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1970s church divisions painful for congregants

Legal outcomes differed, but communities in Sun Valley and Glendale faltered.
By Greg Mellen
Staff writer, Long Beach Press Telegram

Sunday, August 14, 2005 - Two parishes did not survive the separation trials of the 1970s.

St. Matthias Church in Sun Valley won its court case but was unable to keep its property. The once-thriving parish was already in desperate straits when the court trials began, and eventually the church was sold. Some of the congregants left with their pastor, the Rev. William Brown, and merged with St. Mary of the Angels in Los Feliz, while others helped start St. Mary the Virgin in Chatsworth. Still others left the faith entirely.

On a blistering day in Sun Valley, the L-shaped main church building that was St. Matthias appears deserted. The church and a portable outbuilding sit on a weed-covered corner plot of land near the Golden State (I-5) Freeway. The church is run by the Korean Blessing Mission Church. On a weekday afternoon the property is gated and locked.

Neil Paquin was a St. Matthias congregant in the '70s and deeply involved with the church. He said beyond the money the parish spent, the greatest toll was to his relationship with the clergy.

Photo gallery: St. Mary of the Angels Anglican Church

"Most of us really put our hearts and souls into it," Paquin said, "which I will never do again to any church. I wouldn't put my faith in a priest or minister or any man. That's where I stand now."

Paquin and Ruth Zuber are among former congregants who believe their clergy had ulterior motives in seceding from the church, although they agreed with the move at the time.

"The rector of our church seemed to lead us to Roman Catholicism," Zuber said. "That's not the way it was presented to us at first."

Paquin puts it in more stark terms.

"(Brown) sold us down the river," Paquin said. "He kept telling us he was doing it for the Anglican church."

Despite the outcome, Paquin guesses he still would have left the Episcopal Church and said traditional Anglicans felt forced to make a choice by either accepting a revised Book of Common Prayer or leaving.

Paquin and Zuber say the ordeal was hard for many.

"A lot left and never entered another church of any sort," said Paquin, who now lives in Washington.

Holy Apostles in Glendale was the only church to lose its court case. Unlike the other churches, Holy Apostles was relatively young and was formed after canons, or church laws, were put in place that specifically called for the property to revert to the diocese if the parish was dissolved.

That didn't make it any easier for the congregation, which spent about $20,000 in legal fees and was left with nothing, according to the Rev. Donald Ashman, a member of Holy Apostles during the secession.

In addition to his duties as rector of Our Saviour in Los Angeles, Ashman tends to 35 or so remaining congregants of Holy Apostles who rent space from a Presbyterian Church. Father Anthony Rascher, a former Episcopal priest who was among the first to leave the faith in the late 1970s, helps Ashman with the Holy Apostles congregation, as well as his own parish, St. Mary the Virgin in Chatsworth.

Doctrinal disputes and court battles make it hard for parishioners to remember the real purpose of church, Ashman said.

"You become filled with martyrdom and bitterness and forget charity," Ashman said. "That's what happens when you're pushed too hard. The tendency is to get angry and fight back."

Ashman said the prospect of taking on the Episcopal Church was daunting for a small parish like Holy Apostles, but congregants believed it was their only choice.

"They were frightened, it was a scary time," Ashman said. "Some people never recovered. I know parishioners who just gave up on God because they didn't know how he could do this."

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August 15, 2005 in Churches Not In Communion | Permalink


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Good to see these three articles reprinted. I read them earlier on titusonenine.


Posted by: Mark | Aug 15, 2005 4:41:53 PM

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