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UTAH: Moment of Truth. Episcopalians break with church over gay ordination

Moment of truth
Episcopalians break with the church they love over ordination of gay priest

By Peggy Fletcher Stack
The Salt Lake Tribune


Molly Hargadine and Roger Booth may have taken different paths, but they arrived at the same point - breaking with the Episcopal Church they loved.

Hargadine is a lifelong Episcopalian and nun who lives in church senior housing and does churchwork full-time. Booth is a recent convert who makes video games for a living but has devoted much of his spare time to lay leadership in the church.

Both faced a moment of truth when the Episcopal Church U.S.A. voted to ordain Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire at its first openly gay bishop, an act that outraged many Episcopalians and Anglicans. Just this week, The Times of London reported that the Episcopal Church may be suspended from membership in the worldwide Anglican Communion for its approval of the ordination.

For Hargadine and Booth, it came down to a simple belief: The Bible does not endorse homosexual behavior and neither should a Christian church.

"It was hard for me. I was born an Episcopalian and I'm 66 years old," says Hargadine, an Episcopal nun who lives in Kaysville. "I just can't stand for something I don't believe in."

"To be harsh, the Episcopal Church is apostate," he says. "They've thrown out the Bible."

Now Hargadine and Booth have a common mission: to find other "dismayed conservative Episcopalians" to join with them in new journey of faith.

Hargadine will be ordained Oct.1 as a deacon in the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, a breakaway group headquartered in Memphis that boasts eight archbishops and 24 bishops who represent eight provincial "families" around the world.

Booth is the senior warden, or head lay leader, of Wasatch Anglican Fellowship, a small offshoot congregation in Park City. The group hasn't yet decided which denomination to join.

Losing any member of the Episcopal Church "is a great sadness to us," Utah Bishop Carolyn Tanner Irish said this week.

The Episcopal Church is both "hierarchical" in that it's run by bishops, and "democratic" through the work of state and national convention where delegates are elected by the people, Irish said in a prepared statement.

"There are boundaries in our church that are set by our constitution and canons - not just opinions - as to what is acceptable or congruent with the Anglican/episcopal tradition," she said.

Irish has no ill will towards those who have left, but said she will certainly "welcome them back should they ever seek to return."

Given the circumstances, a return to the Episcopal fold seems unlikely to Hargadine and Booth.

Born in Michigan and reared in California, Hargadine became "Sister Molly" in 1985 in Monroe, La. At the time, she had no community of fellow nuns, so the bishop there founded Fellowship Charitos, Inc., to provide legal and financial support for her and other solitary nuns. Now the fellowship has more than 200 members.

After 1987, she spent time as a missionary in New Guinea and lived a year in an Australian convent. On Valentine's Day last year, Sister Molly moved to an Episcopal-run senior center in Kaysville to be near her extended family.

Now Sister Molly spends her days as a senior companion to clients at an Alzheimer's care center, helping them with simple tasks like eating lunch and making ceramic figures. She also works in the Adopt-a-Native

On Oct. 9, she plans to go "Franciscan caroling," that is, knocking on doors in her building, singing to the occupants and blessing pets of people who can't make it to church.

As part of her role as a future deacon, she takes Communion to elder residents of the senior center where she lives, although she is not yet authorized to consecrate the sacrament.

"Right now I am only licensed to assist someone else, so my bishop has to mail the sacrament from Georgia and the Catholic monks at the monastery have agreed to give me holy water," Sister Molly says.

Booth is also involved in pastoral matters, albeit as a lay member.

He was raised Catholic in New Jersey but by his teens had pretty much given up on God. He got married and wandered along the faith trail until moving to Utah in 1996, where he felt it was important for his family to be involved in a religious community. They joined St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Park City.

When Booth and his wife attended a three-day mini-course in Christianity at St. Luke's in 1999, he found himself transfixed by the discussions of grace, piety and godly communion.

"I went from someone who prayed to God for things to someone who thanked God for things," he says. "I started feeling thankful all the time."

And he threw himself into intense participation with the church, serving on the vestry, which is a lay board that helps run the church. His wife joked that he was about ready to put on the clergy collar.

That's what made it especially painful for Booth when the church ordained Robinson. He struggled with his feelings until a new, liberal rector arrived at St. Luke's in May 2004.

"He's OK with this gay stuff and I am not," Booth says. He wept, knowing he might have to leave the only church home he had ever really known.

Booth and about a dozen others had been meeting for Bible studies since December 2003. By the spring, it was time to make a move.

A priest from Ohio who had left the Episcopal Church came to Utah to talk about planting a new church for what he called "orthodox Anglicans."

"He told us that separating from a church is hard, it's like separating from a family," Booth said. "The grieving process is necessary. Some of us are still going through that."

The group left St. Luke's to form Wasatch Anglican Fellowship. They meet for worship at 5 p.m. on Sunday in the library at Park City Academy, a private Christian school at 3120 Pinebrook Road near Jeremy Ranch. They have Bible study on Tuesdays at 6:30 p.m. at The Christian Center of Park City.

Wasatch members do not dwell on their differences with the Episcopal Church, Booth says. "We are just looking to bring people to Christ."


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