Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Leaving Church Is More Than Just Using Door; Episcopal Congregations Find Their Split with the Main Denomination Is a Painful One

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Leaving Church Is More Than Just Using Door; Episcopal Congregations Find Their Split with the Main Denomination Is a Painful One

Article excerpt

Byline: JEFF BRUMLEY

Imagine worshiping in the same building where your parents and grandparents worshiped, where their names are etched in foundation stones or on the panes of stained-glass windows.

Perhaps they are even buried beside the church -- the same church where your children were baptized, confirmed and married.

Now picture turning your back forever on a place made sacred by such memories and history because you believe your denomination has strayed dangerously far from biblical values.

Could you do it?

That's the painful question roughly 4,000 North Florida Episcopalians may have to answer after six conservative congregations leave the Jacksonville-based Episcopal Diocese of Florida and the Episcopal Church USA by Jan. 6.

Three congregations in Jacksonville plus one each in Orange Park, Gainesville and Tallahassee announced Oct. 23 their intention to cut ties with the national church because of its growing acceptance of homosexual ordination and same-sex blessings.

Some of the churches are negotiating with Bishop John Howard to keep their property after quitting his diocese by Jan. 6.

That gives people like Wick Van Wagenen, a parishioner at Grace Church in Orange Park, hope that they can keep their faith and buildings, too.

"I don't see our church as just bricks and sticks," said Van Wagenen, 51.

How could he? He was raised at Grace and married there. His three children were baptized there, and his oldest daughter married in its sanctuary. His father's funeral took place there, and he was chairman of the building committee that oversaw a $1.4 million expansion in 2001.

"We're a tradition since 1880 at that spot, and there's a lot of people, including myself, who have poured a lot of prayers into that spot -- and a lot of our own personal money," Van Wagenen said.

SACRED TRADITIONS

Whether the diocese will part with those parcels and facilities is the big question. Howard and other church officials say church and state law clearly show the diocese owns its parishes' property. The members of those churches see it differently and say they will go to court if necessary to prove it. …

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