Within the past two weeks, three Southern Californian Episcopal congregations voted to break away from the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) because of the national church’s continual drift away from the theological norm. In place of the Los Angeles bishop, the three parishes chose to be placed under the oversight of the Ugandan Bishop Evans Kiesekka of Luweero.
Following the decisions of these parishes, the bishop of Los Angeles threatened to ‘depose’ the leadership of the churches, and urged them to be ‘reconciled’ with the diocese or face legal repercussions.
On August 27, the Christian Post staff spoke to the Rev. William Thompson, rector of All Saints Church in Long Beach, California, about the main reasons behind the break and the future decisions for the church. The other churches involved in the controversy are St. James’ Church in Newport Beach and St. David’s Episcopal Church in North Hollywood, California.
What is the core reason behind the break?
The real core reason is cumulative over 40 years ago, frankly. A perception by many of us who sought to hold fast to the traditional view of the supremacy of Christ and the word of God and its authority over the church, was that much of the leadership of the Episcopal church has been gradually and historically moving away from the Christian church and Anglicanism as it has been around the world.
Was there a particular incident that ‘broke the camel’s back’?
Probably not; it’s an accumulation of a number of things that have happened as early on as about 10 years ago. In the Episcopal Church, there in an annual convention that passes resolutions on behalf of the group that gathered. The few biblically orthodox clergy wanted to see what we could do, so we entered two resolutions at one of these annual conventions. One of the resolutions stated that the diocese of Los Angeles affirms the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, that he is the way, the truth and the light. I entered a separated resolution that stated that the Diocese of Los Angeles affirms that the Holy Spirit is primary course of the Christian and how he is to behave. During the convention, one was tabled and the other was discarded.
After this began, we tried to reform the Episcopal Church, and as time went by, we were victorious on some levels. However, it became clearer that the ECUSA was not going to repent and return to the authority of scripture.
The decision of the General Convention last year seemed to show that at the highest level, the church was denying scripture. Throughout the scripture, it says the proper relationship is within marriage between a man and a woman; others seemed not to be in God’s plan. The Episcopal Church denied the clear teachings of sexuality.
Why did you choose to align with the dioceses of Uganda?
First of all, it is important to understand that the Anglican Communion around the world has 77 million members. These members owe the spiritual heritage to the Church of England. The various regions are autonomous, and the Anglican Communion is a relationship of people with a common heritage.
Despite the fact that much of the missionary work was done by the first world missionaries in the 19th century, in the current day, the church is growing explosively and is the strongest below the equator.
There are 38 provinces within the Anglican Communion, and these provinces represent a national church, such as the Episcopal Church (USA) and the Anglican Church of Uganda.
A majority of the 22 leaders of the provinces have already said in one form or another that they are in some form of impaired communion with the ECUSA because of the American branch’s actions during last year’s convention.
Those 22 provinces represent over 55 million of the 77 million Anglicans worldwide. So we are basically reflecting what the majority of Anglicans believe.
Specifically, answering why we chose the Church of Uganda, the church of St. James, and we have had a good relationship with the people of Uganda. We have had short-term mission trips through a program called Sharing of Ministries Abroad (SOMA), and through this, we made strong connections with them.
Plus, last November, Ugandan Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi was touring in the US, and he spoke at a meeting here in the diocese of LA, of which I was also a speaker. We developed a relationship through the meeting, and we established a solid relationship. Then, a month later, Bishop Orombi invited me to take part in his ordination ceremony.
I jumped at the chance, and the people of my parish supported this. Six women of the parish worked day and night to make a beautiful banner for the archbishop. When we arrived, the bishop spontaneously prayed, and it was a wonderful experience.
The following Sunday, we went into for the ordination ceremony, and there was no other decoration except for the banner. There, we furthered our relationship.
Therefore, when it became clear that we needed to disassociate, and that the bishop of Lureroo would be able to have oversight over us, the rest was just natural.
I have not yet met Bishop Evans Kiesekka of Luweero, but Father Bunyan from St. James had met him and talked to him about this possibility before.
Why not choose a separate conservative bishop in America?
Because of the fact that there are internal rules of the church called cannons, it would have been impossible for another bishop to have full authority over a parish in another diocese. Therefore, we had to look outside of the Episcopal Church for oversight.
Are other conservative parishes around the nation joining in on your decision?
Not directly, but we have received a number of communication emails and voicemails from people who have been supportive. However, we are not in consultation with others. All of our decisions here have been a local decision, and our response has been a local response.
Have you met with the leaders at St. James and St. David’s in making this decision?
All Saints and St. James have been very close; We are also very good friends with St. David’s, and I know many of the people at St. David’s.
What are some of the choices you have been considering?
Unfortunately, because this is going into legal strategies, I can’t comment on that.
Do you believe there is any chance for full reconciliation?
As far as I am concerned I am open to the possibility of it, but not a lot of optimism that it will happen. I believe in repentance and forgiveness, and I am more than ready to embrace anybody, even those whom might dispute me, if we could find the correct way in the love of Jesus.
How big of a role did prayer take in this decision?
Prayer was seriously an important part. We have been praying about the general issues in our parish, and as we were approaching the time of decision, our church leadership put up a great number of hours over time seeking the Lord’s discernment. I was very gratified when we had the meeting with all of our church members, because I expected some people to ask questions and disagree with our decision to leave. However, it was so strong and clear that this is the right thing to do. This was a great reassurance to me that the Holy Spirit was behind what we were doing.
Are there any other comments you would like to say to the general Christian audience?
Those who are sympathetic, I hope you will pray for us so that we will be faithful to God’s call.