On Tuesday, August 17, two Southern Californian Episcopal congregations voted to break away from the national church because of the longstanding conflict over homosexual union ‘blessings’ and the ordination of homosexual individuals. Representatives of All Saints Church in Long Beach and St. James’ Church in Newport Beach announced their “disassociation from the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Los Angeles” and their decision to place themselves under the jurisdiction of a conservative Anglican bishop from Africa.
According to a statement from All Saints Church, the recent decision was the fruit of many failed attempts to turn the Episcopal Church back to its Christian roots.
"This has not been an easy decision for us,” the church’s statement read. "We have struggled with this for a number of years."
St. James also released a similar notice, saying it has tried “for many years to reconcile” the theological differences with the National church and local diocese.
"St. James' worked very hard for many years to reconcile our differences with the Episcopal Church USA and the Diocese of Los Angeles, both in our own hearts and through extensive dialogue. However, that effort has brought no comfort to ease our pain.
"The members of St. James' wish to move beyond this issue, so we can concentrate on our core mission: To glorify God, uphold the Holy Scripture, raise our children to love and serve Jesus Christ and share the Gospel with the world," concluded Bunyan.
The debate on homosexuality began several years earlier as the higher ranked officials in the Epicsopal Church USA (ECUSA) –the 2.3 million members U.S. branch of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion – began voicing support to the ordination of homosexual clergy. Last year marked the pinnacle of such adamant support, as the ECUSA bishops ordained an openly gay and active homosexual as the bishop of New Hampshire.
The election of the gay bishop, in conjunction with the ECUSA’s open acceptance of ‘homosexual blessing rights (blessing the union of two homosexuals),’ sparked a firestorm of criticism that ultimately alienated the ECUSA from over half of the member churches in the Anglican Communion. Within the U.S., dozens of churches voted for “alternative oversight,” an act where biblically minded congregations receive oversight from the bishop of their choice rather than their local bishop. The “oversight” process is overseen by the national church and it involves the cooperation and consent of both the local bishop and the alternative bishop.
The two Southern California churches, unlike other congregations in the “alternative oversight” program, did not speak to their local bishop Bruno in making their choice.
According to the Episcopal News Service, Bruno said he was taken by surprise by the statements, and that there are more “matters to consider” before considering the break “fully final.”
"I have made ongoing and longstanding attempts to be their bishop and pastor and friend. I have had no warning of this taking place, and am saddened by their unwillingness to call my office and make an appointment to discuss this before they made this attempt to move to the Diocese of Luweero in the Province of Uganda,” said Bruno.
"I have recently offered these two congregations, along with two others, the option of alternative pastoral oversight by an Episcopal bishop with whom they are in agreement. It was an option they declined. At the time, their spokesman, the Rev. William Thompson, said there was no need for that at this time, and they were looking forward to my visitation to their church,” said Bruno.
"Until I have had an opportunity to fully consider this action and its validity, the diocese will have no further statement. There are many matters to consider before these actions can be considered final,” he concluded.
In addition, Bruno said he sent a letter to the African bishop, the Rev. Evans Koseka of the Diocese of Luweero in Uganda, telling he that he had ‘violated church law by intervening in the affairs of the Los Angeles diocese.”
"I have informed the presiding bishop (of the U.S. Episcopal Church) and have taken and sought counsel" from church lawyers, Bruno said. In the letter to Koseka, "I am advising him that I'm not releasing these parishes," Bruno said.
Ultimately, the two dissenting churches may enter into a legal battle with the ECUSA, including a dispute over who owns the church buildings and property — the parishes, themselves, or the Episcopal diocese.
Nevertheless, the Rev. William Thompson, the Rector of All Saints, said the church parishioners can wait no longer.
Thompson explained that after the ECUSA’s decisions last year, his parishioners kept asking him, “Why are we waiting? This is bad! We must go.”
The Rev. Praveen Bunyan heard the same things from his parishioners at St. James. "St. James has been a clear voice for biblical orthodoxy for years," he said. "It came to a point when people began to ask me, particularly after last year, 'Father Praveen, why are we still affiliated with the church we so clearly differ from and the church that has departed from the authority of Scriptures that we say we want to uphold?' "
What may have set off Tuesday’s statement, beyond the National church’s pro-homosexual stance, was Bishop Bruno’s decision in June to officiate at the same sex blessing of one of his priests, the Rev. Canon Malcolm Boyd, and his male partner of 20 years.
Soon after the June ‘ceremony,’ the 12-member board of directors or vestries of both parishes voted unanimously to break with the communion with both the Los Angeles diocese and the ECUSA.
Then, in meetings they described as joyous and ecstatic, parishioners backed decisions in overwhelming votes Monday night. Thompson said the vote at All Saints was 131-10, with three abstentions. Bunyan said the vote at St. James was 280-12, with possibly one abstention.
"People broke into praise God hymns on their own," Bunyan said. "Many times the congregation stood up in standing ovations, raising their hands with tears rolling down their cheeks.”
According to Eric Evans, a member at St. James, the decision to break is not so much a call to end fellowship with the ECUSA as it is a call to regain the Anglican tradition.
"The Episcopal Church has left the traditional values to chase after a liberal agenda and stay within a pagan religion. We have freedom from an oppressive church for oversight by a bible-believing, born-again Bishop," Evans said.
Bruno's full statement is posted on-line at www.ladiocese.org. Statements from the two parishes are posted online at www.allsaintslongbeach.org and www.stjamesnewportbeach.org.