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North Hollywood Parish Is Third to Leave the Episcopal Church

Conservative members join a growing group of dissidents who've left the denomination.

August 25, 2004|Larry B. Stammer | Times Staff Writer

A third conservative Southern California parish bolted Tuesday from the national Episcopal Church and affiliated itself with an Anglican diocese in Uganda, further challenging the authority of the bishop of Los Angeles.

The decision by St. David's Episcopal Church in North Hollywood to leave the 2.3-million-member national church came just a week after two other parishes -- All Saints' in Long Beach and St. James in Newport Beach -- took similar steps and follows actions over the last year by other dissidents nationwide.

Including the three seceding parishes, six of the 147 parishes in the Los Angeles diocese have joined the conservative American Anglican Council, which argues with the Episcopal Church's biblical interpretations and views on homosexuality. However, the rectors at St. Luke's of the Mountains in La Crescenta and Christ the King in Santa Barbara said they did not anticipate leaving the denomination, at least for the time being. Calls to the sixth conservative parish, St. Jude's Church in Burbank, were not returned.

Outside California, an estimated 10 parishes have left the national church in the last year, according to Bob Williams, a spokesman for the church. There are 7,300 parishes in the United States.

Father Jose Poch, rector of St. David's in North Hollywood, said he expected other conservative parishes in California to also secede. But he did not identify them.

St. David's, founded in 1931, recently affiliated with other conservative parishes and dioceses across the country in a new Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes. The network hopes the archbishop of Canterbury, the spiritual head of worldwide Anglicanism, will recognize it as a separate province in America with its own "biblically orthodox" bishops apart from the Episcopal Church. They would then presumably leave the jurisdictions in Uganda and other foreign countries.

The three breakaway local parishes represent a demographic cross section: St. James with its many well-heeled suburban parishioners, and All Saints' and St. David's in older, more middle-class urban neighborhoods. Their worship services also differ from each other, with All Saints' preferring the formal "high church" liturgy and St. James offering a more informal evangelical service. But the three have theologically conservative priests and members with conservative social views who were upset by the elevation of a gay priest to become bishop of New Hampshire last year.

Poch informed Los Angeles Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the secession decision in a letter that Poch and a lay parish leader hand-delivered to the bishop Tuesday morning. Poch, who has long been a critic of what he contends are Bruno's overly liberal theological stances, said he told Bruno that he no longer considered him his bishop.

All three seceding parishes have placed themselves under the jurisdiction of Anglican Bishop Evans Kisekka of the Diocese of Luweero in Uganda. The breakaway clergy and parishes said they remained in the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch, but were no longer Episcopalians.

Poch said his meeting Tuesday with Bruno in the bishop's Echo Park office at the Cathedral Center of St. Paul lasted about 10 to 15 minutes. "It was a brief meeting. He asked me to pray, which I did. He also prayed, and that was it," Poch said.

Bruno, who heads the six-county diocese, said in a prepared statement Tuesday that he had temporarily banned Poch from priestly ministry. The bishop issued the same order against three priests and a deacon at the two other seceding parishes and warned them that they would be permanently defrocked and their ordinations nullified if they did not return to the national church. But priests at St. James and All Saints ignored Bruno's order and showed up for Sunday services.

"As with the Long Beach and Newport Beach congregations, I have worked hard in the past for reconciliation with this parish," Bruno said of St. David's.

Bruno said he had offered to allow a conservative Episcopal bishop with whom the parishes agreed theologically to serve them. But the Rev. William Thompson, rector at All Saints', said he declined the offer on behalf of all the parishes. Thompson noted that such a visiting bishop would still be under Bruno's jurisdiction.

Poch said he too would not follow any order from Bruno. "We feel we have done the right thing before the Lord. We still remain Anglicans, we still remain within the Anglican Communion," Poch said. "But we can no longer continue in association with the American church."

St. David's board of directors, known as the vestry, voted last week 8 to 0, with one abstention, to leave the denomination, according to Poch. Then parish members endorsed the decision Monday night in a 68-12 vote, with four abstentions. The parish has about 200 members and since 1953 has been in its current building, a brick structure with dramatic stained-glass windows.

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