March 24, 2005
A Tempe Episcopal congregation has become the first in Arizona to sustain a major split over biblical authority and the controversial ordination of a gay bishop in New Hampshire.
A faction from St. James the Apostle Episcopal Church, 975 E. Warner Road, including its longtime pastor, or rector, the Rev. Keith Andrews, announced Wednesday that "after much prayerful concern" it was leaving the Episcopal Church and aligning with the Anglican Mission in America and will meet elsewhere. The current church has 370 adult members.
"I can tell you that substantially more are leaving than staying," said Eric Crawford, the group’s spokesman, who declined to cite how many he expects will leave. The brief statement, jointly released by the diocese and the group, said that "other members have decided to remain part" of St. James and the diocese.
The split will be official on Monday, and the two sides agree to discuss and resolve other issues. The splinter group has up to 90 days to keep using St. James as a worship site.
"I am not sure when the smoke clears, how many will be in each one" of the groups, Bishop Kirk Smith said Wednesday afternoon.
The decision came after a Monday night meeting at St. James, and Smith met with Andrews and others on Tuesday "to work out the ground rules."
"It is sad from everybody that they have decided to do this," Smith said. "We wanted the people who are upset to stay, but I respect their conscience and their feelings that they can’t do that, and I wish them well."
Smith earlier sent the congregation a letter urging members to remain. He would not comment on Andrews’ status, except to say "in one way or another, he will be leaving the Episcopal Church with the rest of the congregation."
In the summer of 2003, Andrews discussed with the Tribune his opposition to the vote by bishops at the General Synod to ordain then-Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop for the Diocese of New Hampshire. Robinson was installed last year.
"I have made my position clear, now the vestry has to make its position clear," he said at the time.
Smith said there have been some Episcopalians dropping out from parishes over that issue, but nothing like the split at St. James.
"It is important to realize that people leave the church, but churches don’t leave the church," he said. "If there are people at St. James who feel they cannot stay any longer, obviously they are free to leave, but the parish will continue."