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KENTUCKY: From a church split, two families form

From a church split, two families form
St. John's, St. Andrew's struggle with changes

By Frank E. Lockwood

VERSAILLES - St. John's Episcopal Church is 157 years old, wealthy, loyal to the diocese of Lexington and nearly empty. St. Andrew's Anglican Church is 3 weeks old, practically homeless, free of all ties to the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and growing exponentially.

About 180 people attended St. Andrew's yesterday, gathering at the Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center in Versailles to sing and pray. Downtown, at historic St. John's, three services drew a total of 60 people.

Most of St. Andrews' parishioners had been members of the older congregation but left after diocesan leaders fired the entire governing board at St. John's.

The conservative board had clashed repeatedly with the diocese's more liberal bishop, Stacy Sauls, because of Sauls' support for the ordination of openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson. But the leaders were removed by the diocese's executive council on Jan. 7, after they allegedly failed to follow proper procedures for hiring a new minister.

Days after the firings, unhappy St. John's members voted to form a new church and contributed $40,000 to get it started. The group, which met informally in a supporter's living room for three weeks, had its first formal worship service yesterday and welcomed its new pastor, the Rev. David Brannen, to Versailles.

A former St. John's senior warden, Tom Thornbury, now St. Andrew's top lay leader, asked God to "instill in us the resolve to carry on, ... give us the courage to continue, and never be satisfied with what we have accomplished."

All of the former St. John's leaders joined Thornbury on the stage as he welcomed Brannen and presented him with two emblems: a scarflike clerical garment and a copy of the Scriptures.

"Friends," Thornbury told the crowd, "we have undertaken a monumental task. We have stepped away from the comforts of our beloved church-home, and we are walking together toward an uncertain, frightening, yet exciting future."

After being removed from office, deposed leaders from St. John's could have sued and fought to keep the church's nearly $1.9 million in assets. Instead, they walked away, leaving the property, the assets, and row after row of empty pews.

"Regardless of what we've given up, we have found something that is more valuable, more inviting and more pleasing to our souls," Thornbury said in an interview.

The church building they left has stunning stained glass, shiny brass lectionaries, marble, artwork and polished wood. Former President George Bush and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II have worshiped there.

The new worship space for St. Andrew's, a theater, lacks the religious trappings of St. John's and its storied history. There is a stage set behind the altar and an electronic keyboard instead of a pipe organ.

Yesterday, nobody seemed to mind.

Worshipers came to the service from all over Central Kentucky: Winchester, Nicholasville, Georgetown, Frankfort and Lexington.

The new pastor said the church will reach out to all people.

"We're not here primarily to be a refuge for beleaguered Episcopalians," Brannen told the crowd. "You are welcome to come here, but we've got a mission to do and we will do it by loving God and loving people."

After the service, Judy Taylor of Lexington energetically passed out music to the newly formed choir and said she was satisfied with the first official worship service for St. Andrew's.

"It's always a blessing when God shows up," she said.

Back at St. John's, there's hardly any choir left. Only two of its members were there Sunday.

The Sunday school program was also hit hard. The church treasurer, the youth director, and the person in charge of yards and grounds have departed.

The rebuilding has begun, though, according to the Rev. Phillip Haug, who is temporarily serving as minister-in-charge.

A new treasurer has been picked, and a committee has been formed to work with Sauls.

"It's a sign of wholeness that many have stepped forward," Haug said.

People on both sides say they are grieving because their church family has split apart.

Said Haug: "There's a lot of pain, but also a sense of optimism about the future."


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