« Church of Our Saviour hangs on | Main | 1970s church divisions painful for congregants »

St. Mary thrives after years of turmoil

Its 1977 exit from the Episcopal Church cost money, members. Now it's healthy again.

By Greg Mellen
Staff writer, Long Beach Press Telegram

Monday, August 15, 2005 - St. Mary of the Angels is a jewel of a building that sits on a quiet corner at the intersection of Hillhurst and Finley avenues in Hollywood's Los Feliz neighborhood. Founded in 1919, the original plan was to build a large church of the stars of Hollywood. However, the 1929 stock market crash hit hard on the West Coast, and although the 1930 structure remains, it is only a portion of what was envisioned.

It wouldn't be the only time vision and reality didn't match for the congregation.

The Rev. Gregory Wilcox, a large man with a heavy flowing beard, remembers the mid-1970s as a time of intense turmoil in the Episcopal Church. Amid this upheaval, St. Mary of the Angels decided it would have to secede.

The Rev. Beau Davis, a parishioner at the time and now a curate at St. Mary's, said rector John Barker and others, sensing the movement in the national church, changed parish bylaws to align with California property laws and help shield the parish from a future takeover.

The legal maneuver worked, but the price to the congregation was considerable.

"(The politics) took a toll on the parish, because that's not why people come to church," Wilcox said. "At one point they erected a chain-link fence because there were rumors the bishop would come and try to take the property. There were armed guards during Mass. It was not a situation geared to people who wanted to come and say their prayers."

Davis is a thin man whose passion about religion is so overt that he occasionally blurts out very unreligious expletives when he gets excited. His voice still cracks when he remembers those days.

"Probably the most painful thing, next to losing my son to cancer, was leaving the faith," Davis said.

For four years the diocese and parishes waged legal wars in the courts.

"People in this parish mortgaged their homes," Davis said. "We had a huge endowment at one time and almost all was expended on legal fees. But the people, the vestry and the people, insisted this must be done. There was a lot of genuine sacrificial giving."

By the time Wilcox became rector in 1985, the congregation had shrunk from about 170 to 18. The last member of that congregation still with the parish died in 2004, according to Davis. Although St. Mary's had won its freedom, the lingering psychological damage was evident.

"Even though we were completely separate, this place still had a siege mentality, and it took a long time for that to go away," Davis said.

Wilcox's solution was to refuse to talk about the parish's history and politics.

"(Wilcox) simply said, 'It's time to refocus. You come from an unpleasant past, but you've been delivered to a pleasant new future," Davis said.

Today, the parish is strong.

Wilcox said membership has grown to 220, most in the 20-40 age range. Davis said they are people who want a more orthodox doctrine and form of worship.

"We still get a fair number of Episcopalians who come here when they get upset with the way the church is going," Wilcox said. "But I'm not enthusiastic about getting a group of unhappy people who come here to gripe."

St. Mary's is affiliated with the Anglican Church in America, which is part of the worldwide Traditional Anglican Church. The Anglican Church in America was one of several splinter Anglican organizations formed in 1977 after the Affirmation of St. Louis.

The St. Louis meeting was attended by 2,000 Anglican bishops, clergy and lay people in opposition to the outcomes of the Episcopal Church's General Convention in 1976, including the ordination of women and changes to the Book of Common Prayer.

The Anglican Church in America has five dioceses in 32 states. The worldwide organization claims a congregation of 400,000.

Wilcox said the loose affiliation is irregular but valid.

Although Davis said God has delivered him to a better place spiritually, the pain and bitterness remain just below the surface. Davis said he remains close to many people who have left the Episcopal Church.

"One thing we all agree on is that the bishops sold us and our faith down the drain," Davis said. "The very people we looked to and trusted to be centers of unity became centers of disunity, and it was done with incredible cruelty. They were like shepherds who would torture their sheep before shearing them."

Link to original article

August 15, 2005 in Churches Not In Communion | Permalink

TrackBack

TrackBack URL for this entry:
https://www.typepad.com/services/trackback/6a00d8341c234653ef00d834cb4eb853ef

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference St. Mary thrives after years of turmoil:

Comments

FR. GREGORY L. WILCOX, FORMER RECTOR OF ST. MARY OF THE ANGELS ANGLICAN CHURCH IN LOS ANGELES, RESIGNED HIS POSITION IN APRIL 2006. HE ALSO WITHDREW FROM THE DIOCESE OF THE WEST AND THE ANGLICAN CHURCH IN AMERICA (THE AMERICAN PROVINCE OF THE TRADITIONAL ANGLICAN COMMUNION OR 'TAC,' ONE OF THE 'CONTINUING' CHURCHES THAT SECEDED FROM THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH IN THE LATE 70s).

IS ANYONE AWARE OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES SURROUNDING THIS UNEXPECTED EVENT, PARTICULARLY IN LIGHT OF THE WILCOX QUOTES THAT APPEARED IN THE LONG BEACH PRESS-TELEGRAM STORY OF AUGUST 2005?

Posted by: Douglas Wilkie | Jun 12, 2006 12:24:24 AM

Fr. Wilcox had an accident that badly damaged his right leg, causing the need to amputate it. He is also taking care of aged parents on their ranch in south Texas, and is the Rector of St. Joseph Anglican Church north of San Antonio, Tx, a parish of the Anglican Province of America.

Posted by: Fr. Ben | Apr 23, 2014 7:24:27 PM

Fr. Gregory Wilcox left St. Mary's unexpectedly for personal reasons. During his tenure, he was a great preacher. He was missed. Unfortunately, St. Mary's has never recovered and its future is uncertain, if not in dispute.

Posted by: John | Oct 28, 2015 6:55:07 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.