The vestries of two Southern California congregations have voted to align themselves under the pastoral oversight of a Ugandan bishop, declaring that after years of opposition to openly gay clergy and the blessing of same-sex unions they "will no longer be affiliated with the Episcopal Church USA or the Diocese of Los Angeles [www.ladiocese.org]."
Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno responded to the announcement by stating "there are many matters to consider before these actions can be considered fully final."
Representatives of All Saints Church in Long Beach [www.allsaintslongbeach.org] and St. James' Church in Newport Beach [www.stjamesnewportbeach.org] delivered to Bruno's office letters stating their disassociation from the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Los Angeles, and their affiliation with the Diocese of Luweero [www.anglicancommunion.org/tour/diocese.cfm?Idind=595&view=alpha], under Bishop Evans Mukasa Kisekka. But Bruno, who said he was not notified of the actions in advance, was not present at the time. Each letter reads: "We have delivered this letter personally in order to honor you by having you learn of these actions from us instead of from any other source."
St. James' has some 1,218 "communicants in good standing" and All Saints some 429, according to diocesan officials. Both congregations are known to have significantly reduced their 2004 pledges to the diocese.
The Diocese of Luweero has 29 parishes with an average of 10 churches per parish, bringing the total number of congregations in the diocese to around 300, the majority led by catechists who have had no formal theological training. Its bishop is a member of the conservative Ekklesia Society [www.ekk.org] and has served as the representative of the Archbishop of Uganda to various conservative gatherings in the U.S. According to a news release, All Saints' has "a close and longstanding relationship with the Province of Uganda and the Diocese of Luweero, where many of its missionaries have served."
The letter from All Saints is signed by its rector, the Rev. William A. Thompson, who is also Western Convocation dean of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (NACDP) [www.anglicancommunionnetwork.org], an organization with which nine of the Episcopal Church's 112 dioceses are formally affiliated. The letter is co-signed by All Saints' senior warden, David Thornburg.
Signers of the letter from St. James' are its rector, the Rev. Praveen Bunyan, and senior warden Jim Dale. Bunyan was preceded as rector of St. James' Church by the Rev. David Anderson, president of the Washington, D.C.-based American Anglican Council, which opposed the consecration last year of an openly gay priest as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire. Reportedly among funders for the opposition effort was Newport Beach financier Howard Ahmanson.
Both congregations acknowledged longstanding conflicts with the perceived direction of the Episcopal Church. "This has not been an easy decision for us," Thompson said in a news release from All Saints. "We have struggled with this for a number of years."
"St. James' worked very hard for many years to reconcile our differences with the Episcopal Church USA and the Diocese of Los Angeles, both in our own hearts and through extensive dialogue. However, that effort has brought no comfort to ease our pain.
"The members of St. James' wish to move beyond this issue, so we can concentrate on our core mission: To glorify God, uphold the Holy Scripture, raise our children to love and serve Jesus Christ and share the Gospel with the world," concluded Bunyan.
Thompson and Bunyan did not return calls from the Episcopal News Service (ENS) requesting comment, but asked, through a spokeswoman, that interview questions be posed in advance by electronic mail.
Alternative oversight declined
Speaking with ENS, Bruno said his views on the matter are reflected in an August 17 statement he released through the diocese: "I have made ongoing and longstanding attempts to be their bishop and pastor and friend. I have had no warning of this taking place, and am saddened by their unwillingness to call my office and make an appointment to discuss this before they made this attempt to move to the Diocese of Luweero in the Province of Uganda. I have been in contact with the Presiding Bishop, and the chancellors of the diocese are reviewing this matter with me."
Bruno's statement continues: "I have recently offered these two congregations, along with two others, the option of alternative pastoral oversight by an Episcopal bishop with whom they are in agreement. It was an option they declined. At the time, their spokesman, the Rev. William Thompson, said there was no need for that at this time, and they were looking forward to my visitation to their church.
"Until I have had an opportunity to fully consider this action and its validity, the diocese will have no further statement. There are many matters to consider before these actions can be considered final. "
Bruno's full statement is posted on-line at www.ladiocese.org. Statements from the two parishes are posted online at www.allsaintslongbeach.org and www.stjamesnewportbeach.org.