Despite the legal threats posed by the national Church, the three Anglican churches in California that disassociated themselves from the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) last month held their services and worships on Sunday morning, September 5, 2004.
The three parishes, St. James Church in Newport Beach and St. David's Church in North Hollywood, denounced the ECUSA and joined with the Anglican Church of Uganda because of theological differences; the ECUSA, which recently appointed an openly gay man as bishop, has been “veering away from historic Christianity,” according to the Rev. William Thompson of All Saints' Church.
Following the break, the ECUSA “defrocked” the leaders of the three churches, including Thompson, and told the congregation to secede their church buildings to the national church. In addition, the national church appointed two bishops to directly oversee the three churches in place of the church leaders.
By Sunday, however, the ECUSA took no real action in removing the church leaders and forcing new bishops to oversee the congregation; in all three churches, an overwhelming majority of the congregations voted to break with the ECUSA.
According to Thompson, the core reason for the break was the theological drift on the part of the ECUSA.
"We felt that perhaps things couldn't be reformed," he said. "The church had taken a position that was counter to the teachings of the Holy Scripture."
The Rev. Praveen Bunyan of St. James also explained the reason in similar terms.
"The central core issue is about upholding Jesus Christ as the lord and savior and upholding his work and the Holy Scripture," Bunyan said.
However, Jon J. Bruno, the bishop of Los Angeles who sparked further controversy by blessing the union of one of his homosexual priests and his partner, said the parishes were wrong in their interpretation of the bible.
"I will not let the Holy Scriptures be compromised by those who seek to make their literalist and simplistic interpretation the only legitimate one," he wrote.
The vast majority of Christians, with the exception of “progressive” and liberal church groups, reject homosexuality as a lifestyle compatible to the scripture. The 77 million member Anglican Church, of which the ECUSA takes part, also affirms the statement that homosexuality is a lifestyle that is incompatible to the teachings of the scripture.
According to news reports, the Anglican Church may excommunicate the ECUSA for its leftward theology for the sake of the unity of the Communion; over 2/3 of the Anglican churches worldwide has already broken fellowship with the American branch.
Meanwhile, Thompson said the parishes will resist any and all efforts by the ECUSA to claim the church property.
"Basically we believe that the church is ours," he said. "The deed is in our name and in our articles of incorporation there is no mention of the diocese. We are very confident that the property is ours."
Eric Sohlgren, an attorney representing the breakaway parishes, said that Bruno no longer has authority over any of the parishes.
Said Sohlgren: "The real desire of these churches is that cooler heads will prevail and Jon Bruno will make a wise decision and let these churches get on with their ministries."