Historic Mobile Parish Added to AMIA List

Episcopal News Service. October 3, 2000 [2000-154]

(ENS) Members of Christ Church in Mobile, Alabama's oldest Protestant congregation, voted on October 1 to sever ties with the Episcopal Church. According to a press release issued by the parish, the vote to leave, 251 to 29, came after 10 hours of debate. The parish reports 700 baptized and 550 confirmed members.

While the press release states that the congregation will continue to worship in the ] 840 structure, which takes up a whole city block in downtown Mobile, that may not go unchallenged. Bishop Charles Duvall of the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast released a brief statement on October 2.

"The diocese has pledged to support those committed Episcopalians who remain at Christ Episcopal Church," the statement said. "While we respect the decision of those who wish to leave the Episcopal Church, we will take the actions necessary to make the land, buildings, and property available to Episcopalians who wish to continue to worship there."

"The time had come to disassociate ourselves from a denomination that had drifted from its Anglican roots," the Rev. Tim Smith, rector of the 177-year-old congregation, told the Mobile Register. "I believe it was a decision that was made after a lengthy time of prayer and fasting."

Smith acknowledged that the decision "has been a long time coming." He has a history of involvement with groups dissatisfied with the Episcopal Church. He was one of five rectors who joined together in January 1996 as a short-lived group calling itself AWAKE. The group compiled a "Catalog of Concerns" about the Episcopal Church under former Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning. Later that year, Smith apparently associated with Concerned Clergy and Laity of the Episcopal Church in an "open letter" to Presiding Bishop Browning, published in the Washington Times and USA Today, that deplored what they saw as a liberal drift in the church.

Smith was also a member of the Mobile-based Trust Group, which demanded in March 1997 that the New York state attorney general's office probe the handling of trust funds held by the Episcopal Church. As reported by ENS (April 3, 1997), the group claimed that treasurer Stephen Duggan provided insufficient information about the management of nearly 1,000 trust funds totaling about $200 million, particularly during the tenure of the previous treasurer, Ellen Cooke. Cooke is currently serving a five-year prison sentence for the embezzlement of $2.2 million from the church. The two-year investigation by the attorney general's office found that the trust funds are being managed properly. According to Duggan, responding to the Trust Group's complaint cost the Episcopal Church a total of $400,000.

No surprises on AMiA list

In a "progress report" issued by the AMiA Steering Committee, presented at a meeting held September 27-28 at St. Stephen's Church, Sewickley, Pennsylvania, the group claims 17 congregations have joined AMiA to date. An analysis of the list reveals that most made the decision to depart months -- and in some cases, years -- before the Denver General Convention. Others appear to be "continuing Anglican" or independent congregations seeking to be affiliated with an Anglican province through the AMiA's connections with Rwanda (through Bishop Chuck Murphy) and South East Asia (through Bishop John Rodgers).

Congregations under Murphy
  • St. Andrew's, Little Rock, Arkansas, a congregation of about 200 in the Diocese of Arkansas. The parish formed in 1997 over the objections of Arkansas bishop Larry Maze, and obtained episcopal oversight from the Rwandan Bishop of Shyira, John Rucyahana, rather than its own bishop.
  • St. Andrew's, Morehead City, North Carolina, a congregation of 600 in the Diocese of East Carolina. The parish's vestry decided in mid-March that the parish would leave ECUSA and align with the Anglican province in Rwanda. On April 30, Murphy performed his first episcopal act, confirming 19 persons and receiving one at St. Andrew's. East Carolina bishop Clifton Daniel III told the parish and its rector, the Rev. C. "King" Cole, that they could leave ECUSA but without their property. Cole maintains that the property was deeded in 1952 by the bishop and diocesan trustees to St. Andrew's vestry and its successors for the sum of one dollar. Daniel also refused to issue letters dimissory (transfer letters) for Cole and assistant priest John Grayson to the Rwandan province.
  • Church of the Holy Spirit, Roanoke, Virginia, a parish of 700 in the Diocese of Southwestern Virginia. On March 2, the parish opted out of the Episcopal Church. "When they built their church building, they established an independent non-profit corporation to hold title to the property, allowing them to leave any time," wrote Bishop Neff Powell to the diocese. "Should they ask to return as an Episcopal Church, I will welcome them back with open arms, possibly killing the fatted calf." By May, Powell had inhibited Holy Spirit's rector, the Rev. Quigg Lawrence, following an investigation in which the Standing Committee unanimously determined that Lawrence had "abandoned the Communion of this Church." Powell will depose Lawrence at the conclusion of the six-month period unless Lawrence makes a retraction or denial of the Standing Committee's findings.
  • Emmanuel Church, New Bern, North Carolina, a mission of about 50 in the Diocese of East Carolina. Its members split from Christ Church, New Bern, but are linked to St. Andrew's, Morehead City.
  • St. Andrew 's-by-the-Sea, Destin, Florida, a congregation of about 600 in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. 412 members and three priests voted on August 27 to join the Anglican Mission in America. Currently, 593 of St. Andrew's members have requested transfer to the Anglican Church, and 18 new members have been added. The Revs. Mike Hesse, Rob Grafe and Forrest Mobley have been inhibited from acting as priests of the Episcopal Church. Diocesan officials offered to lease the buildings to the new congregation for a $10,000 per month leasing fee plus "all expenses of operation and maintenance including mortgage payments and all insurance premiums... [The] Anglican congregation will be given the opportunity to buy the property, but if those negotiations are not successful, the Standing Committee of the Diocese intends to sell to the highest bidder." The parish has been meeting at the Destin Community Center, while some 60 parishioners who remained with the ECUSA congregation meet in the parish's 72-year-old building.
  • Messiah. GulfBreeze, Florida, a congregation of about 120 in the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast. The Rev. Mark DiCristina, rector of St. Francis of Assisi in Gulf Breeze, resigned from the Episcopal Church USA in late August. DiCristina and 80 parishioners then established the Anglican Church of the Messiah in Gulf Breeze. DiCristina has also been inhibited. The remaining congregation of St. Francis of Assisi who did not break away from ECUSA will continue as an Episcopal Church in Gulf Breeze.
  • Two unnamed church "plants" in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Congregations under Rodgers
  • St. Philip the Evangelist, Cortez, Colorado, a congregation of about 50, split from St. Barnabas, Cortez, in late July, when the Rev. Dennis Garrou, led the group to incorporate as the Anglican Church of St. Philip the Evangelist, Cortez.
  • Anglican Church of the Savior, Buena Vista, Colorado, a congregation of about 150, split from Grace Church, Buena Vista, in late July. The new congregation meets in a former Baptist church as the Anglican Church of the Saviour. All three of the parish's clergy, the Revs. James Stone, Alan Sulzenfuss, and Kathy King, departed with them; about 20 members remain with the ECUSA parish.
  • St. Paul's Parish, Brockton. Massachusetts. with about 100 members, is affiliated with the Province of Rwanda, but overseen by Rodgers. A dispute between St. Paul's and the diocese, dating from 1993, was resolved by the courts in favor of the Diocese of Massachusetts in March 1999. Former rector James Hiles was tried on charges of sexual misconduct dating from 20 years before, and defrocked. Supporters claimed Hiles was deposed because he opposed the diocese on sexuality issues and women's ordination. Dissident members of the parish held services on the sidewalk in front of the church, before moving to a nearby auditorium.
  • Good Shepherd Fellowship, Scotts Valley, California is listed as a "new plant."

No current ECUSA information exists for Christ Church, Atlanta; Church of the Redeemer, Glenview, Illinois; Christ the King, Campbell, California; Church of the Resurrection, Wheaton, Illinois; or The Light of Christ Anglican Church, Denver. Two other "loosely affiliated" churches -- Christ the Redeemer in Spokane, Washington, and Trinity Church, Greenwich, Connecticut -- are not listed as ECUSA congregations in their respective dioceses.

The report says that, "other churches are expected to be added shortly." One possible candidate is the parish of St. James the Less in the Diocese of Pennsylvania, which voted in April 1999 to leave the Episcopal Church. The Philadelphia parish and its rector, the Rev. David Ousley, have long been affiliated with the Episcopal Synod of America (ESA), now Forward in Faith/North America (FiFNA).

Another possible addition is St. Bartholomew's. Swartz Creek. a parish of 85 people in the Diocese of Eastern Michigan which left ECUSA in March, leaving its building behind. Its rector, the Rev. Gene Geromel, was a vice-president of the ESA (now FiFNA) and was active in a 1996 attempt to create a non-profit organization using the name "PECUSA, Inc.," a variation on the corporate name of the Episcopal Church.