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Trinity congregation splits off from Episcopal Church

Trinity congregation splits off from Episcopal Church

By Paul Cocke
News Editor
Anacortes American

Members of a new Anglican church in Anacortes say that they didn't
leave the Episcopal Church — the church left them.

The Trinity Community Church of Anacortes, part of the Anglican
Province of America, has been meeting at the Anacortes Public Library
since August. The congregation consists of 50 to 60 people, many of
whom previously attended Episcopal churches in the valley.

"Our people believe that they really have not become disaffected, but
rather they have adhered to the faith and tradition that's always been
there. They're continuing that and their feeling is that the church
they once knew and attended has left them," said Bishop John Hamers,
who is leading worshipers at the new church.

Episcopal Church policy for some time has created a rift among its
members, highlighted by the controversy sparked by the recent
consecration of an openly gay man as bishop of New Hampshire.

Bob LaRue said he and his wife Jean had been regular members of Christ
Episcopal Church in Anacortes, but that "some of the things that have
been happening both locally and nationally had kind of caused us to
drift away."

LaRue said they attended an Anglican church in Shoreline, which led to
discussions about starting a new church here.

"We mentioned once or twice that it would be nice if we could have an
Anglican church up here in the valley, someplace that we could attend,"
LaRue said.

That led to Bob and Jean LaRue and another couple, Randy and Sandra
Walley from Mount Vernon, meeting with Hamers and the new local church
was born.

But Hamers said the rift in the church stretches back decades.

The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion, which
encompasses churches around the world descended from the Church of
England. Anglicanism is rooted in the Protestant Reformation in
England, with the archbishop of Canterbury as its spiritual leader.
Many of the early colonists in this country were members of the Church
of England, but when America declared its independence from England, it
became important to them to have an indigenous church.

As far back as the 1960s, Hamers said that more conservative-minded
Episcopalians "became disenchanted with some of the directions the
Episcopal Church was taking. They felt that the Episcopal Church
hierarchy was moving toward sort of watering down theology and not
adhering to traditional interpretations of Holy Scripture."

"So they began to break off and said, ‘if you're going off in that
direction, we can't follow you. We're going to stick with what we have
known, the heritage of our faith,'" said Hamers, adding that movement
has been intensifying during the last 10 to 15 years.

Hamers said that many of those people did not accept the idea that the
Scriptures and the teaching of the church "were subject to modification
to suit the culture, but rather were God's word and applicable to the
condition of mankind in all ages."

And as a result of that, "in some locations, entire parishes just
walked away from their church buildings and left the Episcopal Church,"
Hamers said.

In other areas, portions of congregations left the Episcopal Church, in
some cases forming their own parishes.

"They thought they were in isolation and it took a number of years for
them to become aware of each other and as they became aware of each
other they started growing back together," Hamers said, adding "there's
still some of that going on."

Hamers estimated there are a couple of hundred parishes across the
United States of traditionalist Anglicans, some of them going under
different names.

"What we're seeing here in Anacortes and Skagit County right at the
moment is people who have more recently made the decision we can no
longer go along with the directions that it appears to us the Episcopal
Church is taking. They've said, ‘no, we want to stick with the Bible as
God's word and be more conservative,' if that's a good term," Hamers
said. "There are some stay-at-homes who are now coming back to church
because a more conservative church is available to them.

"We're saddened over the fact that the church that we did know has gone
off in those other directions, but we feel we are bound to stick to
those basic fundamentals that we believe in ..." Hamers said.

"We fill a niche of people who want traditional worship and believe
that the Bible is the enlightened word of God. It's pretty simple,
really," said Bob Hyde, senior warden for the new church.

Recently, overseas bishops who said they represented 50 million of the
world's 77 million Anglicans jointly announced they were in a "state of
impaired communion" with the Episcopal Church — a step short of
declaring a full schism, according to the Seattle Times.

And the Times also reported that conservatives within the U.S. church
have asked the archbishop of Canterbury to authorize a separate
Anglican province for them in North America.

The Rev. Peter Strimer, communications director for the Episcopal
Diocese of Olympia, which covers Western Washington, said that the
church's ordination of women as priests in 1976 also provoked similar
sentiments from more conservative members of the church.

Strimer said the Episcopal Church has always welcomed and included
people with widely divergent views, from the more conservative to the
more liberal. Instead of leaving the church, Strimer said he wished
people would stay and share their views.

"We are very sad that anyone feels the need to leave at this time,
especially because we feel one of the main characteristics of the
Episcopal Church is inclusiveness," Strimer said. "The decisions
regarding Gene Robinson becoming the bishop of New Hampshire is best
seen as a symbol of that inclusiveness. Those people who have chosen to
leave as well as everyone in all our communities will always be
welcomed back with open arms."

But Hamers and other leaders of the new church say its formation was
not a direct result of the elevation of Gene Robinson as bishop of New
Hampshire. LaRue noted their new church held its first service, after
weeks of planning, the weekend the new bishop was consecrated.

"The gay bishop issue is not the big issue. That's a symptom only of
the fact that the Episcopal Church no longer professes, so far as we
can determine, that the Holy Scriptures are relevant to today's
society. And that has brought about this symptom," Hamers said.

"I'm sure that the whole thing that came out of convention has probably
been kind of the last straw for some of the folks who joined our
congregation as we've gone along," said LaRue, adding that "the bishop
calls it the alarm clock going off."

"We are not a church against something. We're a church that's for
something. And our thrust for the present and future is really an
emphasis on building a family church where families are welcome and
there is Christian education for children as well as continuing
Christian education for adults, and ministering to one another in a
church parish and family in a positive way," Hamers said. "We want to
make it very clear our objective is not to sit around and criticize
other people or what they're doing."

Locally, there have been other issues as well, including the fact that
the three Episcopal churches in Skagit County share priests who rotate
among them. Members of the new church said they want a priest who has
the time to minister to their spiritual needs, as well as providing
pastoral support for families.

However, Strimer said such regional clusters of priests working with
more than one church is not unique to Skagit Valley and is indeed often
found in areas where smaller congregations cannot support a full-time

Many members of the new church live in Anacortes, although some come
from Guemes Island, Oak Harbor, Mount Vernon and beyond, said Hamers,
who came out of retirement to lead the new church.

Hamers said the intent is for the church to offer worship to Anacortes
residents and to those living beyond Fidalgo Island as well, since it
is the only such Anglican Church in Skagit Valley.

Church members are looking for more permanent quarters than the
library, but said they work hard to make sure the library meeting room
really has the appearance of a church on Sundays.

The Trinity Community Church of Anacortes holds services at 10 a.m.
Sundays in the front meeting room at the library. Adult Bible study and
Sunday School starts at 9 a.m. For more information about the church,
call Bishop Hamers at 360-428-7709.


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