Knock three times

A reporter for the Hartford Courant describes how the priest-in-charge of Bishop Seabury Church, who was appointed by the Bishop of Connecticut, is locked out of his congregation and is not recognized by the current vestry of the parish. They say the parish has joined CANA and the Church of Nigeria, and wishes no further connection to the Diocese of Connecticut.

When the Rev. David Cannon, the priest-in-charge of Bishop Seabury Church in Groton, showed up to start his job two weeks ago, he walked around the outside of the building, trying every door. All locked.

He could hear people moving around inside, so he knocked. No answer.

Eventually, Cannon found his way to the office building, adjacent to the church, where he called out for the Rev. Ronald Gauss, who still heads the parish in defiance of Episcopal officials. The two men have known each other for many years — were on friendly terms, even — and Gauss knew why Cannon was there, but that didn’t make this any easier.

Cannon was there to take over Gauss’ church — and Gauss was having none of it.

“I wanted access to the church. I wanted the books, the keys, the right to celebrate communion there,” Cannon said. “I asked not once, not twice, but three times. I was refused all three times.”

Not that Cannon was surprised. Gauss and the 780 members of Bishop Seabury have made it perfectly clear that they feel little allegiance to the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut, which appointed Cannon as priest-in-charge on Feb. 29.


Bishop Seabury is one of six Connecticut churches with either severed or strained ties to the diocese — a deterioration sparked by Connecticut Bishop Andrew Smith’s support of the 2003 election of Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of New Hampshire.

Since that time, Bishop Seabury has drawn further and further from the Episcopal Church, voting last January to leave the diocese and join the Convocation of Anglican Churches in North America (CANA), a self-described missionary effort in the U.S. sponsored by the Church of Nigeria.

But they’re not ready to give up the keys to the building — putting the congregation on a collision course with Episcopalian authority in Connecticut.

Gauss disagrees with some aspects of Cannon’s description of his recent visit to the church — he said the priest never asked for the keys, for example — but both men acknowledge that what started as a disagreement about the interpretation of Scripture has escalated — or sunk — into a battle over property rights.

“The issue is, who owns the building? That’s not going to be settled by Ron Gauss or David Cannon,” Gauss said. “That’s going to be settled in a court of law.”

Cannon’s appointment — and his presence at Bishop Seabury that April morning — made it clear that Bishop Smith believes the property belongs to the diocese. In January, Smith ordered the congregation to vacate the property by Jan. 20 and dismissed its church leaders.

The congregation responded on Jan. 20 by defying that order, refusing to leave and re-electing the leaders.

Gauss wants to transfer his canonical residence to Nigeria. The Bishop of the diocese is weighing whether Gauss has instead abandoned the communion of this church. As for Cannon, he says:

Cannon, who retired in 1999 after serving as a vicar of St. James in Preston for 35 years, said he just wants to do the job that’s been assigned to him.

“I don’t have a dog in this fight…My job is to try to care for any of the folks at Bishop Seabury who wish to remain loyal members of the Episcopal Diocese under our canons and constitutions. I may not find anybody, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

Read: The Hartford Courant: Episcopalian Split Comes Down To Locked Groton Church

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