Orthodox rector says 98% of the congregation will leave with him
By David W. Virtue
The Bishop of San Diego, James R. Mathes has written two letters to parishioners of St. Anne's Episcopal Church announcing his readiness to take back the parish, but in a second letter he says that details for the takeover could not be finalized and will have to be postponed.
Fr. Joe Rees, 56, priest in charge of the parish that left the diocese and denomination over the authority of Scripture and sexuality issues, said he will turn over the keys when the lawyers have finished a final settlement releasing them from any further legal implications.
On November 10, The San Diego Superior Court ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego in a property dispute involving the congregations of two churches that have claimed to have left the Episcopal Church, taking church property with them.
The dissenting congregations in the San Diego Diocese are members of St. Anne's in Oceanside and Holy Trinity in Ocean Beach. In January 2006 and September 2006 respectively, leaders of these congregations renounced their membership in the Episcopal Church and aligned themselves instead with a foreign diocese. Four years later, the issue has been decided in favor of the diocese. In his ruling, Judge Denton wrote that once St. Anne's congregation changed denominations, the Oceanside property "reverted to the national church." The judge based his ruling in large part on a pair of appellate court decisions that found for the dioceses of other formerly Episcopal churches earlier this year.
In a phone conversation, Fr. Rees told VOL that the 200 plus members of his church (some 98% of the congregation) have already left the property and set up shop in nearby Carlsbad Community Church. "Here we have two services and we are able to seat 300 and we are already starting to grow. The pastor has a new sanctuary which they are sharing with us." The Anglican parish is under the ecclesiastical authority of the Rt. Rev. Frank Lyons of the Diocese of Bolivia which is under the Province of the Southern Cone and its archbishop Gregory Venables. "At some point we will join with the Diocese of Western Anglicans under its bishop The Rt. Rev. William Avery Thompson who was recently ordained its first Bishop."
Leaving behind the liberal diocese of San Diego and its bishop has been freeing for Fr. Rees and his congregation. "We feel we are moving out from under a cloud. It is ultimately not about buildings. We have a gospel message to proclaim and we want to proclaim it unashamedly. We were being stifled under TEC and Bishop Mathes. In TEC we saw a violation of the historic faith once for all delivered to the saints. This was unacceptable to us."
To date, the diocese has lost more than 90 percent of parishioners in nine of its 40 parishes even though they have retained the properties.
In his letter to the diocese Mathes wrote, "When the then rector of St. Anne's Episcopal Church informed me of the decision of the leadership to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church, I was just about to enter the eleventh month of my Episcopate. Much has happened since January of 2005. At that time, many of those disaffiliating were confident that they could hold property that was held in trust by the parish for the ministry of the Episcopal Church. There was also a presumption that the Episcopal Church would cease to be a part of the wider Anglican Communion. It is now clear that both assumptions were in error.
"I regret as much as anyone that the actions taken by the leadership of St. Anne's at that time caused so much pain. I also regret that litigation was a necessary action to preserve St. Anne's as an Episcopal Church. That chapter has now come to a conclusion. The result is that I now have the responsibility...to reconstitute St. Anne's Episcopal Church."
Rees said the litigation has caused much pain among the parishioners as they built and paid for the church over the course of 100 years, while the diocese and national church contributed nothing. "The departures have not been without pain but now that we have moved, parishioners are hopeful and united. This past Sunday we felt a spirit of unity and family forged in the angst of adversity. We have prevailed."
Recent TEC figures for active baptized members and Average Sunday Attendance do not pose a hopeful future for the diocese. The total number of members in 2007 was 20,108 by 2008 it was down to 18,330 a loss of nearly nine percent, according to the Red Book. Average Sunday Attendance in 2007 was 7,564; in 2008 it was down to 7,204, (five per cent).
However, other statistics from a former TEC priest, Fr. Ed Renner now with the Western Anglican Diocese of the ACNA, says the diocesan statistics are more spin that reality. "Starting in 2006 six churches has left the diocese and four new church plants have started up in the former Diocese of San Diego. In those 10 parishes more than 800 (ASA) have left TEC" said Fr. Renner who is now an associate at Christ Church, Fallbrook.
The following are the two letters sent by Bishop James R. Mathes to the congregation. They are dated December 28 and 30 respectively.
When the then rector of St. Anne's Episcopal Church informed me of the decision of the leadership to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church, I was just about to enter the eleventh month of my Episcopate. Much has happened since January of 2005. At that time, many of those disaffiliating were confident that they could hold property that was held in trust by the parish for the ministry of the Episcopal Church. There was also a presumption that the Episcopal Church would ease to be a part of the wider Anglican Communion. It is now clear that both assumptions were in error.
I regret as much as anyone that the actions taken by the leadership of St. Anne's at that time caused so much pain. I also regret that litigation was a necessary action to preserve St. Anne's as an Episcopal Church. That chapter has now come to a conclusion. The result is that I now have the responsibility and, I pray, joy to join with any of you who desire to reconstitute St. Anne's Episcopal Church. If you choose to go elsewhere to worship, I wish to honor and bless that decision. However, my fervent prayer is that you will stay at St. Anne's and join with me to build up the ministry there in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I am keenly aware that it will be a challenge to do this work. To begin this task of rebuilding, I am appointing the Rev. Stephen H.Wendfeldt, as priest-in-charge of St. Anne's Church. The Rev. Canon Jenny Vervynck will be assisting Steve in this work as deacon appointed to St Anne's. Prior to serving on my staff, Steve was rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Del Mar. Having retired in June of this year, he is available to serve with you in the days ahead. Jenny is known to many of you, having served previously at St. Anne's. Father Wendfeldt and I will hold an informational meeting at St. Anne's on Monday, January 4, 2010 at 7:00 p.m. I hope that you will come and be with us. I want to hear from you about your hopes and concerns. I also want to give you a sense of how I anticipate us proceeding.
I want you to know that my vision for our diocese continues to be that of the via media, where diverse theological perspectives are welcome and appreciated. Indeed, this has always been the case. To be sure, you may not agree with everything in our church. But I can assure you that your voice will be heard and valued. I am convinced that you have an important role to play in the renewal of St. Anne's.
These have been difficult and painful days for all of us. As I offer this possibility of doing what Jesus would have us do, that is, be one as the Father and He are one, I ask your forgiveness for ways that I have been less than a follower of Jesus than I should have been, and I offer you the same. You are in my prayers and I look forward to a time that we can worship God together.
James R. Mathes
December 30, 2009
On Monday, December 28th, I wrote to share with you plans for moving forward the ministry of St. Anne's Episcopal Church. With plans to return the property to the Episcopal Church scheduled for Monday, January 4, 2010, it was my intent to meet with those of you wishing to join together to continue the life and ministry of St. Anne's on that evening.
It now appears that all the details necessary to effect this transition will not be in place on that day. It is my desire to provide as graceful a transition as possible, and for all parties concerned to have the highest level of comfort and integrity in this process.
My hope was to hold this meeting and continue worship at St. Anne's on Sunday, January 10th uninterrupted. While this may be possible, it is not by any means assured. Thus, I am postponing Monday's meeting. We will schedule the meeting at the earliest possible moment, but will only do so when we are in full possession of the property. If we do hold services on Sunday, January 10th, I will let you know as soon as possible, as well as the time and date for a meeting for those wishing to continue the ministry of St. Anne's In the meantime, I welcome your direct communications with me at email@example.com. I believe that with your help we can build up a Christ-centered ministry at St. Anne's.
Blessings to you in Christmastide and in the New Year.
James R. Mathes