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ChurchWatch: Craig von Buseck

Join Craig von Buseck weekdays as he shares his perspective on the major trends and news affecting the Body of Christ today.


june 28, 2007

Episcopal Civil War

The American Episcopal Church is imploding before our eyes.

Accoridng to David Virtue, of, almost weekly, somewhere in the U.S. an orthodox Episcopal Church parish announces it is leaving the Episcopal Church over the denomination's rejection of Holy Scripture as authoritative, the consecration of an openly homosexual bishop to the episcopacy, the blessing of same sex unions, and, in some cases, the irregular ordination of women to the priesthood.

There is no sign of it letting up even though Episcopal Church leaders have made it very clear that priests and parishioners who attempt to leave with their properties will face harsh legal retribution that in some cases will include lawsuits against clergy as well as vestries.

Just this week, a California Court of Appeal overturned the ruling of a lower court regarding the property of breakaway churches from the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Los Angeles. The court ruled in favor of the diocese and the Episcopal Church.

After the Episcopal Church decided to elect openly homosexual Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who lives with his longtime male partner, the congregations voted to amend their articles of incorporation and maintain they are now part of the Anglican Province of Uganda. The churches are now calling themselves St. James Anglican Church, Newport Beach; All Saints’ Anglican Church, Long Beach; and St. David’s Anglican Church, North Hollywood.

The Los Angeles Diocese sued the three churches to gain control of the properties, arguing that the parishes held their church buildings in trust for the diocese and the national Episcopal Church and were not entitled to them. The trial court ruled in favor of the departing congregations in August 2005.  

The three judge panel overruled this ruling. quotes Eric Sohlgren, lead attorney for the three churches, as saying the decision goes against the precedents that California courts had followed for years regarding disputes over the ownership of church property. 

“It is contrary to almost 30 years of court decisions in California, which say that these kind of church property disputes should be resolved by looking at who owns the property, who owns the deed, did the local church ever promise to turn their property over to the local denomination if they left,” he said. “What these three judges are saying is that we don’t need to look at the deeds, we don’t have to look at who bought the property or who maintained it. All we have to look at is whether the denomination passed a rule saying that they get to use the local church property.”

Who's Jumping The Episcopal Ship?

Accoridng to David Virtue, since its inception seven years ago, the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) under Rwandan Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini has grown to 116 congregations, with another 39 in various stages of formation.

"The majority of our congregations are church plants, well under a third affiliated as congregations from TEC," says Cynthia Brust, AMiA Communications Director. Only Anglican Mission congregations are under the oversight of Rwanda. They have four bishops led by the Rt. Rev. Charles "Chuck" Murphy and are based in Pawleys Island, South Carolina.

Uganda, under the jurisdiction of The Most Rev. Henry Orombi claims 35 parishes.

Nigeria under The Most Rev. Peter Akinola and its North American affiliate, - the Convocation of Anglicans in North America - (CANA), which has its own bishop, the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns, claims 37 registered churches in 15 states plus the District of Columbia.

"This figure will only continue to grow and expand over the coming months with major defections starting in October following the Sept. 30 deadline set by the Primates in Tanzania earlier this year," Virtue reports.

The main "Continuing Anglican," (Continuum) have a combined 775 parishes that have left The Episcopal Church since 1977. (This figure is not absolute). The Reformed Episcopal Church left earlier along with Charismatic Episcopal Church which left later. Some have additional affiliates in other countries.

Here are their numbers according to Virtue:

* American Anglican Church. (11)
* Anglican Catholic Church. (90)
* Anglican Catholic Church of Canada. (42)
* Anglican Church in America. (86)
* Anglican Church in the USA (Va). (20)
* Anglican Churches of America. (2)
* Anglican Episcopal Church. (5)
* Anglican Independent Communion Worldwide. (2)
* Anglican Orthodox Church. (7)
* Anglican Province of America. (76)
* Anglican Province of Christ the King. (58)
* Christian Episcopal Church. (4)
* Diocese of the Holy Cross. (16)
* Episcopal Missionary Church. (33)
* Holy Catholic Church (Anglican Rite). (35)
* Orthodox Anglican Church. (11)
* Reformed Episcopal Church. (120)
* Southern Episcopal Church. (3)
* United Anglican Church. (11)
* United Episcopal Church of North America. (30)
* Anglican Use parishes (Roman Rite) in the US (8) with three probably to be added.
* Charismatic Episcopal Church (approx. 85). They recently underwent a serious split with about 35 leaving the CEC.

In addition to the above figures those parishes sympathetic to Forward in Faith (NA) within the Episcopal Church number about 75.

Not included is the Anglican Communion Network, which currently has ten dioceses and six convocations. As of January 2007, ACN dioceses and parishes counted 200,000 laity and 2,200 clergy in more than 900 congregations, with the number of affiliated parishes growing weekly.

The Episcopal Church claims some 7,500 parishes spread across 100 dioceses. The denomination has repeatedly said that the congregations that have left represent only a few parishes. But according to Virtue, "even when the vast majority of parishioners of a parish leave (with a small minority staying), the TEC still regards them as being on the books. The same is true for a parish leaving TEC. From their perspective there has not been a significant change."

"What The Episcopal Church doesn't say is that many of those leaving are cardinal parishes like Christ Church, Plano, which has more parishioners attending on any given Sunday than the entire Diocese of Nevada (the former diocese of Mrs. Schori, the Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop),or the Diocese of Northern Michigan, which has shrunk to some 28 parishes which see less than 900 on an average Sunday, about the same number who attend the Church of the Good Samaritan in Paoli, Pennsylvania."

Watch for Anglican Realignment

We could see a major realignment with a new North American Province emerging in the coming months. Many people are wondering if the Archbishop of Canterbury would recognize such a province? The Anglican Communion has given the Episcopal Church the ultimatum to repent and agree to the demands of the Windsor Report. The September 30th deadline is fast approaching.

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