Via Media USA
Date: September 20, 2004
For Immediate Release
Movement for Episcopal Unity and Moderation Grows
(Pittsburgh, PA.) On Saturday, September 18, Via Media USA welcomed The Widening Circle (Rhode Island) and Tennessee Via Media to the Via Media USA alliance. Both new groups are dedicated to maintaining a broad center in the Episcopal Church and to being instruments for unity within this vibrant denomination. “With the addition of these autonomous organizations, our alliance has grown to thirteen organizations in twelve dioceses, including three in dioceses not associated with conservative networks. Via Media groups are now present in seven of the eight mainland U.S.A. provinces of the Episcopal Church. The Via Media USA movement is beginning to fulfill its promise as a truly national organization,” said Christopher Wilkins, the facilitator of the Via Media USA Steering Committee. “We have made amazing progress, given that the alliance was created less than six months ago.”
After several months of planning and meeting, Rhode Island Episcopalians met
September 13 to approve an inclusive mission statement committing members of The Widening Circle “to witness to the diversity and comprehensiveness of the Episcopal Church.” The group's name reflects its inclusive mission and, as their mission statement asserts, puts Christ at the center of their efforts. With about equal numbers of clergy and laity among its members, the organization is planning an October 18 open house for interested clergy and laity and is working on co-sponsorship of a diversity Eucharist later this year.
Only a few days before The Widening Circle adopted its mission statement, Episcopalians in the south central part of the Diocese of Tennessee founded Tennessee Via Media. Tennessee Via Media has set as a goal to "support and encourage the Episcopal Church in the USA as the American _expression of Anglicanism." It also wants to encourage Episcopal forms of worship and to “promote an understanding of classical Anglicanism, especially as expressed in the writings of Richard Hooker.” Tennessee Via Media is hoping to spread across the state, serving as a catalyst for chapters in all three Episcopal dioceses in Tennessee. The group's web site http://www.tnviamedia.org/ includes a complete statement of their goals.
The formation of grassroots organizations in Rhode Island and Tennessee is a sign that the vital center of the Episcopal Church is alive and well despite the polarizing events of the last year. Leaders of the new organizations share the concern of other Via Media groups about the sustained barrage of demands from ultraconservatives who insist that there is only one approach to scripture, and that the whole church must accept their theological position as the only correct one. Both The Widening Circle and Via Media Tennessee are located in dioceses that are being subjected to new recruiting pressure from the closely related organizations most associated with the ultraconservative position, the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes and the American Anglican Council.
Many faithful Episcopalians have been troubled by the recent schismatic actions of a handful of parishes that have chosen to leave the Episcopal Church. The formation of The Widening Circle and Tennessee Via Media and their alliance with Via Media USA gives concerned mainstream Episcopalians in Rhode Island and Tennessee a way to voice their concerns and take action to promote unity in the church. The independent organizations that make up the Via Media USA alliance all offer positive alternatives for Episcopalians who want to actively support their church. “We hope that other Episcopalians will also take up the work of unity and defense of the middle ground by forming groups like these, or by joining existing ones,” said Wilkins. “Our unique heritage is to be an inclusive church, not a confessional one. In an increasingly polarized world, it will take dedicated individuals to ensure that the Episcopal Church retains a vital center where all who welcome Christ are themselves welcomed, despite our differences in understanding what that means. The Widening Circle and Tennessee Via Media are welcome new voices in spreading this important message.”
The Via Media USA alliance was formed in March 2004, when leaders from twelve independent, grassroots organizations met in Atlanta to explore closer cooperation. The groups that have joined the alliance are in the Episcopal dioceses of Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Rio Grande, San Joaquin, South Carolina, Southwest Florida, and Springfield. More about Via Media USA and the members of its alliance can be found at http://www.viamediausa.org/. If you are interested in information about forming a Via Media group in your area, please contact Diane Butler, Chair, Evangelism, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Via Media USA
Christopher Wilkins, Facilitator
Leslie Poole, Press Relations
Tennessee Via Media
Jane Fisher, President
The Widening Circle