By William Moyer
Press & Sun-Bulletin
VESTAL -- After months of discussion, a Vestal church vestry voted this week
to withdraw from the Episcopal Church and join an orthodox province that
believes homosexuality is incompatible with biblical teaching.
"We're doing what we believe," said the Rev. Anthony Seel, pastor of what is
now St. Andrew Anglican Church. "We're not in the same place as the
Seel said the vestry's 8-0 decision Monday came after years of discussions
and a recently completed congregational survey that showed 88 percent of St.
Andrew's adherents -- between 250 and 275 members -- favored leaving the
Central New York Diocese and the Episcopal denomination.
Central New York's bishop expressed regret Thursday at the local church's
"It's very sad to me that we've come to this day," said Bishop Gladstone
"Skip" Adams from diocesan headquarters in Syracuse. "Let's stay at the
table (and talk). Separation is not necessary. It's possible to disagree."
Another local Episcopal church, the Church of the Good Shepherd in
Binghamton, and the diocese continue negotiations about property issues
before the church withdraws from the regional jurisdiction.
The church voted last year to leave the Episcopal Church and affiliate
itself with another Anglican province, Good Shepherd's pastor, the Rev.
Matthew Kennedy, said Thursday.
Among the theological points of disagreement that triggered the two
decisions to leave the Episcopal denomination are the national church's
stance on homosexuality and blessings of same-sex unions. The churches also
are at odds with the election and consecration of a practicing homosexual,
V. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.
Seel said St. Andrew did not see any pending changes at the national level,
even after international Anglican primates gave the Episcopal Church a Sept.
30 deadline to change its ways and comply with traditional law. At a
conference in February, the primates threatened to invoke unspecified
"sanctions" if the Episcopal Church refuses to comply.
"Our beliefs have not changed," Seel said.
"They believe that's what it means to be faithful," Adams said. "I hope to
receive the same Christian charity that I'm seeking to be faithful. It's a
matter of how we interpret the Bible."
Adams, who wrote a letter earlier this year to clergy saying he would not
ask gays and lesbians to go to the back of the bus, said the national church
is unlikely to change its position because only a General Convention can
change church policy. The convention is not scheduled to meet until 2009.
St. Andrew has aligned itself with the Convocation of Anglicans in North
America. CANA describes itself as a convocation of the Church of Nigeria and
has provided sanctuary for former Episcopalians who want oversight from a
governing province that affirms orthodox teachings.
Bishop David Bena, headquartered in Fairfax, Va., is scheduled to worship
July 1 at St. Andrew to welcome the congregation to CANA, which claims 50
clergy and 30 congregations as members.
A major issue remains to be resolved before St. Andrew completely cuts its
ties with the Central New York Diocese and it is a significant question: Who
gets the church building and community center at LaGrange Street and Mirador
Seel said congregants will vacate the buildings and move elsewhere if the
diocese demands the properties, which, by New York law, it could do. Adams
said both sides need to discuss the issue in depth before reaching a
decision about the buildings. For now, he said, St. Andrew will be allowed
to worship in the church and use the community center.
The only other church in central New York to withdraw from the regional
diocese is St. Andrew's in Syracuse. Officials announced in April the
congregation would leave its facility on South Salina Street and move to an
undetermined site. Church leaders said litigation with the diocese to keep
its facility had become "a diversion of time, energy and resources."
Central New York has 22,500 members in 100 Episcopal churches from
Alexandria Bay south to the New York-Pennsylvania border, east to Utica and
west to Waterloo.
The national Episcopal Church has 2.2 million members in roughly 7,680
congregations, mostly in the United State s. The worldwide Anglican
Communion, which stems from the Church of England, has 77 million adherents
in 38 self-governing provinces.