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KENTUCKY: Historic Versailles Church Losing Members in Large Numbers

Historic Episcopal church losing members in large numbers

02/02/2004
Associated Press

A 157-year-old Episcopal church is becoming a ghost town on Sundays, as its conservative members have broken off to form their own congregation.

Historic St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown Versailles, Kentucky, drew only 60 people to its three Sunday services. Most of its former members left after diocesan leaders fired the entire governing board at St. John's.

The conservative board had clashed repeatedly with the diocese bishop, Stacy Sauls, because of Sauls' support for the ordination of openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson, a Lexington native. Church 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, peeved St. John's members voted to form a new church , called St. Andrew's, and contributed $40,000 in seed money. The group, which met informally in a supporter's living room for three weeks, had its first formal worship service on Sunday and welcomed its new pastor, the Rev. David Brannen, to Versailles.

About 180 people attended St. Andrew's on Sunday, gathering at the Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center in 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, I give us the courage to continue, and never be satisfied with what we have accomplished."

"Friends," Thornbury said, "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."

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

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.

END

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