Leaders of three breakaway Episcopal churches in the Los Angeles area are refusing to oust their clergy and relinquish their property and other assets, as ordered by Bishop J. Jon Bruno. The three parishes, including prestigious 1,200-member St. James in Newport Beach, recently severed all ties to the Episcopal Church (ECUSA) and placed themselves under the jurisdiction of Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi, evangelical Anglican primate of Uganda. They said they took the action because ECUSA has strayed from the Anglican faith, partly by consecrating an open homosexual as a bishop last year. Bishop Bruno himself performed a same-sex union last May.
The diocese is looking to the courts to enforce Bishop Bruno's directives. A 1979 church law says all local church property is held in "trust" for ECUSA.
But the dissidents are holding two aces. A California appeals court last month ruled that under state corporate law, St. Luke's Methodist Church in Fresno had the right to revoke a similar trust clause governing the United Methodist Church and become independent. If that ruling survives further appeals by the UMC, it may apply to the three ECUSA breakaway parishes in any future lawsuits. Leaders of the three churches say they own the deeds to their property and their corporate documents contain no reference to a denominational trust.
However, their main hope lies with their continuing affiliation with the worldwide Anglican Communion via Uganda. ECUSA and the church in Uganda are among the communion's 38 provinces. A majority of the provinces, representing most of the world's more than 70 million Anglicans, have declared impaired or broken communion with ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada over sexuality and other issues. They've threatened to bolt from the communion if it does not discipline the offending denominations in North America.
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, titular head of the communion, appointed a commission of primates, theologians, and canon lawyers to recommend ways to deal with the mess. Known as the Lambeth Commission on Communion, its report has been completed and scheduled for release on Oct. 18.
Archbishop Williams may have dropped a clue as to his preference for maintaining unity. He approved an arrangement under which a leading evangelical priest in London will become a bishop under Archbishop Orombi's jurisdiction in Uganda to do missionary work in Britain. He is Sandy Millar, former pastor of Holy Trinity Brompton and pioneer of the Alpha course that has impacted the worldwide church.
The development can't help but catch Bishop Bruno's attention in Los Angeles as he deals with the three breakaway parishes.