SAN ANGELO, TX: Transformation – Local Episcopal church to split
By Jenny Michaud
San Angelo Standard-Times
January 5, 2007
Two-thirds of the 140 congregants from a local Episcopal parish will part ways with the Episcopal Church today because of dissent among their ranks involving interpretation of Scripture.
Those members of the Church of the Good Shepherd will leave the Diocese of Northwest Texas and the Episcopal Church after most of the San Angelo church’s parishioners who voted favored the split. They intend to align with a branch of the Anglican Church based in Africa.
Also effective today is the resignation of the church’s rector, Keith Adams, who wants to stay aligned with the Episcopal Church.
“A large majority of our church has voted to disassociate from the national church and affiliate with a group overseas,” Adams said. “I have vows that stand in place, made to the Episcopal Church. At this time, I will stand by those.”
The Episcopal Church has experienced conflict on a national scale in recent years. Episcopalian and Anglican members have been at odds regarding interpretation of Scripture and the consecration of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003.
Since then, parishes throughout the United States – including two of the country’s most-historic parishes in Virginia – have likewise voted to leave the national church.
“We’re part of a national trend,” said June Smith, who in addition to being a member of the church leadership is also a Sunday school teacher and lay Eucharistic minister at the church. “Some parishes are not in any disagreement, but others are.”
Within the Diocese of Northwest Texas, only one other church – St. Nicholas in Midland – (now Christ Church Midland) has decided to disassociate from the church. Bishop Wallis Ohl said the splits are not characteristic of his diocese, which is based in Lubbock and encompasses roughly 50 parishes.
“I don’t expect it to be widespread,” he said, “which does not mean that people in certain congregations don’t agree, but they’re not willing to leave the Episcopal Church.”
Locally, Adams said interpretation of Scripture has been a major contention point leading to the split.
“The national Episcopal Church has been a church that has been at odds. Because we are a wide-ranging community, we have different opinions throughout,” Adams said. “One of the main concerns is, what do you do with Scripture? Is the way we live dictated by Scripture, or does the way we live shape how we interpret the Scripture?
“We are having an in-fight about that.”
Smith said the church leadership tried to come to an agreement initially but could not reach one.
“After this last general convention this summer, the convention was asked to affirm biblical principles and the primary role that holy Scripture plays in the teachings of the church,” she said. “Our general convention failed to answer these questions and affirm those beliefs.
“It ended with a parish vote to disassociate with the Episcopal Church.”
That decision took place in November, but the church leadership and Adams continued to work together to reconcile. In his resignation letter, Adams stated that his highest priority was to keep the church family together, but his goal proved unsuccessful.
“Both groups, Anglican and Episcopal, have been affirming toward us, but I cannot stay at Good Shepherd for a variety of personal and practical reasons, not the least of which is the status of my ordination vows,” the letter reads. “Both groups need to define what they believe their next chapter should look like – and then seek out and call clergy that will meet that goal.”
Smith said members in favor of the split will be affiliated with the Mityana Diocese, one of 29 dioceses that compose the Province of the Anglican Church in Uganda in Africa.
The departing members will meet this month to determine their next steps, including where to meet as a church. Smith said members are saddened by the parting of ways.
“This is just a sad time,” she said. “No one on any side locally or nationally enjoys this.”
Ohl concurred, saying the split is an emotional issue for the diocese.
“Anytime anyone leaves, it’s like a tearing up of a family,” he said. “It’s a sad day. We grieve it as we grieve any loss.”