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MISSOURI: Orthodox St. Louis parish flees ECUSA for AMIA and Rwanda

"We have a war chest and we'll go to the mat for our property," says rector

By David W. Virtue


ST. LOUIS, MO--The Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd voted overwhelmingly on Sunday to leave the Diocese of Missouri and the Episcopal Church and to affiliate with the Anglican Mission in America.

The vote to leave was significant, said the Rev. Paul R. Walter, 66, who has been rector their for nearly 8 years. "Of the 148 who could vote, 98 were present, 84 voted for and 14 against leaving ECUSA. The balance of 152 (the church has almost 300 members) are being polled." That poll will be preserved for additional evidence that the parish is united, said Walker.

The Bishop of Missouri George Wayne Smith has inhibited Walter and has fired the Vestry and Wardens of the parish.

"We are ready for war. We have a war chest and we'll go to the mat for our property," said Walter, a feisty, no nonsense Evangelical. Walter said he expects a fight from the diocese and they are prepared.

Walter has been accepted as a priest in the Province of Rwanda. "Our Vestry voted unanimously to change our corporate articles to expunge any reference to the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri and to allow the congregation to align with any Anglican entity we choose. As a non-profit we filed with the County Court and the judge approved our changes and the Secretary of State issued us a revised document," Walter told Virtuosity.

"We called a special meeting of the parish, which must, by law, be announced for three consecutive weekends, and set the date and time as 7:00 PM on Sunday, February 29th. The agenda includes a resolution of the congregation affirming the actions of the Vestry; a resolution officially detaching Good Shepherd from ECUSA and joining AMiA, and a resolution amending the by-laws to conform to the Articles of Incorporation," he said.

Walter said that a church member who only attends about once every six weeks teamed up with a disgruntled former member, and went to the diocese and reported our actions.

"Bishop George Wayne Smith immediately inhibited me after being informed that I was a priest in the Province of Rwanda. His lawyers then filed a complaint in the county court," said Walter.

Lawyers for both sides did not seem anxious to go before a judge, so a very simple consent decree was agreed upon, said Walter. "Although we had some pretty absurd demands made of us, all we ended up agreeing not to divest ourselves of our assets and to allow the diocese to audit us. We agreed."

"The parish approved three resolutions on Sunday night and we will go to the mat legally in four to six weeks. We have a six-figure war chest for legal expenses. None of it comes from regular parish cash flow. It is all specially designated giving."

Walter said that his lawyers had already won a case, which set the precedent that property disputes in non-profits in Missouri area are judged on the basis of civil, not canon law.

Walter said the Bishop George Wayne Smith sent a letter to his parishioners which was full of typical Episcopal gracious speak. "It won't sway them. One of the things he cautions against is acting in anger. He just doesn't get it."

Walter told Virtuosity that morale in the parish was very high. "When word got out that we were leaving the ECUSA, three prominent Episcopal families in St. Louis immediately came over to us. Wardens and vestry members from eight different churches in the diocese have been in touch with me saying they agreed with us and shared our grief. They also said they would like to have us help them," said Walter. Good Shepherd is the 9th largest parish in the diocese.

The bishop's letter to the parish said he had offered Walter "supplemental pastoral oversight". The bishop wrote, "I trusted then, as I do now, that another bishop, acceptable to all of you and to me, could exercise Episcopal ministry for you and your community. I remain open to this option. Your rector rejected this offer."

"It was not alternative Episcopal oversight," said Walter. "The bishop wanted the last say in who that bishop would be and wanted to retain the right to continue his pastoral visits to us. No deal," said Walter.

Walter said the consecration of V. Gene Robinson was the final straw in a church that had lost its way morally. "The resolutions at General Convention affirming Robinson to the episcopacy and same-sex rites was a bridge to far for me and my parish, and we are out of here."

Walter said the bishop's accusation that he and his parish were acting out of anger was nonsense.

The bishop wrote in his letter to the parish, admitting that "serious tensions" did exist between Good Shepherd and the Diocese of Missouri following the decisions at General Convention. "I will admit that the tension will not go away immediately and that your disappointment and anger may well linger. Anger does not sustain, although it burns brightly on the short term. On the other side of anger lies the very real danger of mounting disunity."

"What anger," said a parishioner. "He just doesn't get it. It is about The Faith, not anger."

Walter said he was prepared for battle. "We knew this was coming and we are prepared for it. We will fight all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. We will challenge the Dennis Canon."

"If we lose, the worst case scenario is that 85 percent of the core congregation and 95 percent of its income simply walks off campus praising God. We only have a small endowment. I don't expect this anytime soon. We are going to fight for the sake of all the little places and people that couldn't possible muster the resources to do so."

Should the church prevail the new parish will call itself the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd. "We will build a new church on the present property. We have been adding a family or two every week since word got out, and they are coming to us from the Baptists, Presbyterians and independent denominations. We are on a roll. We have nine candidates for holy orders, and we have three church plants under consideration. We are rejoicing in the Lord."

The Rev. Canon Tim Smith, executive officer for the Pawleys Island based Anglican Mission in American said, "The Anglican Mission welcomes the courageous people of the Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd in St. Louis. It is reassuring that stalwart parishioners and clergy will not placate the theologically corrupt structures of ECUSA.
They desire to move forward in mission for Jesus Christ, and we welcome that."

The Diocese projects a budget deficit of $168,000, which has forced the Diocesan Council to put the brakes on spending in the 2004 Program Budget.

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