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    Two local Episcopal churches break from denomination

    Two Episcopal congregations in the county – in Alpine and Oceanside — have split from the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego and Episcopal Church of the United States as part of national controversy over homosexuality, theology and biblical authority.

    In December, the Rev. Keith Acker resigned as rector of Christ the King Episcopal Church in Alpine and took about two-thirds of the congregation to establish a new church under the conservative Anglican Province of America. Since the congregation didn¹t own the property, the new church is meeting at an Alpine elementary school and a remnant of the Episcopal church is being re-established.

    A spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego, Canon Howard Smith, said ³it¹s devastating when we lose leadership,² but said the remaining Alpine congregation is ³being empowered.² The diocese staff, he said, describes them as ³the little church that could,² as they work with a ³supply clergy² and make plans to improve the facility and prepare to grow as a congregation.

    In early February, the congregation at St. Anne¹s Episcopal Church in Oceanside voted 89-3 to break from the local and national bodies, affirming an earlier vote by its vestry and members. St. Anne¹s rector, the Rev. Anthony Baron, Sr., said St. Anne¹s would continue to be part of the Worldwide Anglican Communion under the jurisdiction of Bishop Frank Lyons of Bolivia.

    Baron said that the church has been in Oceanside for over 100 years and the property is deeded to the rector and vestry, so it would continue to meet on the Oceanside property under the name of St. Anne¹s Church.

    During a phone interview, Baron said that while homosexuality issues in the Episcopal church in the U.S. has received the most publicity, there wasn¹t one key reason for the change, other than ³to be faithful to the Gospel.²

    ³Leadership in the Episcopal church has disintegrated over the past 40 years,² Baron said. ³This isn¹t a statement that Œwe¹re better,¹ but the essence of the Gospel is at stake. It¹s a difficult decision, but the cost of being disciples is greater.²

    Rt. Rev. James R. Mathes, who has been on the job here less than a year as bishop for San Diego, is called to be a ³bridge builder,² Smith said.

    ³That¹s what makes the Oceanside situation so surprising,² Smith said. ³He knew there was some dissatisfaction, but it really caught us by surprise. They just don¹t want to keep dialogue with us. It¹s like a marriage – you have to talk.²

    Baron said reconciliation begins with Jesus Christ. ³It¹s impossible for a human being to reconcile without Jesus Christ. Otherwise it¹s called compromise.²

    ³The bishop supports the idea of each congregation worshiping the way they want, but that just doesn¹t work,² Baron said. ³He is a nice, sincere person, but he doesn¹t understand the orthodox perspective.²

    Baron described the Oceanside congregation as a mix of young and old, mostly orthodox, with a significant number of charismatic members who staff a healing center. ³It¹s a prayer-driven church, as opposed to seeker-driven.²

    Baron¹s goal, he said, is to focus on becoming a parish priest, to love, teach and grow.

    Smith said there is a group of people who want the traditional Episcopal church to remain in Oceanside and they would begin having services in March. He said a location has not been established.

    The 2.3-million member Episcopal Church is the Episcopal wing of the worldwide Anglican Communion, which has more than 70 million members. Bishop Lyons belongs to the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, which broke ties with the Episcopal Church over differences exemplified by the 2003 ordination of an openly gay Episcopal bishop. Because of such issues, some African, Asian and Latin American bishops have sent priests to serve U.S. congregations that would not accept a liberal Episcopal bishop.

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