Episcopal parish in Florida quits denomination

Members oppose policy on gay clergy, unions

February 01, 2004|By Mark I. Pinsky | Mark I. Pinsky,ORLANDO SENTINEL

MELBOURNE - Members of St. John's Episcopal Church voted overwhelmingly yesterday to walk away from their denomination over the issue of homosexuality, rejecting their bishop's plea to stay.

With less than half of their 887 registered members voting, the congregation decided 282-62 to leave the Episcopal Church USA, and affiliate with the Anglican Mission in America. The Anglican Mission broke from the Episcopal Church in 2000.

For now, St. John's century-old building will remain the property of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida.

"Surely, God is in this building today," said the congregation's rector, the Rev. John Miller III, a moving force behind the split. Most members seemed unconcerned about leaving their property behind.

Mike Malone of Melbourne said he trusts Miller's guidance.

"I'd follow him to a warehouse," Malone said.

Many were still deeply upset over votes by the general convention of the Episcopal Church last August in Minneapolis, at which delegates and bishops confirmed an openly gay man, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, to be bishop of New Hampshire, and permitted parishes to continue blessing same-sex unions.

The Rt. Rev. John Howe, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Florida, told the parishioners he agreed that the convention had made "truly disastrous decisions." But he said it would be a better strategy "to work for renewal and reform," joining with him in a new conservative network within the Episcopal Church.

"Wait and see how things unfold over the next few weeks and months," he urged.

Howe also cautioned St. John's members that the Anglican Mission, the breakaway group they were about to join, is not recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

As parishioners left the sanctuary after the vote, they were given packets informing them that their new congregation will be called Prince of Peace Anglican Church and will meet at another church, Our Father's House, in Satellite Beach, beginning Feb. 8.

Howe told about 50 members who voted to stay at St. John's that the diocese would support them, and he appointed an interim pastor as their minister.

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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