Glasgow and Galloway now. My orders are safe — with the Scottish Episcopal Church.

  12. Can you bless nonanglicans in America now without running afoul of canon law? Or is doing so on the QT the real reason you were made to renounce holy orders? If blessing me in a moment of unreasoning graciousness has caused you grief, I would return the blessing slightly used if it would help your case.

  13. Pingback: Akma » Nick
  14. Much here is troubling, especially 815 claiming authority to interpret the canons. Where is there any authorization for such? This is a diocesan matter; if there is a violation then bring somebody to court for it. The matter should be simple, III.9.4. letters dimissory. The diocesan bishop sends it to whomever requested, accepted or not at the other end on their terms, then the name is removed from previous diocesan convention membership. This is what Bp. Salmon of SC did early 2000s with any and all wishing to affiliate, e.g. with AMiA. Nobody was deposed nor required to renounce anything; they were gone with their feet and wanted it so.

  15. Most troublesome that 815 is claiming authority to interpret the canons. (Dioceses abide by the canons unless they don’t, in which case they can be indicted but 815 isn’t Moses) . Simple: send a clean and straightforward letter dimissory to whomever the priest requests. That clears the local diocese’s deck, the ball now in other court whether and on what terms to accept it. This is what Bp. Salmon in early 2000s did for some clergy wanting to hook up with AMiA. Retired canon to the ordinary

  16. Interesting account. I suppose I’m lucky because, having served in the Church of England, the Episcopal Church in the U.S. and the Scottish Episcopal Church (where I still serve, though in a retirement capacity), I’ve never renounce anything and remain ‘canonically resident’ in the Diocese of Spokane in the U.S.

  17. Akma, as retired priest who has moved between dioceseI have found myself drifting between two or more bishops. I spoke to one bishop who informed me I had to ask permission from the other bishop ( whom I had never seen) to perform a marriage for a young woman who had been previously married. Also, when returning to my otiginal diocese, I wrote to that bishop( again I had never met him) seeking permission to officiate. He never replied although the bishop in whose diocese I lived has repeatedly acknowledged my presence and knew that I often presided when the rector had to be away. All I can say at this point is that it is too bad, with the shortage of priests, that there has to be a “ tug of war” over a good priest such as you. Much love and prayers

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