Clergy, Congregations and Laity say Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs systematically over a period of years used pressure tactics to rid himself of priests and bullied laity who posed a threat to him.
By David W. Virtue DD
August 6, 2014
A 400-page document, signed by an Ad Hoc Committee of 23 people including three priests, says that the Rt. Rev. Wendell Gibbs mistreated clergy, laity and congregations leading to financial losses at the hands of the bishop with a significant number of congregations closing while he offered no pastoral support and censored communication.
The hard-hitting indictment accuses the Bishop of the very bullying tactics the Episcopal Church stands firmly against (Resolution D022.) The group also charges the bishop of violating National and Diocesan Canons. According to the document, he has a history of dysfunctional management skills, and demonstrates a complete lack of interpersonal relations resulting in repeated injuries and usurpations. The direct object of these behaviors is the establishment of an “absolute tyranny” over the churches of the Michigan Diocese.
They also accuse Bishop Gibbs of mistreating clergy by refusing to communicate with other dioceses to allow clergy to move to another diocese in a timely manner; that he makes arbitrary and capricious dictates in removing clergy from a congregation without any attempt at reconciliation; and he exhibits bias with respect to his chosen favorites and improperly removing clergy and senior and junior wardens in a unilateral fashion without consulting the vestry of said congregation.
The committee also wants a full investigation to determine the amount of restitution to clergy who have been inappropriately removed from their clerical positions.
On July 1, 2006 the priest and parishioners of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Livonia, got thrown off their property when Bishop Gibbs told the Rev. Allen Kannapell, 36, on Saturday, that he had to vacate his church before Sunday morning services. This was the first orthodox parish in the Diocese to leave the Episcopal Church over Biblical authority and moral relativism. The priest said he had been looking for alternative episcopal oversight (DEPO), but the bishop rejected the idea. When asked what prompted him to leave the Episcopal Church, Fr. Kannapell said it was the prevailing issues of Biblical authority; the gospel of transformation not inclusion; and repentance and new life rather than blessing the old life.
From that time forward the bishop has been embroiled in one scandalous action after another.
REV. DEBORAH SEMON-SCOTT
In the Fall of 2006 the Rev. Deborah Semon-Scott (Deb) resigned as priest of a parish in a rural part of the diocese, and was told she could not serve in the Lyster Deanery because it was too small and would create confusion. A church in the area wanted her to supply but Bishop Gibbs said no; so a parishioner, a retired judge, confronted the bishop. It resulted in a “terrible misunderstanding.” After several months, her name was put on the supply list for other parts of the Diocese. Semon-Scott now serves in a downtown Detroit parish and maintains her “family birthplace” in Lyster Deanery.
Earlier, in the Fall of 2005, she received a phone call from the Canon to the Ordinary, the Rev. Scott Hunter, informing her on behalf of the bishop that she would be the new dean for the Lyster area and that the Rev. John Lohman would be the new representative to Executive Council from the Lyster area. “We would act in this capacity or we would be suspended. As I had two children in college, a house mortgage, car loan, and folks who enjoyed lights and running water, I felt forced to comply without challenging this directive,” she wrote in a memo.
Later she wrote that knowing her contract with St. Peter’s, Hillsdale, would end October 1, 2006, she updated and activated her CDO profile with New York. In December 2005, she was contacted by a church in Miami, Oklahoma, as one of four they wanted to interview. The problem was the Bishop’s office had failed to respond to their inquiries about her. “I was told that their interest had taken the Bishop by surprise and he was upset when he learned that I was seeking other employment.
“During the summer of 2006, the canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Oklahoma called me to set up an appointment with their bishop. They had openings in several churches and believed that I might be ‘a match’ for two of their parishes. A time for me to visit was set up. About two weeks before I was to leave, I received another phone call from Oklahoma withdrawing the invitation based on the fact that after three attempts to obtain information from the bishop’s office, the bishop had not responded. They were very sorry to do this, but they had to move on with placements.
“I felt that the Bishop or his Office’s failure to respond in a timely manner robbed me of an opportunity to explore other ministry possibilities. As I resigned my priest in charge position at the end of my contract Oct. 1, it also left my family without a very necessary income.”
In a letter dated Oct. 12, Bishop Gibbs wrote to Scott telling her explicitly not to supply the congregations of this deanery “without my prior consent”.
He ripped Scott saying, “If you have family friendships that have developed I expect you to make clear that it would not be appropriate to discuss the plans for Total Ministry, the last stewardship campaign ‘how things are going’ or anything else ‘church related’.”
“God has called you elsewhere, so honor God’s call and be fully elsewhere. The consequences of looking back, or worse, keeping a foot or finger in the former place, is much worse for them and for you than the biblical pillar of salt.”
On March 7, Gibbs again wrote to Scott, “The Rev. Deborah Semon-Scott is a priest in good standing…in the Diocese of Michigan, but St. Peter’s is the only congregation Debby is not supposed to serve in without permission.”
In the same letter Scott wrote, “It wasn’t until October 2007, that my name was finally added to the supply list. It took repeated requests plus my sending a copy of the letter to accomplish this task.”
FR. FRED ENGDAHL
In Oct. 2009 when he was a priest-in-charge at Resurrection Episcopal Church in Clarkston, Michigan, Fr. Fred Engdahl suffered a short-term situational depression related to his special needs son, which was not job related. At a meeting on December 10 to discuss an extension of his time away from the church, Bishop Gibbs told him he would not be returning to the parish. Engdahl was blindsided. “I had no idea this was coming. I did not want to resign…I resigned against my will, after being told by the bishop to resign or else. The bishop communicated to me in a voice mail that he would see to it that I was inhibited as a priest in this church if I did not follow his direction.”
VOL obtained a copy of the bishop’s voice mail:
“Fred, this is Bishop Gibbs. I’ve spoken to you - I’ve left a message for you once - you have sent me an email that is unacceptable [in the email Fr. Engdahl wrote the following to Bishop Gibbs: “I cannot, after prayerful consideration, in good conscience, resign.”]. Now I’m getting word that you have yet again violated what I asked you not to do. I am trying to be Pastoral to you and to recognize that there are many things in your life which you have to deal with. I suggest, strongly, that you deal with those issues NOW, GET OFF THE PHONES and stop trying to make some kind of a case for how people are mistreating you because you are not being mistreated. NOT YET! If you do not, I promise you that by Tuesday, I will have had a conversation with the Standing Committee and by Tuesday evening you may very well be inhibited from being a priest in this Church. DO NOT PUSH ME, FRED. I am trying to help you. Listen to me. OBEY YOUR BISHOP!!! Or I will have to take further steps. DON’T PUSH IT. Take care of yourself and your mental health, take care of your family, deal with your personal issues. You are clearly not thinking straight, because you are not thinking of the Church you so claim to love. I’m not seein’ it. BACK OFF, or I will take action. Good day.”
Fr. Engdahl did not resign within forty-eight hours, as directed. He resigned on December 14, 2009, under duress. However, when the Bishop’s Canon to the Ordinary spoke to the members of the congregation on December 13, 2009. she shared that Fr. Engdahl had decided to resign as priest-in-charge, and that the Bishop would provide financial support for his family and, additionally, help him find another position within the diocese.
In early March of 2010, the Canon to the Ordinary asked Fr. Engdahl to get signed releases from his health care providers so that the bishop could call and have candid conversations with them about his suitability for work. Fr. Engdahl obtained the signed releases and mailed them to the Bishop’s office a few days later. Bishop Gibbs, to date, has not contacted these persons to find out if Fr. Engdahl is ready to return to work.
The forced resignation of Fr. Engdahl exacted enormous personal suffering on him and his family. The Church of the Resurrection had been struggling prior to his arrival. After only one year it had shown positive changes in growth in the church school, increased harmony and greater cooperation among members of the parish, and significant increases in financial giving. The vestry and congregation had no idea Fr. Fred was going to be fired.
On November 7, 2011, Engdahl started receiving help from Mr. Archibald Wallace of the law firm of Wallace Pledger, PLLC and filed a complaint to the National Church against Bishop Gibbs seeking redress for his grievances.
In frustration, in July of 2012, Gail Engdahl wrote to Bishop Dorsey Henderson, president of the Disciplinary Board of Bishops of the National Church, outlining her concerns. She told Bishop Henderson she had received no support from Bishop Gibbs or his office. “One would think that the Bishop would have contacted us to offer support, comfort and assistance during the three months Fred was away from the Church. All he did was tell my husband to resign.”
On Nov. 16, 2013, Engdahl wrote a letter to PB Jefferts Schori indicating he would like to make his gifts available to the church. In his response to the Presiding Bishop, Fr. Engdahl wrote, “Moving into God’s future I continue to discern a call to serve as a priest in the Church, but I do need to be free of the Diocese of Michigan and its bishop. I concur that my present situation holds the seeds for resurrection. What I need now is to be given permission to pursue employment elsewhere within the Church. I need help in receiving clearance to search for a clergy position in the Church outside the Diocese of Michigan.”
On February 4, 2014, Engdahl received a note from Bishop Matthews (on behalf of the PB) saying that according to Bishop Gibbs, there is “no Directive, which forbids you to seek employment outside of the Diocese of Michigan, and the only requirement for you to work within the Diocese is for you to have your psychological evaluation updated. (Fr. Engdahl noted, “There is no psychological evaluation to update.”)
“Bishop Gibbs has told me he will give you a fair assessment and will leave it to another Bishop to decide whether or not she/he wants to receive you into his/her Diocese. As the Bishop said, ‘I will not throw him under the bus. Fred did some good work in the Diocese prior his resignation as priest-in-charge.’”
Gail wrote that the bishops’ “bullying behavior” was “common throughout the diocese, and still continues to this day.
“Other clergy and laity from around the Diocese have shared with us numerous examples of how countless others have been mistreated,” she wrote.
The tragedy cost the family dearly including:
• Lost wages from Jan 2010 to August 2011
• Loss of equity in their home due to foreclosure
• Out of pocket dental, mental health and medical expenses
• Loss of money invested in supplemental retirement account (Engdahl needed to withdraw this money to meet financial obligations). “There is no way we can ever fully recover financially from this tragedy.”
The Engdahls (and the Ad Hoc Committee) under the church’s canons, (Canon IV 4:1) now seek a diocesan wide evaluation be done of Bishop Gibbs by an outside agency; appoint a counselor/psychologist to meet with the Bishop to help him deal with anger management issues; and find a mediator to meet with the Bishop, Rev. Engdahl and then with the congregation to begin healing to all parties. Receive a verbal and written apology from Bishop Gibbs.
Engdahl’s initial complaint to The Rt. Rev. Clayton F. Matthews, Bishop for the Office of Pastoral Development of the Episcopal Church, and, later, in a letter of appeal to The Rt. Rev. Dorsey Henderson, president of the Disciplinary Board of Bishops, as part of the canonical process available to him, got little positive response. In a 4-page letter from Bishop Henderson the president of the Disciplinary Board for Bishops to both Engdahl and Gibbs he admitted that the allegations if true describe conduct and decisions which, without doubt, one would deem unseemly. However given Fr. Engdahl’s status as a priest-in-charge rather than a rector with a contract, those allegations, considered as true do not constitute offenses according to the provisions of title IV. So, even though Bishop Henderson determined that Bishop Gibbs’ conduct and decisions “without doubt, one would deem unseemly,” he is safeguarded by the Church because Fr. Engdahl was a priest-in-charge, not a rector. As it has so often done when allegations or charges are brought against bishops by clergy and laity, the national church circles the wagons to protect their own. It was only a change in the canons at the last General Convention that allowed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori to get rid of former Pennsylvania Bishop Charles E. Bennison.
Gail Engdahl cited other behaviors by Bishop Gibbs deemed unbecoming a bishop/clergy.
• Throwing a chair in a meeting when not getting what he wanted.
• The bishop’s refusal to allow the Standing Committee to complete a ten-year evaluation on his overall job performance.
• Telling churches that if they can’t get along with their rector/priest-in-charge he will close the church (in one such case he did) because “I am the bishop”.
The church, St. James, Dexter, MI, fought back and after three months the church was reopened. After removing the priest, Cynthia Garman, for cause, he placed her in another parish, the Church of the Resurrection in Clarkston, MI, where she created unrest and turmoil resulting in a significant loss of membership. Pledge income fell so far that, after months of dipping into Church savings to pay Rev. Garman’s generous salary and benefits, the new vestry insisted she be let go at the conclusion of her two-year probationary contract. With the concurrence of Bishop Gibbs, she was released from all duties at the Church of the Resurrection as of the first of February 2012 with compensation ceasing April 1, 2012.
• No support was given to this parish and they are now on the brink of closing.
• Forcing the resignations of several clergy within the diocese without just cause.
• Promising relocations and positions to several clergy and not following through.
• Not returning calls to other dioceses for references thus stopping the process for many who were seeking employment outside of the Diocese of Michigan
• Negative talk to other clergy about fellow clergy.
• No positive support to struggling churches
• No clergy family support system
• Closed many churches in his tenure or removing clergy (like my husband) just because he could.
Engdahl accused Gibbs of out and out lying after promising Fr Engdahl of financial support after he was forced to resign, and telling him he would help him find another position in the diocese. From January 1, 2010 until May 19, 2011, Fr. Engdahl did not receive any financial support from Bishop Gibbs, and at no time, did the bishop help Fr. Engdahl find a new position. On May 19, Fr. Engdahl finally received two checks from Bishop Gibbs. The money received was used to pay overdue rent and utility bills. No further financial assistance was provided to help Fr. Engdahl pay for his family’s basic living expenses during this extended, unplanned and painful ordeal. Financial support from the bishop was received only after a number of parishioners from the Church of the Resurrection called his office after learning that the promise for monetary assistance made by the bishop, and conveyed to the congregation at both services on December 13, 2009, by the Canon to the Ordinary, had not been kept.
A number of parishioners came to Fr. Engdahl’s defense with one writing, “In my career I have assisted hundreds of disabled employees and negotiated the separation of hundreds of others. Even in the impersonal environment of a manufacturing organization I have never witnessed such cold, dispassionate treatment of a disabled employee. I certainly never expected to see such insensitivity displayed by the church to which I belonged.”
The Engdahls plea for justice and mercy fell on deaf ears.
Following Fr. Fred’s departure, the Rev. Cynthia Garman was placed at the Church of the Resurrection by Bishop Gibbs. Within one year the parish suffered a substantial loss in membership, attendance and financial stewardship. As discussed above, pledges and donations fell to a level in 2011 that required regular withdrawals from Church savings to pay the obligations of the Church. One parishioner wrote, “She has taken over everything and anything that she could find to change, alter, cancel, rewrite, eliminate or mold to her own interest.” She managed to offend or insult several of the older members who had provided a significant portion of the financial support of the parish. When stewardship dropped to the point where the parish could no longer support a youth minister or Sunday school teacher, most of the younger families with children left the congregation to join churches with active youth ministries.
Not a day passes without the entire Engdahl family having to deal with the tremendous, life-sapping adversity inflicted upon them by The Rt. Rev. Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr. Fr. Engdahl believes Bishop Gibbs needs to take whatever steps are necessary to make his family whole. The emotional and financial toll this tragedy continues to have on him, his wife, Gail, and their two boys is enormous and unrelenting.
THE REV. KEN ERICKSON
Another priest, Fr. Ken Erickson, also came up against Bishop Gibbs’ rough handling and bullying ways.
In a letter to Bishop Clayton Matthews, now the new Intake officer and head of the Office for Pastoral Development in New York City, Erickson wrote in a complaint that, “Bishop Wendell Gibbs has violated the Canons of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Michigan in dissolving my pastoral relationship with St. James, Birmingham, Michigan. Canon IV.1 states unequivocally that, ‘The Church and each Diocese shall support their members in their life in Christ and seek to resolve conflicts by promoting healing, repentance, forgiveness, restitution, justice, amendment of life and reconciliation among all involved or affected.’ Bishop Gibbs acted in willful disregard of this chief responsibility of a member of the clergy.
“I was forcibly removed by the bullying of the Bishop, even though there were no legitimate or proven charges of misconduct, or of my having broken ordination vows, the rubrics or any of the other canonical responsibilities of a rector.
“This unfair and unjust treatment of a priest by a bishop of the Church has had far-reaching consequences for me personally and professionally, for my family, for the people of St. James, and for the Diocese of Michigan.”
Erickson compiled a list of events and related Canonical violations by the bishop. Among these include:
“The Bishop put in place a ‘process of reconciliation’ that was flawed from the beginning because it was in response to a meeting of the Vestry of St. James on January 21, 2013 that was outside the Canons of the Church. Canon I.14.3 provides that the rector, or other such other member of the Vestry designated by the rector, ‘shall’ preside in all meetings of the Vestry. There can be no special meetings of the Vestry without prior knowledge of the rector.
“I was never allowed an opportunity to respond to the Sr. Warden’s decision at this meeting to invoke the Canons, nor was I invited by the Vestry into conversation for the purpose of finding a remedy to the situation. Where was the due process? Canon III.9.13 (b) stipulates that a vote for reconciliation and dissolution be taken at a ‘duly-called meeting’ of the Vestry only after the parties cannot agree. Why, after receiving word of this vote, would the bishop not call me immediately and seek to find a healthy remedy? Instead, Bishop Gibbs wrote me a letter pushing the process forward in spite of the canonical violations.
“Canon III.9.12 states that the purpose of the petition to the Bishop is to request that he “intervene and assist the parties in their efforts to resolve the disagreement.”
At least one of the Vestry members at the time said publicly that this was the stated purpose behind the motion to vote. In exasperation, Erickson explained, “Bishop Gibbs never made a visit to St. James in order to intervene and assist us in reconciling any differences there may have been. This Canon further states that, ‘The written petition shall include sufficient information to inform the Ecclesiastical Authority and the parties involved of the nature, causes, and specifics of the disagreements or dissension imperiling the pastoral relationship.’ Instead of fostering transparency and communication, Bishop Gibbs demanded that the Vestry and I keep silent about the process, thereby keeping the parish in the dark and fostering a toxic environment in which rumor, innuendo and anger flourished. In fact, he refused to allow me to see the petition until after I informed him that he was in violation of Canon Law.”
Fr. Erickson goes on to say that, “On the day I received the bishop’s letter informing me of the Vestry vote and outlining his process, I called Bishop Gibbs to discuss its meaning. He assured me that this was not a disciplinary action, and it was his hope that the Vestry and I could reconcile any differences we had and that we could drop the Canon for Dissolution. He encouraged me to ‘just follow the process’.”
The following week Fr. Erickson called canon Lisa Gray, the Bishops’ Ordinary, to schedule a meeting. “When we met at the diocesan center, she declared that the bishop had directed her to inform me that since the Vestry had voted for reconciliation AND dissolution, at the end of the process, I would no longer be the rector of St. James. Furthermore, she added, the bishop had also directed her to inform me that it would be in my best interest as a clergyman to resign and not force the bishop to dissolve the relationship, as they could then explain my resignation as a ‘bad fit.’
“It was because of this meeting that I felt compelled to hire a lawyer so that Bishop Gibbs would work towards reconciliation (following the Canons), rather than threatening to ruin my career if I didn’t resign immediately. This is bullying by a bishop, and directly opposite to what he told me just a week prior. The fact that I had to hire a lawyer, due to the bishop’s behavior, further eroded my relationship with the Vestry of St. James, although not with the parish as a whole. The parish supported me, and it still does. Bishop Gibbs did not understand that, and refused to listen to the truth. He told me in a phone conversation that he had not read one of the over 100 letters and emails sent to him in support of me by parishioners, and further told me that, ‘maybe when he retired and felt like reading something interesting he would read them.’ The arrogance of this statement is clearly conduct unbecoming a Bishop.”
Erickson wrote that in multiple conversations and correspondence with the bishop, he was repeatedly assured that the process would be “independent” and “impartial.” In retrospect, Erickson observed, “I had never doubted the sincerity of a bishop, but the trust I put in the assurances of Bishop Gibbs were misplaced. The ‘independent and impartial consultants’ appointed by Gibbs were not agents employed to seek common ground and a way forward that would strengthen the parish and all involved. Rather, these ‘consultants’ proved to be spokespersons for the agenda of the bishop, which was to fearfully hide behind the Canons and use them as a sword to remove conflict.”
Ousted, Erickson and his family have moved from Michigan to northern California, but the distance has not lessened the pain they still feel from their forced leave-taking at St. James. He goes on to write in his letter, “That year has changed us. The poisonous effect of betrayal by the Church we loved and served will linger for a long time. Only the grace of God will move the stone in our hearts.”
Erickson said that Bishop Gibbs forced the parish to undergo a reconciliation process by hiring a Mennonite group from Chicago without addressing the great wound the separation caused the parish and his family. “There can be no true reconciliation in the parish without involving us. The Church owes us the help to land safely on our feet and move forward in our own lives without restraint. I believe this is what the vast majority of the parish needs and desires.”
There are only two ways the Church can address our injury, Erickson wrote.
“The first is to remove the two year moratorium and pastoral directives imposed upon me by Bishop Gibbs. The second is to help relieve the financial burden we incurred through this past year. Our legal fees, moving expenses, health insurance costs, medical bills, mortgage payments, etc. have put a great financial strain on our lives. I have lost health insurance, pension and my reputation. I devoted fifteen years of my life to the Church, and the reckless behavior of this bishop has shattered my career.”
“Sadly, my story is but one chapter in the ongoing grave mismanagement of the Diocese of Michigan under Bishop Wendell Gibbs. The Diocese is paying the price of his fearful leadership in parish closings, decline in membership and pledge numbers, and cascading clergy morale. I hope his gross misconduct, lies, inaction, and violations of the canons in the dissolution of my pastoral relationship with St. James, Birmingham, Michigan warrant action by the National Church.”
There were over 100 letters of support of Fr. Erickson written to the diocese by parishioners of St. James, and one dated March 4, 2013 best sums up the collective message to the bishop: “the best and most just resolution of this matter would be for Bishop Gibbs to give Rev. Erickson a strong vote of confidence and for the parish of St. James Episcopal Church to be left to manage its own affairs.”
Three other parishioners wrote in his defense saying, “We cannot imagine how Ken has been able to function as well as he has with all this undermining of him. The stress on his family is drastic and visible…the three of us truly believe that Ken has the support of 99% of the St. James parish.” They concluded by saying that by inviting the Bishop to be involved in parish business they had created an emergency where none existed.
Another parishioner pointedly wrote saying that she and her husband, “were furious that such a significant step would have been taken for so little cause and without any parishioners’ input. Is the Vestry not meant to speak and act on behalf of the parish? Where is the transparency and communication that such a drastic act should require? We continue to be frustrated by the legalese that is now making the situation even more opaque.”
In a final blast at the diocese and its bishop she wrote, “My family will not be able to continue worshipping at St. James if this fine man is terminated without just cause. Our decision to leave would mean the end of a decade of continuous service and a rupture within our family. St. James is not just our church. It is where my parents, my sister’s family and my family, see each other every week. This time spent together is a place with shared memories is irreplaceable and priceless.”
YOUTH LEADER FIRED
The following is a letter written by Jennifer Vanadia in support of Mindy Taylor, a former youth leader at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Waterford, Michigan, who was dismissed for “inappropriate conduct” but with no specifics given regarding her dismissal. (The accusation was that Mindy had kissed a teen on the lips. No evidence or complaint was ever supplied to support the accusation from any teen, parent or parish member.) Mindy told the Ad Hoc Committee that she had “no clue what she was being accused of doing until months later.” She went on to say, “that I was just told I knew what I did wrong, and only after months of people pressing them, did I get that as an answer.”
“Our family joined St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Waterford, Michigan in 2003 and were happy and active members of that parish until December of 2011.
“On December 5, 2011, my husband, who served on the Vestry, received a strongly worded letter from the new priest that Bishop Gibbs had put in place at our parish. The letter announced that the youth leader, a young woman who had grown up at St. Andrew’s, was being dismissed for inappropriate conduct. Knowing the young woman in question, that was difficult to imagine, to say the least.
“The Vestry did its best to get to the bottom of the situation; however, the priest said that the process had already been followed. When the Vestry pointed out that most of the procedures were not followed, i.e. noNotice of Concern had been submitted, nothing had been reported to the authorities, no complaint had been made to the Bishop’s office, the accused was not notified of the complaint and asked for a written and signed response, an investigation had not been conducted, the reverend then responded that the policy was only a ‘guideline’.”
“The Vestry then appealed to the Bishop’s office, asking for assistance in the matter. The Bishop responded with a letter accusing the Vestry of sexism.
“This young woman’s reputation and church life have been destroyed, no evidence or complaint has been supplied to support the accusation against her. No teen, parent or parish member had any complaints against her. The young woman and her family worked for months to get answers and were given none.
“My family and I could not understand how, with the written processes and hierarchy of the church that had been set in place, this could be allowed to happen. We wanted to do something to help.”
On September of 2013, Vanadia, along with a number of other members who had been subjected to similar abusive situations by Bishop Gibbs, wrote letters to the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Michigan.
“We were so hopeful that someone would intervene, and at the very least, have the accusations against this youth leader dismissed, so that she could move on with her life.
“After some time had passed, the head of the letter-writing initiative contacted the standing committee to follow up on the letters we had sent and was told that our letters were being taken seriously. It is now August of 2014. Almost a year has passed. Nothing has changed.
“It is outrageous to me that the church can stand by and allow people to be bullied, their reputations to be ruined in this way. It raises an even larger question. I grew up a Christian, I spent my life attending Sunday school, church, Vacation Bible School, church camps. I now have children of my own and hoped for the same life for them. But I would never want my children to go through what this young woman has gone through. Imagine growing up being told God must come first in your life — and by association the church — devoting your life to the church and having that church, the focus of your life, turn on you and destroy you, while the Christians leading that church do nothing to help you. People wonder why churches are dying, why people no longer make church life a priority. I used to wonder that myself. I have been given a very clear answer.”
The Ad Hoc Committee wants a full investigation to determine the amount of restitution to clergy who have been inappropriately removed from their clerical positions.
The Ad Hoc Committee is asking the national church to take the following steps in order to address the serious problems that are currently negatively impacting the health and well-being of the Diocese of Michigan:
• An intervention from the Diocesan Standing Committee and the National Church placing Gibbs on a 6 month sabbatical in order to conduct a full psychological review leading to a dissolution between the bishop and the diocese.
• Identify, study and evaluate the considerable number of destructive and emotionally damaging ways actions taken by Bishop Gibbs have led to ever-increasing levels of brokenness rather than greater unity within the diocese. (Between resident clergy and the diocese, and individual churches and the diocese).
• Select and appoint an Episcopal visitor to provide pastoral care, and to lead, support and guide the diocese through a process of discernment for the purpose of designing, developing and implementing a program to help initiate healing, reconciliation and the restoration of wholeness to clergy and laypersons who have been—and continue to be—threatened, bullied and betrayed by Bishop Gibbs.
Both Engdahl and Erickson have decided not to pursue legal action in order to recover what they lost as a result of their false terminations; however they still want Bishop Gibbs brought up on ecclesiastical charges that he violated the canons of the church and his oath of office.
There is little doubt from the dozens of pages of evidence that these four servants of God were grossly mismanaged and mistreated by Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr., the Tenth Bishop of Michigan and that he should be relieved of his leadership as bishop of the diocese.
ASA and Financial History of the Diocese of Michigan
Numbers tell the story. Plate and Pledge income for the diocese in the years 2007-2012 saw a loss of nearly $3 million dollars. In 2007, it was $15 million. By 2012, it was down to $13,775 million, an overall loss of 8.6%.
Average Sunday attendance from 2002-2012 revealed a loss of 2,568 souls. In 2002 (two years after Bishop Gibbs took over), the figure was 9,574. By 2012 (the latest figures available), that figure had dropped to 7,006, an overall loss of 26.8% loss.
Figuring in 2013 and what might be revealed in the latest rounds of losses, that figure could now be 30%!
A 2009 breakdown of congregational figures is even more troubling. 42 churches had ASAs ranging from 10 to 100, with only 17 churches between 101 and 200. Six churches were over 200 and there were no churches of 500 or more. 31 churches had fewer than 50 members.
From 1998 (two years before Gibbs took over as bishop), ASA was 9,907. By 2002, it was down to 9,574 -- a loss of 333 souls or the equivalent of 7 parishes!
From 1992 to 2012 - a 20 year period, the church plunged by 4,258 souls (47.8%) from 11,264 to 7,006.