A house of worship divided

By Doug Snover

Its parking lot almost empty, St. James the Apostle Episcopal Church on east Warner Road seems inordinately quiet on an overcast Monday morning, the day after Christianity’s biggest celebration. But the post-Easter calm belies St. James’ role in a worldwide shakeup within the Anglican Church.

Only days before Easter, St. James’ rector, the Rev. Keith Andrews, announced that he and a sizable number of his flock were splitting off from the Episcopal Church to follow the more orthodox ways espoused by the international Anglican Communion.

By Monday morning, a caller to St. James was politely told that Father Andrews is no longer affiliated with that church.

Andrews and his Kyrene Corridor congregation are the first in Arizona to split from the Episcopal Church, in part over the church’s decision to ordain an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire.

Eric Crawford, spokesman for the breakaway group, attended Easter services at St. James, 975 E. Warner Road, on Sunday.  On Monday afternoon, he said he no longer is an Episcopalian.

Instead, Crawford and Andrews and much of the St. James congregation is transferring allegiance to a new church called the Living Faith Anglican Church. Crawford estimates that up to 80 percent of the approximately 370 adults in the St. James congregation will make the move.

At heart of the issue is their belief that the American Episcopal Church is drifting too far from orthodox teachings of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which coordinates Anglican worship worldwide under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Crawford likens the situation to an Old West wagon train in which the lead wagon has drifted off course and the trailing wagons finally refuse to follow.

“There are definitely elements of the Episcopal Church that have veered away” from orthodox teachings, Crawford said.  Some leaders of the Episcopal church in North America “have veered away from the wagon train and are following their own path,” he said.

Simply put, the breakaway group plans to return its focus to “the authority of Scripture and the centrality of Jesus Christ,” Crawford said. That means following traditional beliefs that still hold sway in Anglican provinces outside the United States and Canada, he said.

“We believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God; that he died for our sins . . . that he literally and physically rose from the dead.  We view that as biblical orthodoxy.”

The Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA) has drifted so far from that traditional orthodoxy that concerned members of the worldwide Anglican Communion have set up missions in the United States to try to bring American Episcopal leaders back into the fold, Crawford said.

The new Living Faith Anglican Church will not affiliate with ECUSA, he said.  Instead, the new church will be an affiliate of the Anglican Mission in America, or AMIA, Crawford said.

And, as far-fetched as it sounds, the AMIA is being shepherded into the worldwide Anglican Communion by the Anglican Province of Rwanda, which was so concerned about the state of Anglican belief in the United States that several years ago it set up a “mission” in the United States to convert Episcopalians back to the Anglican Communion, Crawford said.

In other words, he noted, a group of “upper middle-class people in Tempe, Arizona,” are being brought back into the worldwide Anglican fold by missionaries from Rwanda.

The Living Faith Anglican Church will meet for its first few weeks in the halls of the Crossroads Church of the Nazarene, 101 & Rural Road, and later will lease space for worship, Crawford said.

The split within the Episcopal Church has been coming for several years, Crawford believes.  When American Episcopal bishops voted in 2003 to ordain Rev. V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop for the Diocese of New Hampshire, “it became an issue that could not be ignored,” Crawford said. “Clearly, this was a departure from the received teachings of the Anglican church.”

“Our reason for leaving (the Episcopal Church) is larger than the Robinson consecration,” however, he said.  “I would hope in the long-range, the Episcopal Church would repent and come back to the Scripture.  I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”

Episcopal Bishop Kirk Smith said it is sad to see members of the St. James congregation break away from the church.  “We wanted the people who are upset to stay, but I respect their conscience and their feelings that they can’t do that, and I wish them well,” he told the media when the breakaway was announced.

There are an estimated 2.4 million members of the Episcopal Church in the United States. Minus however many of the St. James congregation who made Easter Sunday their last date to worship under Episcopal auspices, of course.

“We were all Episcopalians,” Crawford said of the Easter service at St. James.

“Today, I no longer am.”