+Bruno responds to NY Times flight of fancy

Bishop Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles has responded to the New York Times article I blogged about a few days ago, and I think it's an excellent and pastoral response. Read it on epiScope. Though it's not clear at this point whose imagination or imaginations generated the report, it's now absolutely clear that the story of a recently retired porn star being on track for ordination in The Episcopal Church is entirely fictional.

The lesson for bloggers? If you read an article, whether in the New York Times or the National Enquirer, claiming that the Lakers have just hired me as their starting center and that I'm aspiring to the NBA Hall of Fame, you might want to check it out before writing an article decrying the depths to which professional basketball has sunk if the Lakers are hiring 5'7" female theologians to play pro ball.

July 17, 2007 in Diocese of Los Angeles | Permalink | Comments (0)

NY Times branches into fiction

I groaned as soon as I saw it on my RSS reader: "Man of the Flesh to Man of the Cloth." The New York Times has this story about Ronald Boyer, who as late as January of this year was making pornographic movies, and now is at the Church of the Epiphany, which writer Sharon Waxman claims "is guiding his transformation from pornography star to preacher." While Waxman says that "the process to priesthood will take several years," she reports that Boyer "is undergoing training to become a deacon," and that he met "with his priest and with the second-ranking official of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, Bishop Suffragan Chester L. Talton, to gain approval to establish a ministry among sex workers." "To become a priest," Waxman writes, "he must study in a seminary for approximately two years and his candidacy must be approved by the diocesan bishop."

The Diocese of Los Angeles was my home for over twenty-five years. I know what the discernment process for ordination is like there, and I know +Chet Talton. I also know that it generally takes people with no prior graduate theological education at least three years to finish an M.Div., the degree required under most circumstances for ordination. And so I didn't believe Waxman's story for a minute. It didn't take long before a friend confirmed that Boyer is not in the ordination process in the Diocese of Los Angeles or anywhere else. The Times story is fiction.

And now the always-sharp Jan Nunley has talked with Boyer's rector, Hank Mitchel -- "which is more than reporter Waxman managed to do," she writes. "No one is training [Boyer] for ministry at any level," Mitchel said, and as for the supposed meeting Boyer had with Mitchel and Bishop Talton: "No way!" Mitchel said. Talton "never met with Ron. Couldn't pick him out of a crowd ... he was confirmed with about 150 others by Bishop Talton in May." And Boyer "has a long, long way to travel and a lot of spiritual growing to do before we can even think about thinking about a leadership role," his rector said.

Read the whole story at epiScope. Boyer may be interested in becoming a priest someday. I don't know whether he had any chance last week of becoming one, but as of now, I'd have to say that he's got less chance of becoming a priest than the Times' Sharon Waxman has of being a responsible reporter.

UPDATE 15 July 3:43 p.m. -- looks like StandFirm and TitusOneNine have both fallen for the story. I've got to wonder whether the whole thing was a hoax Mr. Boyer launched to generate publicity for his "Internet ministry." His rector had explained the discernment process for ordination, after all, and while Sharon Waxman should be held accountable for her failure to fact-check in any case, I don't know why she would have invented these particular facts ex nihilo. Bloggers, I understand that fact-checking may not seem like a worthy activity for "Roistering Episcopal Adventurers," but it's important if you want people to take you seriously as a reliable source for information.

UPDATE 15 July 11:09 p.m. -- The TitusOneNine "elves" have posted an excerpt from Jan Nunley's post on epiScope and a comment indicating that they "took the story at face value because it was in the NY Times, and "most of us would assume that the Times did some fact checking."

July 14, 2007 in Current Affairs, Diocese of Los Angeles | Permalink | Comments (0)

Judge Rules Dissident Parish Owns Property

The Episcopal diocese had claimed that it was the rightful owner of St. James Church after the congregation defected in a dispute over gay rights.

By Larry B. Stammer
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 16, 2005

A conservative Newport Beach parish that severed ties with the Episcopal Church in a dispute over scriptural teaching and homosexuality is the rightful owner of its buildings and other property, an Orange County Superior Court judge ruled Monday.

Judge David C. Velasquez's ruling in favor of St. James Church finalized a tentative opinion he announced last week that rejected the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles' claim that the local congregation held the multimillion-dollar property in trust for the diocese — and that it forfeited any right to the buildings and other property, including hymnals, when it broke with the diocese and national church.

The Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, bishop of the six-county diocese, said he would appeal. His attorney, diocesan chancellor John R. Shiner, called the judge's ruling "a grave error."

Church conservatives said Monday's ruling was a setback not only for the Los Angeles diocese but also for efforts by the 2.3-million member national Episcopal Church to stem defections by parishes and dioceses over deep differences about the national church's decision in 2003 to ordain an openly gay priest in a committed relationship as bishop of New Hampshire.

"I think the verdict … is a momentous verdict across the U.S.," said the Rev. Canon David Anderson, president of the Atlanta-based American Anglican Council, which has assisted dissident congregations to leave the Episcopal Church. "It gives great encouragement to Episcopalians and people of other Christian denominations that hold to the fact that the local congregation that buys the property and buildings does, in fact, own their property," Anderson said in a telephone interview.

In handing down his ruling, Velasquez said that the diocese had failed to show that it ever had legal title to the St. James property or that the property had been held in trust by St. James for the diocese. The diocese had argued that under canon law, the property was held in trust for the diocese and national church.

"California courts are not bound by canon law," the judge wrote. State courts, he said, followed "neutral principles of law" in resolving church disputes, relying on deeds, articles of incorporation, state statutes and the rules of the "general" church or denomination.

"No evidence has been presented that a trust over parish property has ever been created under statutory law," Velasquez said.

The diocese also lost on 1st Amendment grounds. The judge said that St. James was exercising its free speech rights when it broke with the diocese, issued a press release declaring its estrangement and amended its articles of incorporation to write out any references to the diocese.

"Such acts arise out of and are in furtherance of the [St. James'] exercise of the right to speak on a matter of public interest," the judge wrote. "The views expressed by the defendants concern matters of public interest. How churches in America are reacting to the different viewpoints of homosexuality is currently a topic of much public significance."

The Rev. Praveen Bunyan, rector of St. James, said, "Freedom of speech and freedom of religion in this country is still upheld and we just rejoice in that." He added, "I would not speak for other churches, but I'm sure other orthodox churches would be very blessed by this goodness. I'm sure they rejoice with us."

Told the diocese would appeal, Bunyan said, "I don't know if I should be surprised, seeing the way they have continued to cause us pain…. I would wish that the Episcopal Church would say all right…. We want to be about God's mission and be about God's work."

St. James attorney Eric C. Sohlgren was more direct. He charged that the diocese tried to "intimidate the church and take away its property so the members would have no place to worship."

Shiner, the diocesan attorney, said the issue was not free speech but who owned the property. "When [St. James] became part of the diocese, they committed themselves both orally and in writing to abide by the canons of the church, both national and local," he said in an interview after the ruling. In a prepared statement, Bruno added: "We have never disputed that members of the departing congregations are free to worship how they wish and with whom."

The Santa Ana ruling marked the second time in a year that a court had ruled in favor of a congregation that broke from its national body. A year ago, the state Court of Appeal in Fresno ruled that a United Methodist congregation that left the Methodist denomination had a right to keep its church buildings.

The issue in that case was whether St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Fresno could revoke a trust with the denomination, which promised that the church buildings would be held in trust not only for the local congregation but also for the national United Methodist Church. The court ruled that because the trust had not been expressly declared irrevocable, the local congregation could end it.

Besides St. James, two other parishes — All Saints Church in Long Beach and St. David's Church in North Hollywood — left the Los Angeles diocese and were sued. Velasquez is scheduled to rule on their cases but has not said when he would act.

Link to original article

August 16, 2005 in American Anglican Countil (AAC), Church of Uganda, Diocese of Los Angeles, St. James, Newport Beach, CA | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Dissent is a centuries-long Episcopal tradition

Church that formed in ferment of Reformation may be facing new crossroads.
By Greg Mellen
Staff writer, Long Beach Press Telegram

Monday, August 15, 2005 - LONG BEACH — Fissures in the Episcopal Church are certainly nothing new. In fact, many say it is the diversity of the congregants and their beliefs that makes the church vibrant and relevant.

Diversity is what allows Episcopalians to have very structured and ritualized High Churches and more relaxed and socially active Low Churches. It is what allowed radical thinkers such as bishops James Pike and John Shelby Spong to rise to positions of power, while simultaneously questioning the literalism of the Virgin Birth and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

And sometimes, it is what drives parishes from the flock.

When All Saints Church of Belmont Heights and St. James and St. David's parishes left the national church after the ordination of an openly gay bishop, the blessing of same-sex unions and other doctrinal changes, it was a sign that for some congregations, diversity has its limits. The three breakaway parishes have since aligned themselves with an Anglican diocese in Uganda, a decision that has met with a variety of responses.

Some may see the breakaway congregations as reactionary parishes that are on the outer fringe of the faith and out of touch with modern society. Others may see them as the leading edge of a much larger and ominous trend that could ultimately rend the Episcopal Church and shake the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Already, Anglican leaders from around the globe have repudiated the Episcopal Church and declared varying levels of diminished relations. As the Episcopal Church continues with its current policies, those relations could become more strained.

"I think it's safe to say the Anglican Communion won't look like it has in the past. I think Anglicanism is from now on permanently changed," said the Rev. Gregory Wilcox of St. Mary of the Angels, a parish that split from the Episcopal Church in 1977. "The Episcopal Church committed itself with the consecration of (V. Gene) Robinson and the continued dissolution of doctrine. It has committed itself to this path."

One of the larger active groups in the U.S. that is trying to restore conservatism to the Episcopal Church from within is the Anglican American Council. Formed in 1996 with nine bishops and representatives from more than 20 parishes, the AAC now has 29 chapters and affiliations with 41 schools and organizations.

There have been suggestions that the Anglican American Council could eventually evolve into a second more conservative Anglican Church in the United States.

Others see the latest dustup as just another minor skirmish.

Frank Kirkpatrick of Trinity College wrote in the spring 2004 edition of "Religion in the News' that "the threat of schism has been, as Mark Twain said of obituaries announcing his death, greatly exaggerated."

The decline of the Episcopal Church, however, has not been a source of laughter for leadership.

Worldwide, Anglicanism has been growing and now has 77 million adherents. However, the Episcopal Church has been in steady decline for 40 years, from 3.6 million in 1965 to fewer than 2.3 million.

Some connect that slide to the church's march toward social liberalism.

As the Rev. Beau Davis, an Anglican priest in Los Feliz, says, "(The Episcopal Church is) trying to be loving and trying to be inclusive, but you can't throw Scriptures out."

"The Episcopal Church is dying. They're shuttering churches," said the Rev. Donald Ashman, whose Anglican Church of Our Saviour was one of four parishes to break away from the Episcopal Church in 1977. "If these churches are successful, it could open the floodgates."

Since its founding, the Anglican Church has been one of revolt. It is, after all, a "Protestant' church.

In the early 1500s, the Roman Catholic Church was quaking with dissent. Martin Luther launched the Reformation with his scalding attacks on papal abuses and indulgences.

Soon the Calvinists, Presbyterians, Puritans and Congregationalists, Anabaptists, charismatics and humanists were seeking their own paths, setting doctrine and redefining their relationships with God and their churches.

Amid the upheaval, King Henry VIII of England, frustrated by the refusal of the Roman Catholic Church to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and allow him to marry Anne Boleyn, decided to join the tide away from Catholicism. When Henry formally broke ties with Rome in the 1530s to create the Church of England, or Anglican Church, he created a fractious sect of the Christian religion.

That tradition has continued. From the disputes that set Anglican groups such as Pilgrims and Puritans at odds, to the breaking off from England and establishing the Episcopalian Church in the United States, the worldwide Anglican Communion has rarely lacked for commotion.

That trend in the U.S. church has become particularly noticeable in the last 30 years. In the 1970s, there was the ordination of women throughout the clergy, changes to the liturgy and Book of Common Prayer and a trend toward humanism or social conscience.

Those moves led a number of clergy and parishes to leave the Episcopal Church. In 1977, about 2,000 bishops, clergy and lay people met in St. Louis and created the Affirmation of St. Louis that, among other things, accused the Episcopal Church of "unlawful attempts to alter faith, order and morality."

From those meetings, a number of Anglican parishes organized and created dioceses and Anglican organization apart from the Episcopal Church.

More recently, new battlegrounds have emerged as the church has dealt with issues of homosexuality in the clergy, blessing of same-sex unions and ever-evolving issues of biblical orthodoxy and interpretation of Scriptures.

A group called Anglicans on-line lists more than 60 Anglican churches, dioceses and larger organizations that are not formally recognized or "in communion' with the worldwide Anglican Communion.

These churches may be completely Anglican in heritage and origin, but are simply not recognized by the See of Canterbury, the spiritual leader of Anglicanism. Many of them exist across a wide spectrum of orthodoxies and conservatism.

For example, two groups, the Anglican Church in America and The Anglican Church of America, have very different outlooks despite strikingly similar names. The former espouses more conservative values, while the latter is a member of the International Communion of All-Inclusive Churches. In both groups' Web sites, they note that they should not be confused with the other.

A number of dioceses that have remained in the Episcopal Church have elected to withhold funding to the national church. Virginia, one of the cradles of Anglicanism in the United States, reduced its contributions by more than $1 million. Nationally, funding for the church was down by 12 percent in 2004.

This year, there are pockets of discontent across the country. In Connecticut, a group of priests faced being defrocked for their opposition to the ordination of Robinson. In Alabama, a second congregation has left the fold. In Tempe, Ariz., a parish of 400 split from the Episcopal Church and left its building behind. In Lexington, Ky., a second parish severed ties with the national church. In Philadelphia, a parish defied its bishop by not only keeping a defrocked priest as rector, but elevating him to a bishop of the Anglican Church in America. In New Westminster, Canada, two congregations ended their affiliation with the Anglican Church of Canada, which also blesses same-sex unions.

Whether these events are just part of the normal ebb and flow of opinion and dissent in a large church or the sign of major fracturing, remains to be seen.

The congregants of All Saints Church and St. James and St. David's parishes say for them the split with the Episcopal Church is final and irrevocable.

Link to original article

August 15, 2005 in American Anglican Countil (AAC), Churches Not In Communion, Diocese of Los Angeles, St. James, Newport Beach, CA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Breaking Away

By Greg Mellen
Staff writer, Long Beach Press Telegram

Monday, August 15, 2005 - LONG BEACH — When All Saints Church in Belmont Heights split from the Los Angeles Episcopal Diocese in October, it became part of a rich, fractious tradition that dates back to when King Henry VIII created the Church of England and cut ties with the Roman Catholic Church.

Biblical, doctrinal and social schisms have been a part of Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church ever since. So have defections.

In the late 1970s, the issue of ordination of women into the clergy rocked the Episcopal Church of the United States of America. Approval of the ordination of women, along with proposed changes to the Book of Common Prayer, spurred four Southern California parishes to take the extreme step of severing ties with the national church.

Nationally, the effect was not unlike the current debate over the ordination of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire and the blessing of same-sex unions that led All Saints in Long Beach, St. James in Newport Beach, St. David's in North Hollywood and others to sever ties with the Los Angeles diocese and the national church. The three Southland parishes chose to remain in the worldwide Anglican Communion by aligning themselves with a diocese in Uganda.

The L.A. diocese sued the breakaway churches for their property and financial holdings, arguing that the parishes held them in trust for the diocese and forfeited them when they left the church. The same argument was used in 1977.

The four Southern California churches that left the fold in the 1970s found that their experiences tested the faiths and pocketbooks of both churchgoers and leadership.

The current breakaway churches may or may not have similar experiences. On Friday, Orange County Superior Court Judge David Velasquez tentatively ruled that one of the churches, St. James of Newport Beach, is the rightful owner of the church and its property. Velasquez's final ruling is expected today at a 2:30 p.m. hearing.

The ruling will not apply to the two other breakaway parishes. Hearings haven't been scheduled on those churches but the issues are much the same, according to attorney Eric Sohlgren, who represents St. James but acts as a spokesman for all three.


The gang of four

In 1977, St. Mary of the Angels in Hollywood's Los Feliz neighborhood, St. Matthias in Sun Valley, Church of Our Saviour in Los Angeles and Holy Apostles in Glendale were moderate-sized parishes that made the monumental decision to break away from the U.S. Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Their decisions were spurred by the Episcopal Church's General Convention in 1976, which approved the ordination of women and changes to the Book of Common Prayer. All four parishes were sued by the Los Angeles diocese and went through lengthy court battles. Three won in court, but at a steep cost emotionally, financially and in terms of faith.

Of those that "won," St. Matthias of Sun Valley is now defunct and Our Saviour in Los Angeles hangs on with a rector who is also a full-time teacher. St. Mary of the Angels, the Los Feliz church that spearheaded the move, is now thriving. But in the interim it lost almost its entire congregation, most of its endowment and teetered on the edge of collapse before rebounding.

The rector of St. Mary's at the time, John Barker, whose name has become synonymous with the court case, led an attempt to have his parish accepted as a Roman Catholic Church with Anglican rites. When that failed, he left the Anglican faith, converted to Roman Catholicism and is now a priest in Murrieta. The Rev. William Brown of St. Matthias, similarly unsuccessful, also converted to Roman Catholicism and has since retired. Some members of the St. Matthias congregation later helped found St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Rite Catholic Church in Chatsworth. Despite its title, that parish is not a member of the global Anglican Communion nor affiliated with the U.S. Catholic Church.

Some remaining members of the congregation of Holy Apostles in Glendale, which lost its case, now rent space at a Presbyterian church for weekly Masses. The parish the Episcopal diocese retained was converted into a church for Spanish speakers and was renamed Iglesia de la Magdalena.

"We were young and ready to fight," said the Rev. Donald Ashman, rector of Our Saviour in Los Angeles and a member of Holy Apostles during the secession. "We didn't know how much pain would come. But don't misunderstand me: I don't regret it."

Catholic journey

For Barker and Brown, the former rectors of St. Mary's and St. Matthias, the journey was particularly painful and difficult. They bore the responsibility of leading their parishes away from the Episcopal Church, but eventually failed in their ultimate goal of forging relationships with the Roman Catholic Church.

Barker, popularly referred to as Father Jack, now presides over a flourishing Catholic congregation in Murrieta. St. Martha's Catholic Parish recently celebrated completion of an $8 million project to build a 1,400-person-capacity sanctuary. The parish now consists of 4,500 families and is growing each month.

When the subject of his time at St. Mary's is brought up, Barker politely declines to discuss it.

During the secession battles, Barker and Brown helped lead a national campaign to allow disaffected Episcopal parishes to be in communion with the Catholic Church of the United States while retaining Anglican traditions, including liturgy and married priests.

Barker and Brown were spokesmen for a portion of "Catholic-minded' Anglicans in the U.S. who saw Roman Catholicism as a safe harbor from leaders they said were making "irreversible changes to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church," according to a document Barker wrote describing the times.

For many years, there have been Episcopalians who subscribe to the so-called "branch theory." An outgrowth of the liberal Oxford Movement of the 19th century, the theory holds that Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholicism along with Anglicanism are branches of the one true church of Christ. This is rooted in the notion of apostolic succession, which holds they are the only faiths that can trace a direct lineage of bishops who have been consecrated back to St. Peter, an original apostle of Jesus. St. Peter is generally regarded as the first pontiff of Rome.

Episcopalians and Anglicans who share this belief have often sought to forge tighter affiliations with Rome. In addition to straining relations within Anglicanism, the events of 1976 threatened the Episcopal Church's relations with Rome. As a result, Barker, Brown and other disaffected Episcopal leaders met with officials of the Vatican, eventually working out an agreement that was approved by Pope John Paul II in 1980.

In 1980, Archbishop John R. Quinn announced a "pastoral provision' by which Episcopal and Anglican parishes could become Roman Catholic. In 1983-84, the clergy and parishes of five churches were accepted into the Catholic Church.

Although Barker and Brown won the war, they lost the battle.

In his paper describing the history of pastoral provision, Barker wrote that in October 1984, Catholic Bishop John Ward, on behalf of Cardinal Timothy Manning, told the clergy of St. Matthias and St. Mary of the Angels that no pastoral provision would be offered to the parishes. This happened despite what Barker said were private assurances by Bishop Bernard Law, one of the point men for the Catholic Church in the process, that the Southland parishes "would have little difficulty' being admitted into the Los Angeles Archdiocese.

After being rebuffed, Barker and Brown both left the Anglican faith and converted.

The Rev. Beau Davis, a parishioner at the time and now a curate at St. Mary's, still is angry when he talks about what he saw as underhanded treatment from Manning.

However, he remains hopeful that one day his parish will become a Catholic church with Anglican traditions. Maybe even in his lifetime.

"We still have good communication with the Roman Church," Davis said. "It's not going to happen quickly, but it will happen in God's time."

What's ahead

Given their experiences, members and clergy from the breakaway parishes of the 1970s say their prayers and wishes are with All Saints Church and the other secessionists.

Ashman said he suspects the three parishes are in better financial shape than the group that took on the church in the 1970s. And he predicts they'll need the resources.

"They're going to suffer because they're taking on a large corporation," Ashman said. "(The diocese) is stronger numerically and has more resources. A giant is going to take (the breakaway churches) to court, and it's going to be rough. I've been there and done that."

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August 15, 2005 in Church of Uganda, Churches Not In Communion, Diocese of Los Angeles, St. James, Newport Beach, CA | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Four Houses Divided

The debate over gay issues is tearing at mainline Protestant churches.

Sunday, August 14, 2005
The Orange County Register

They've been bleeding membership for decades. And the wounds don't appear to be on the mend.

Anguished debates about ordaining gay clergy and blessing same-sex unions are worsening the exodus from four bedrock, mainstream Protestant denominations - the Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Church leaders say the moral and scriptural struggle over homosexuality, particularly with regard to clergy and marriages, is the canary in the spiritual coal mine.

"All this is only a sign of concern, of unrest," said Episcopal Bishop Jon Bruno of the Diocese of Los Angeles, which includes Orange County. "What people are really saying here in 2005 is: What is the church all about?"

The answers from the four denominations will help shape national decisions on issues as far from homosexuality as stem-cell research, Ron Farmer, dean of the chapel and professor of religion at Chapman University in Orange, said. These faiths have produced most of the nation's presidents and many prominent theologians and activists. They still carry plenty of moral clout in a country where religion is playing an increasing role in private lives and the public square.

And their members are asking, "What does the Bible really say?" Farmer said.

Two different views frame the dispute among Christians over the meaning of Scripture.

One says the Bible is the same today, yesterday and tomorrow. Its authors were directly inspired by God, and since God cannot err, what was written is flawless. Well-intentioned people might argue about it, but in the end, the truth is the truth.

A 2004 Gallup Poll found that about one-third of Americans believe the Bible to be literally true.

The same poll found 48 percent regard the Bible as divinely inspired but not always to be taken literally. They say that the Bible contains the word of God and also material that must be rejected because it opposes God's will. This includes passages that can be read as approving of slavery, torture of prisoners and treating women as property.

This view says God is inseparable from all things and therefore a part of everyone's experience. So religious truth must be seen against the backdrop of human experience. If Bible passages are morally reprehensible, they may be rejected as a vestige of some ancient writer's cultural bias.

"If you adopt a certain way of reading Scripture and how you believe and how you should act, then you can speak very logically for either side," Farmer said. "You look at the world through your culture, through your childhood learning - with those lenses on."

Focus on homosexuality

In Orange County, most of the four mainline Protestant denominations' faithful accept gays in their pews, even if they don't necessarily want to see them walking down the wedding aisle, their clergy say.

But in some parishes the debate runs deep. It shows up on Web sites and at denominational leadership meetings, such as the one Evangelical Lutherans held last week. At the convention, proposals to allow the ordination of gay clergy who are in committed relationships was turned down. Language that moved closer to permitting sanctioned blessing ceremonies for same-sex couples was also stripped from a proposal that, in the end, affirmed current church practice of allowing individual pastors to decide whether to conduct such ceremonies.

Conflict about the roles of homosexuals in leadership has left the Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the 77 million member worldwide Anglican Communion, teetering on the brink of a bitter split. At least three Southern California parishes have withdrawn from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, including St. James in Newport Beach. St. James now affiliates with a more traditional diocese in Uganda.

In jeopardy as these denominations shrink is a moderating voice and considerable moral weight in national debates from slavery and women's rights to gun control and euthanasia.

"Our country is so peculiarly conservative in some respects and so freewheeling in others ... and these churches are trying to hold the line," Ben Hubbard, professor of comparative religion at Cal State Fullerton, said. "(They) represent a theological moderation – a way of interpreting the Bible as both human and divine in a way that evangelicals proudly don't, believing that they have the truth.

"So there is a lot at stake here for those outside the evangelical or traditional position - including the secular community - on debates over stem cells or war or evolution or what constitutes a family."

Gay bishop seen as the last straw

Last year, St. James and two Los Angeles-area Episcopal parishes left the church after it consecrated Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, a gay cleric. They reaffiliated with the Anglican Church of Uganda. Bruno has defrocked their pastors, and a lawsuit is in the courts over the ownership of the parishes' assets. An Orange County judge, who has indicated he favors St. James in the matter, is expected to rule Monday.

The disaffected pastors agree that the consecration was the last straw in what they believe is a shift away from absolute biblical authority and Jesus as the only path to salvation.

Dan Tangeman, a former member of St. Margaret's of Scotland Episcopal Church in San Juan Capistrano and a lifelong Episcopalian who at one time considered being a priest, left too. He said his church had strayed so far from his beliefs that it was "like I had a wife who was cheating on me.

"It's in the Bible over and over again that you are not supposed to be homosexual. I have gay friends and I am coming from a position of love, but I can't find (acceptance) biblically and I've read the Bible seven times.

"I can't begin to describe the enormous loss I feel for having to leave."

Tangeman said he, his wife and two school-age daughters are settling in at the nondenominational Pacific Coast Church in San Clemente, which he describes as "maybe even too conservative.

"But I'm pretty impressed. We're finding a home there."

Expanding the debate

Many of those who leave don't find homes elsewhere.

Since 1991, the number of U.S. adults who attend no church has jumped 92 percent, from 39 million to 75 million, according to a 2004 study by the Barna Group, which tracks trends in religion.

Some of those who once counted themselves mainline Protestants have thrown up their hands at what they saw as the churches' wobbly public stand on issues from homelessness to hunger - and the blessing of gay unions. They now choose "none of the above" on the church question.

"Yes, that's happening," Bruno agreed, but not here.

The bishop says his stance on Robinson's consecration and related issues has attracted more "socially conscious" people to the faith than it has lost at the three breakaway parishes.

"Many more than say angry things to me say they are proud of our church. Proud we are opening our doors."

Finding how faith fits

Back in the 1950s, creating a church was a matter of, "If you build it, they will come," said the Rev. Steven Yamaguchi, executive presbyter for the Presbytery of Los Ranchos, which oversees all Presbyterian churches in Orange County. That's no longer true.

"We're trying to understand what it means to be faithful as the church, as Christ's witness of Christ's love in a world where we are not the only show in town."

There is this awareness, he said, that the church "has a role to be an expression of God's love in society, and at times that means being countercultural. If society is going a certain way and there is something wrong or evil or destructive about it, then the church, by definition, should be countercultural."

Yamaguchi said he's frustrated that so much church attention is focused on its response to homosexuality.

"If we come out of this debate bloody and we've been clubbing each other, that could be very bad."

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s Theological Task Force on Peace, Unity and Purity of the Church is revisiting the question of whether leaving the denomination – individually or as congregations – is tantamount to dividing "the body of Christ."

Staying whole becomes a priority

Pacifica Synod Bishop Murray Finck said the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America has agreed to put unity above all else as it deals with these issues. He remains confident his denomination will survive.

All voices are valuable, Finck said, succinctly summing up what many see as the strength of the mainline position and others see as its weakness.

"We need to hear the voices on the edges, and it will help us to stay more balanced. If we break off, we will lose those voices that speak to a more biblical, literal understanding of these moral issues, and we need that voice.

"Or, if those who call the church to change would leave us, then who would be there to remind us on a daily basis – that the church is never finished, that we are growing, learning, moving every day in our understanding of what it means to be God's creatures?"

The United Methodist Church is also emphasizing unity – at least for now.

Only last year, a proposal to split the church in two spread behind the scenes at the denomination's general conference. The church's official position that homosexuality is "incompatible with Christian teaching" spurred the move.

The proposal never made it to the conference floor, but the Rev. Mark Ulrickson, superintendent of the church's Santa Ana District, fully expects it back at the 2008 conference.

He's working to keep the debate from being divisive.

"A lot of folks here see ... it's not helpful to set up lines in the sand. There is more an invitation to conversation ... to find how we can understand this and listen to each other as we discern God's yearning."

"Gay and lesbian couples who want to marry suffer in the midst of this," he continued, "because there's nothing to support that desire to sacrilize that relationship."

For Ulrickson the real issue is understanding Scripture for now. "And we keep avoiding dealing with the scriptural issue because we are so preoccupied by dealing with this (homosexuality) issue."

Strategy for survival

For these denominations to survive, they will have to move away from the superheated issues of same-sex marriage, stem-cell research, abortion and the rest, Farmer said.

On both sides, he said, people need to look at their presuppositions and try to understand each other.

"In the long scheme of things this is just a bump in the road. I think the wisdom that many are going to try to follow ... is to hold things together and hope better days lie ahead.

"And I think they do. I think there is going to be another pendulum shift toward religion, and I think that those numbers that don't look so good in church right now will change with the next generation."

Copyright 2005 The Orange County Register

August 14, 2005 in Diocese of Los Angeles, St. James, Newport Beach, CA | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

news summary: Friday, Aug. 12, 2005

The big Anglican story today is a provisional ruling in the property dispute between the Diocese of Los Angeles and St. James' church in Newport Beach, California, where American Anglican Council president David Anderson was formerly rector and which broke away from the Epsicopal Church and was claimed by the Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi as a congregation of the (Anglican) Church of Uganda. Orange County Judge David Valesquez is expected to issue a final ruling on Monday regarding whether St. James' property is owned by the congregation or the diocese, but his tentative ruling issued today suggests that he is likely to rule on Monday in favor of the congregation. The tentative ruling is non-binding and could differ from the final ruling, but it does indicate the direction of the judge's thinking at present. Leads and links to articles from news coverage on this and other items (a good article on the controversy at St. John's in Connecticut and an Evangelical Times story on the founding of a new theological college by Holy Trinity Brompton, home of the Alpha program) can be found below.

August 12, 2005 in "Connecticut Six", Church of England, Diocese of Connecticut, Diocese of Eastern Michigan, Diocese of Los Angeles, Forward in Faith/First Promise, News Summary, St. James, Newport Beach, CA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Church looks for victory in assets ruling

St. James hopeful after a judge's tentative decision.
Published August 12, 2005
By Andrew Edwards, Daily Pilot (of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa, CA)

St. James Church appeared to be on the verge of a legal victory Thursday after a judge issued a tentative ruling to dismiss a claim that the church's property belongs to the national Episcopal Church. Because Judge David Velasquez's ruling is tentative, it can be reversed when the case goes back to court Monday in Santa Ana, attorney Eric Sohlgren said. Sohlgren is the lead attorney for St. James Church.

Link to entire article

August 12, 2005 in Diocese of Los Angeles, St. James, Newport Beach, CA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Ruling for Breakaway Parish

Judge rejects Episcopal diocese's attempt to get property back from the conservative St. James, which cut ties with the national church.
By Larry B. Stammer
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
August 12, 2005    

An effort by the six-county Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles to claim ownership of buildings and other property of a conservative breakaway congregation in Newport Beach was tentatively rejected Thursday by an Orange County Superior Court judge.

St. James Church was one of three former Episcopal parishes to bolt from the diocese and national Episcopal Church one year ago over differences in church teaching and the national church's controversial decision to ordain an openly gay priest in a committed relationship with another man as bishop of New Hampshire.

The diocese sued St. James and two other breakaway parishes for the property after they severed ties and placed themselves under the jurisdiction of a conservative Anglican bishop in Uganda.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. member of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

In the tentative ruling Thursday, Orange County Superior Court Judge David C. Velasquez said the diocese had not shown that it would probably prevail in the property dispute with the St. James congregation, a dispute that also involved issues touching on 1st Amendment freedom of speech rights.

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August 12, 2005 in Diocese of Los Angeles, St. James, Newport Beach, CA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Parish awaits judge's final say

Interim ruling says St. James Church, not the Episcopal Diocese, is rightful property owner.
Friday, August 12, 2005

The Orange County Register

SANTA ANA – An Orange County judge on Thursday tentatively ruled that St. James Church in Newport Beach is the rightful owner of its property, not the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

St. James is one of three parishes that last year broke away from the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the worldwide Anglican Church, over differences in matters of faith, including the national church's ordination of an openly gay bishop.

St. James has since reaffiliated with a diocese in Uganda.

The Episcopal Diocese has argued that the church's buildings, hymnals and other property belong to it rather than the parish.

The diocese had no comment on the judge's tentative decision, spokeswoman Janet Kawamoto said.

Orange County Superior Court Judge David Valesquez is expected to issue a final ruling Monday. He is not bound by a tentative decision, which is used to communicate his current thinking to the attorneys involved.

"If the court adopts the tentative ruling on Monday, of course we'll be very pleased," said Eric Sohlgren, attorney for St. James.

St. James' countersuit against the diocese is pending. The claim of the national Episcopal Church on the parish's property also could remain alive, Sohlgren said.

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August 12, 2005 in Diocese of Los Angeles, St. James, Newport Beach, CA | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack