Marie Manor was a “cradle” Episcopalian. The Scottsdale woman was born into an Episcopal family, but she said today’s Episcopal Church is not the one she was raised in, that it has moved away from historical truths about the authority of Holy Scripture and the divinity of Christ. So, she and her family have defected.
They are part of about 175 who left en masse from Christ Church of the Ascension Episcopal Church in Paradise Valley and last month started Christ Church Anglican, which now meets in a rented church building in Phoenix. They formed their first vestry, or 12-member church board, Tuesday night.
They represent about 40 percent of the average weekly attendance of about 420 at the historic Paradise Valley church where the late U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater had donated the land for the church, regularly worshipped and where his remains are buried, said Jane Allred, who handles the new church’s communications. Bishop Kirk Smith, head of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, disputes those numbers, saying it was a “small group of about 75 people out of a 1,000-member parish” who left in what he calls a “drastic step.”
Allred sticks to her numbers and said other Episcopalians from Phoenix and Scottsdale churches, plus some Lutherans and Catholics, have joined since their first service on Oct. 7.
The 2.1 million-member mainline denomination has seen a wave of departures for Anglican communities, citing actions by the House of Bishops to allow gay Episcopal bishops and same-sex union blessings. They say the American church contrasts with other parts of the global Anglican Communion, where, they say, tradition and adherence to Scripture remain strong. The Episcopal Church has experienced a 9 percent loss in membership since 1996.
“I spent a significant period of discernment wondering where I needed to raise my voice and realized it was not in the Episcopal Church,” said Manor, who says she is happy to find “other like-minded Orthodox Christians” and knew that together they would find a new place to share their common faith.
“I was in the old church my whole life, since a baby,” said 16-year-old Matt Rucker, “so it is kind of hard (to leave), but not as hard as I thought it would be because we are doing the right thing.” He calls it a sacrifice that needs to be made. Rucker said he still sees friends from Christ Church of the Ascension, but they don’t talk theology.
To become part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church in America is a part, the new Anglican church decided to attach to an Anglican jurisdiction outside the U.S. Like other breakaway Episcopalians, Christ Church Anglican has gone “offshore.” Its members, now totaling about 200, have affiliated with the Church of Uganda. Its primate, or leader, is the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi.
On Sunday night, the Right Rev. John Guernsey, the Church of Uganda bishop for congregations in America and a rector in Virginia, paid his first visit to the new church, where he confirmed 12 teens and adults and received about 75 into the Anglican Province. “We are committed to the historic biblical faith of the Anglican tradition, and these saints believe that,” he said. “They are excited about it and committed to it and eager to share it.” So far, 39 American Anglican congregations have aligned with the Uganda church and are under his care, Guernsey said.
“There are probably well in excess of 250 congregations that are not in the Episcopal Church,” he said. Some have aligned with the Pittsburgh-based Anglican Communion Network, founded in 2004, in reaction to the 2003 General Conference actions by bishops, which opened the door to the ordination of the Rev. Gene Robinson, who is openly gay, as bishop for New Hampshire. Others, like Christ Church Anglican, aren’t joining that network because it is not recognized by the archbishop of Canterbury as a legitimate part of the Anglican Communion.
Besides the Uganda Province, new American Anglican congregations are aligning with such provinces as Rwanda (the largest for U.S. churches), Kenya, Nigeria, West Africa and the Southern Cone (South America). The Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church in the province from the U.S. reaches about 77 million members, is in 164 countries. They trace their roots to the Church of England, which broke from the Roman Catholic Church in 1534 when King Henry VIII named himself head of the church.
“My responsibility is to serve you and support you on behalf of your diocesan bishop in Uganda,” Guernsey said. “I am the local guy on the ground, but we urge churches to develop that partnership, to visit Uganda, to see things from their perspective. ... You will greatly be blessed by this relationship.”
But Bishop Smith stresses that Christ Church of the Ascension remains intact. “This is not a parish that has left the Episcopal Church,” he said. He has appointed the Rev. Philip Jackson from Detroit as “priest in charge under special circumstances.”
“They have lost a lot of their friends, and it is very had to go through one of these things,” Smith said, but sometimes when there are irreconcilable differences, it is healthy for groups to go their own ways. “There is a lot of healing that needs to be done.”
Bishop Smith met with the vestry Wednesday.
While American Anglicans may long for a day when Canterbury might recognize them as another American jurisdiction of the greater communion, that could depend on what the archbishop of Canterbury and primates may decide at the Lambeth Conference in July or in later meetings. Primates and bishops gather every 10 years to address the church’s direction.
Smith notes that American bishops representing the Anglicans aren’t being invited by the archbishop to Lambeth. “It is his party” and they weren’t invited because “he does not consider them part of the Anglican Communion, their protest to the contrary,” he said.
“One can be Anglican and not be in communion with the archbishop of Canterbury,” Smith said.
The new congregation is renting the former Living Streams Church, 5811 N. 20th St., Phoenix, where services are 9 a.m. Sundays (www.christchurchanglicanaz.org) . They are led by the Rev. Grayson Carter, who also teaches for Fuller Theological Seminary.
“We have been in a discernment process for about two years,” Allred said. “As we saw the direction of the Episcopal Church and the denial of the divinity of Christ and the rejection of Scripture as the Word of God, we did not feel that this was the 'faith of our fathers living still.’ ”
In 2005, St. James the Apostle Episcopal Church in Tempe had a similar split when about 175 of its 300 members, including its 12-member vestry and its founding pastor, the Rev. Keith Andrews, broke from the church and formed Living Faith Anglican Church, which aligned with the Rwanda Province.
The Rev. Ken Semon, who had been rector since 1999 of Christ Church of the Ascension had been publicly critical of Episcopal policies. A year ago, he completed a three-way “delegated Episcopal pastoral oversight covenant agreement” involving the Paradise Valley church, Bishop Smith and Bishop Jeffrey Steenson of the Diocese of Rio Grande. The pact meant the church would get its pastoral care from Steenson, Ascension would remain a full member of the Arizona diocese, Christ Church of the Ascension would take no action to separate from the Episcopal Church (and invoke no legal actions) and the agreement needed two of the three parties to be terminated.
But when Semon announced his resignation Sept. 28 to take a pastoral interim call in Santa Fe, N.M., Smith says, “things quickly changed. Many vestry members resigned, a new vestry was elected and a segment of the congregation said it was leaving to form a new church.”
Steenson, the New Mexico bishop, resigned Sept. 25 and announced he was joining the Roman Catholic Church, the third Episcopal bishop this year to do so.
Bishop Smith, leader of 30,000 Episcopalians in 63 parishes, said while the three-way agreement remains in effect, “it certainly will have to be revisited because the reasons for having it is sort of gone.”
He criticized the new church adopting a name so similar to Christ Church of the Ascension. “They did this to try to be confusing,” he said. Smith said Bishop Guernsey violated canons going back to the third or fourth century whereby bishops must ask permission to do business in another’s jurisdiction.
“I wouldn’t call it a major loss of parishioners,” he said of the St. James and Christ Church of the Ascension exoduses. By his count, it is no more than 300 joining Anglican groups.
“That is 1 percent (of 30,000 members), we are not talking about a major loss of people.”
“If they feel they have to leave, God bless them,” he said. “I am sorry they feel that way.” He recalls when the House of Bishops voted to ordain women as priests in 1976 and as bishops in 1989, there were mass losses, as well.
“This has happened at other times in our history as a church,” Smith said.