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'Displaced' Episcopalians gather in New Hampshire

'Displaced' Episcopalians gather in New Hampshire

By Jesse J. DeConto
Seacoast Newspapers

EXETER, N.H. - About 100 "displaced Episcopalians" gathered for a
Christmas Eve service at Phillips Exeter Academy this past week as an
alternative to the mainline Episcopal churches that elected V. Gene
Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican Church.

This was the largest gathering of a group called the Seacoast Mission
Fellowship (SMF), which is holding Bible studies in private homes and
providing community for Episcopalians who believe Scripture condemns
Robinson's active relationship with his male partner of 14 years.

"I'm just somebody looking for a new church," said Exeter resident and
SMF member Clayton Ellis, a cradle Episcopalian who left his church of
seven years, Christ Episcopal in Exeter, over Robinson's election.
"It's consoling to know I'm not alone."

Ellis was one of about 10 Christ Church members who left over Robinson's
election, according to Father John Denson, the church's rector.

Exeter resident Charlie Higginson, who's considering leaving Christ
Church after 17 y ears, said the number is closer to.

"We're very sad when anybody feels the need to leave," Denson said. "I
would hope that we could stay together and talk through these things."

Ellis said he and other former Christ Church members have found a
temporary home at All Saints' Church in West Newbury, Mass., where they
can agree practicing homosexuals should not hold leadership positions
in the church.

In October, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, leader of the
Anglican churches worldwide, established a commission to examine the
impact of creating a separate Anglican province in North America for
dioceses and parishes who believe gay and lesbian sex acts violate
Scripture. The commission will report on the potential for avoiding a
split sometime in 04.

With the future of its relationship with the Episcopal Church yet
uncertain, SMF has planned meetings only through January, when it will
gather twice for Sunday worship and three times a week for Bible
studies.

Leading the fellowship are two young seminarians from Gordon-Conwell
Theological Seminary, an evangelical graduate school in South Hamilton,
Mass.

Christopher Klukas, 22, who delivered the Christmas Eve sermon
Wednesday evening, and Esau McCauley, 24, who was visiting his sick
mother in Alabama, a re organizing the temporarily homeless
parishioners into home study classes which they also teach.

Klukas received a standing ovation when he announced he and McCauley a
serving New Hampshire as missionaries of the Saint Aidan's Mission
Society. The men are handling the fellowship's finances through All
Saints' in West Newbury until the group becomes more structured.

"Our relationship with the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion
is still forming," McCauley told the Herald.

Helping Klukas to lead Wednesday's service were his father, the Rev.
Arnold Klukas, a professor at Nashotah House, an Episcopal seminary in
Wisconsin, and Father Donald Wilson, the former priest-in-charge of
Church of the Redeemer in Rochester, whom outgoing New Hampshire Bishop
Douglas Theuner removed last month for insubordination when Wilson
refused to acknowledge Robinson's authority as bishop.

Several Redeemer parishioners attended Wednesday's service, but
afterward said they plan to remain in the Episcopal Church and hope
Robinson will see fit to transfer their church into the care of the
more conservative Diocese of Albany once he takes the bishop's seat in
March.

"Our intention is to stay at our church and take it back," said church
treasurer Kathy Lewis. "We're praying that Gene will be merciful and
cut Redeemer loose to Albany. If he doesn't, we're going to be a thorn
in his side until the day we die."

Another member, Susan Cloutman, said many at Redeemer are skipping the
sacrament of communion and withholding money from the Diocese of N.H.
because appointed interim priests do not share their view of biblical
authority.

Father Tim Rich, whose St. John's Church in Portsmouth has lost about
10 members because of Robinson's election, said the SMF will not last
if it coalesces around a negative.

"Your identity can't be sustained by opposition," he said. "That's not
something that, in the long term, I believe can energize folks, can
hold folks together, can create a sense of mission."

Rich said he prays SMF can organize around a positive identity.

During the Christmas Eve service, no one mentioned Robinson, but
Christopher Klukas did allude to the crisis in the Episcopal Church.

"If nothing else, Christmas Eve is about God coming into the world to
save sinners," he said. "Regardless of anything that happens in our
church, we are still Christians, and we are called to proclaim that
Gospel."

Though he's confident Archbishop Williams will establish an orthodox
province in North America and that the Seacoast Anglicans will join,
McCauley stressed SMF did not form in protest of Robinson.

"We're not angry at anyone," he said. "We're not a church that's in op
position to anything. ... We're here strictly to provide a safe place."

Stratham resident Dave Ward, who left Christ Church in Exeter after
four years, said the Episcopal Church in the United States split the
Anglican Communion by endorsing Robinson, and those who gathered
Wednesday are seeking to restore that communion.

"The majority of Anglicans in the world are out of communion with
the Diocese of New Hampshire," he said. "The Archbishop of Canterbury
is not going to side with a few political activists in New Hampshire."

Robinson was not available for comment, but diocesan clergy do
not believe his ascendance to bishop must necessarily divide the
church.

"There are members of my parish who are not happy with the
election of

Bishop Robinson, but they have chosen to stay in the parish," said
Father Hank Junkin, rector of St. Andrew's in Hopkinton and president
of the Standing Committee which advises the bishop. "The bishop only
comes to the parish once a year. You don't need to be here when he's
here. All politics are local , and I think a healthy spiritual life is
local too. From a day-to-day stand point, the bishop's impact is very
minimal."

When asked whether a gay bishop could shepherd Christians who
believe his lifestyle is sinful, Junkin responded: "It's a substantive
and very good question to ask. I just wish we would be asking that
question from inside t he church rather than outside."

But SMF members no longer believe the Episcopal Church is
providing the sound biblical teaching they expect. Higginson said
Christ Church has two "fine priests, but I think they're misled. I
think they're deceived."

"They have to do away with the scripture that holds the way that
Robin son is living as sin," he said. "In order to justify that,
they're going to have to change the way they teach scripture. What
they're doing is sanctifying the sin, and I can't be part of that."

END

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