North Augusta church leader steps down, congregation follows
By Arielle Clay firstname.lastname@example.org
Story Published: Jan 4, 2009 at 7:40 PM EST
Story Updated: Jan 4, 2009 at 7:40 PM EST
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. - The Vicar of St. John's Episcopal Church in North Augusta stepped down Sunday. He says it is because he does not agree with the direction the National Church is taking.
Now dozens of his congregants are following him to a new church and new denomination.
Sunday was Phyllis Kirkland's last time in the kitchen of St. John's Episcopal Church, Susan Bafford's last time singing in the sanctuary, and Paula Wahl’s last time as senior warden.
“I turned in my key today,” Wahl said.
That's because for the three women and most other members of the church Sunday was their last day as congregants at St. John's and of the Episcopal denomination.
“The Episcopal church has been going in a direction that I wasn't in agreement with,” Wahl said
“I was disappointed with the leadership at the national level. I had been waiting since 2003 for a different movement,” Bafford said.
In 2003 the church made national headlines when an openly gay bishop was consecrated.
“We were all shocked,” Wahl said.
But Father Rob Hartley who resigned Sunday as vicar of the church says the issue of homosexuality was not his main concern.
“I found it an error because it was contrary to scripture and I don't think it was any deeper than that,” Hartley said.
He says his issues with the Episcopal Church started long before 2003.
“Early 80's probably,” Hartley said.
That is when he said he started to see a shift in the theologies and teachings of the church.
“The Episcopal church really wants to make Christianity relevant they really want to make the truth of the gospel easier to ingest for the modern mind. I think the truth is the truth and changing it to make it digestible isn't exactly what the apostles learned from Jesus,” Hartley said.
“I think that's what's been confusing across the county is that all of a sudden the national church is like you can believe whatever you want to believe but what do we believe,” Bafford.
Now much of Hartley's congregation is following him to The Church of the Holy Trinity which is forming under the Anglican Church in North America but it is far from easy especially for St. Johns older members.
“It was really it was sad because my mother went there and she just passed away recently and her funeral was here,” Wahl said.
But Wahl says she is coming to terms with saying goodbye.
“It's just a building and the church is the people and the family and I could never stay and have my family leave,” Wahl said.
The church of the Holy Trinity will hold public worship temporarily at the Merovan Business Center on Highway 25.
Father Hartley says he does not have an exact count of how many members are moving with him. But, he says his main concern is to make sure that those who choose not to move are taken care of.
This church has had a remarkable growth in the past 5 years as documented here.
Bishop Henderson weighed in and seems more upset with the process than the problem. Here is the Bishop's letter,
From Bishop Henderson re: St. John's, Clearwater
January 5, 2009, 11:30 AM.
"I have just been informed that the Vicar of St. John's Mission Church in Clearwater has announced that he and most of the communicants of St. John's have left The Episcopal Church. This comes as a complete surprise to me. Although Fr. Hartley has shared his frustrations with me, he never indicated to me that he was on the verge of taking such a step, and I am extraordinarily disappointed not only in their decision, but that he went public with this announcement without informing me first. It is also a shock to me that he would lead this congregation away from the Church without providing me with the time and opportunity to be in conversation with them as part of their decision-making process--after all, as Bishop I am--or was--their chief priest and pastor. I not only ordained Fr. Hartley to the priesthood, but I am the one who appointed him Vicar of St. John's, providing him with an Altar and a pulpit.
Any division in the Church weakens the Church's mission. And when people leave they not only deprive those with different views of their voice, but they also deprive themselves of prayerful viewpoints which they need to consider. The Episcopal Church--indeed, traditional Anglicanism--respects highly the individual intellect and conscience, and I respect the decisions of Fr. Hartley and others at St. John's as a decision of conscience. Nevertheless, it breaks my heart."
So what is going on in the upstate? I went to the congo and asked for a few opinions, and this is what I heard,
"It must be a rogue priest, or two" (remember St. Christopher's Spartanburg).
"Bishop Henderson is soft on fundamentalism; we will fix that soon."
"Someone must have put Bibles in the pews."
"This is what happens when those poor, stupid lay people start dabbling in things they don't understand."
"Could it be that the ugly face of fundamentalism is rearing it's head? How do we stop its relentless advance? Why don't we approve of the rival Anglican province and let them go there? That way they won't bother us anymore with their aggravating appeals to scripture and tradition. All that chapter and verse quoting gets quite tiresome, and we modern folk have finally figured out the truth behind human relationships. Without all those homophobes, we can get on with things that really matter. Things like same sex blessings, or clown eucharists. Things that affirm God's gift of pleasure as the manifestation of His love for us."
"Who cares if a few fundies get tied up in knots?"
I don't think straight thinking priests and lay people are the ones who are tied up in knots of their own making. What kind of convoluted machinations has Bishop Henderson used to continue to lend support to the national church. The last time we suggested cutting payments to 815 in hopes of balancing the budget, wasn't his the voice that carried the day and to this day we continue to fund things such as the RCRC.
Consider that tomorrow we are led by the daily lectionary to read the following:
"The Message to Ephesus ‘To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands:
‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance. I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. I also know that you are enduring patiently and bearing up for the sake of my name, and that you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this is to your credit: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches. To everyone who conquers, I will give permission to eat from the tree of life that is in the paradise of God."
If you did not click on the link, the Nicolaitans were described by St. Irenaeus as, "they lead lives of unrestrained indulgence."
What does this passage say to the churches today? Is it to find a way to love the evil doers while at the same time not tolerating them?
Do we really get tied up in knots when discussing the Bible? The more complicated and convoluted the reasoning, the greater the likelihood of creating a knot that won't hold the weight our souls.
Who is holding the rope in the Episcopal Church, and what kind of knot they are tying?