Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

6 Episcopal Congregations Leaving Diocese; Most Plan to Negotiate, or Possibly Litigate, to Keep Their Property

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

6 Episcopal Congregations Leaving Diocese; Most Plan to Negotiate, or Possibly Litigate, to Keep Their Property

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

Six North Florida Episcopal congregations long at odds with their denomination over homosexual ordination and same-sex blessings are leaving the Jacksonville-based Episcopal Diocese of Florida.

The congregations -- three in Jacksonville and one each in Orange Park, Gainesville and Tallahassee -- will negotiate with Bishop John Howard over property rights, benefits and other issues to try to avoid litigation and to quit the Episcopal Church USA by the end of the year, the Rev. Neil Lebhar, rector at the Church of the Redeemer in Jacksonville, said Tuesday.

"It's our expectation that we will leave with our property," said the Rev. Sam Pascoe, rector at Grace Church in Orange Park. "Our first choice is to negotiate, but we are willing to litigate."

Howard was unavailable for comment but his chief of staff, the Rev. Canon Kurt Dunkle, said the "Holy Spirit-filled" negotiations so far have been limited to "how it is we will discuss whether you want to remain Episcopal or not."

The decision to leave capped nearly two years of growing tension between the six congregations and the diocese.

Lebhar said he and Howard met Oct. 19 and agreed the denomination would not reverse its election of an openly gay man as New Hampshire bishop in 2003 and its acceptance of the same-sex blessings practiced in some dioceses.

"I. . . see no hope the Episcopal Church will repent of its decisions and that belief was confirmed by my conversation with our bishop," Lebhar said.

Dunkle said Howard has repeatedly said that had he been a bishop in 2003, Howard would have voted against electing V. Gene Robinson as bishop and that same-sex blessings are prohibited in the Diocese of Florida.

But the six congregations wanted him to go further by distancing himself and the diocese from the denomination monetarily and sacramentally.

"The thrust of the dispute is whether it is acceptable to remain in communion with people who are sinners," which includes everyone, Dunkle said.

Lebhar said the decision to leave was announced in the six congregations Sunday.

The congregations represent about 4,000 Episcopalians and also include Calvary Church and All Souls in Jacksonville, St. …

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