By Melissa Evans, Staff Writer
Members of a South Bay church made up of former Episcopalians disenchanted with some stances of their leaders in America are growing in numbers and are seeing their movement become organized - thanks in large part to support from Africa.
Christ Our Savior Anglican Church in Harbor City formed last year under the leadership of a Nigerian pastor and Ugandan bishop.
On Sunday, a newly appointed bishop, who oversees roughly 50 Anglican churches in the United States now under the leadership of the diocese in Uganda, visited the Harbor City church.
"This is a fascinating movement for us to be a part of," said the Rev. John Guernsey, who also heads a church in Virginia.
"We are part of a global reformation. What our friends in Africa are showing us is a renewed and more vibrant way of faith."
The bishop says the Episcopal Church - which has historically served as America's Anglican representative - is seeing declines in membership due to its "secular attitude toward the Gospel."
The rift in the Anglican Communion, the international body that governs the world's second largest church, has been building over the last several decades due to doctrinal differences spurred by liberal views in the West.
The differences exploded in 2003, when the diocese of New Hampshire ordained an openly gay bishop, the Rev. Gene Robinson.
Some conservative Episcopal churches responded by severing ties with the American church,
aligning instead with Anglican dioceses in Africa that agreed to serve as surrogates.
All Saints Anglican Church in Long Beach, formerly All Saints Episcopal Church, was one of the first.
The African churches "have intense passion and a strong commitment to uphold the true message of the Bible," said the Rev. Bill Thompson of the All Saints Anglican Church, which hosted Guernsey earlier on Sunday.
Christ Our Savior, an offshoot of the Long Beach congregation, began meeting a year ago in the living room of a former Episcopalian, Tom Winfrey of Torrance.
It has since grown to about 30 members, and now meets Sunday afternoons at St. Matthews Lutheran Church in Harbor City.
The congregation is led by the Rev. Elias Yinka Eniade of Nigeria, who came to the United States to help organize newly formed Anglican churches in Southern California and provide a cultural bridge to leaders across the globe.
There are now more than 200 churches across America aligned with bishops in Africa.
With about 2 million members and 7,000 congregations, the mainline Episcopal church is still by far the largest Anglican representative in the United States.
One of the biggest changes, defectors say, is that churches in Africa are far more evangelical in nature. Winfrey and other so-called "cradle Episcopalians," or those who were part of generations of allegiance to the Episcopal tradition, are now using different methods to help spread the word.
"It's been a learning process for us," Winfrey said.
They've posted fliers, talked to friends and even distributed copies of "The Purpose-Driven Life," a book penned by evangelical pastor Rick Warren, to potential members.
Most of the members have defected from other Episcopal churches.
"I feel so much more joy and peace coming here," said Nancy McBride, a resident of Palos Verdes Estates who left St. Francis Episcopal Church about five years ago and now attends Christ Our Savior. "What I know is right, and I no longer have to defend that view."
John Whitmeyer, also a lifelong Episcopalian, came Sunday at the invitation of McBride, but describes him as "on the fence" when it comes to switching churches.
"It's hard to leave a church where all your friends are," said Whitmeyer, who has attended St. Francis since 1960. "I don't want to leave the Episcopal church, but it is a ship that's sinking."