- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2005

MIDLAND, Texas — Many parishioners in a small but active Episcopal congregation in Midland are reeling after an order from their bishop to leave church property if they can’t adhere to the tenets of the national Episcopal church.

It is the latest episode in an ongoing feud over values within the church — one that peaked in 2003 when the Episcopal Church of the United States of America (ECUSA) named a homosexual, V. Gene Robinson, as bishop of New Hampshire.

The Rev. Jon Stasney, rector of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Midland, said he received word Monday from Bishop Wallis Ohl that those who disagreed with the national church should “leave the property by June 1.”

The move came after months of negotiation with Bishop Ohl, an effort to keep the congregation together regardless of the ideological split within the church.

“Most members did not desire to be affiliated with ECUSA,” said the Rev. Jonathan Hartzer, associate rector. “St. Nicholas representatives asked the bishop to help work out a mutual solution that would keep the congregation together.”

The bishop attended a meeting March 31 with church members, during which they voted on their preferences.

Eighty-nine percent of those who voted said they did not want to be affiliated with ECUSA but rather wanted to remain a part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, although not as Episcopalians.

Bishop Ohl informed church leaders last week that those opposed to ECUSA should leave the premises. In a letter of explanation, he said:

“I believe that in the long-run, delaying the decision would have been much more difficult for all involved. The animosity between the factions of what currently constitutes St. Nicholas Episcopal Church was not ameliorating; in fact it was becoming more exacerbated with each passing week. I do not believe that is good for the souls of those who wish to depart the Episcopal Church to remain in the close proximity relationship that currently exists.”

As it stands, the 31 who voted to remain in the national Episcopal church will continue to attend St. Nicholas, with financial help from the diocese. The others will find another home.

Not to worry, Mr. Stasney said yesterday. The group already has a handful of offers for temporary relief.

He said there had been “an outpouring of support from the community,” and one Catholic church, an independent charismatic group and two smaller churches have offered to share quarters with his flock.

Though Bishop Robinson’s appointment became the biggest rallying point for those who believe the national church has strayed from biblical teaching, the national church’s blessing of same-sex unions and other liberal stances have intensified that split.

“The battle in the Episcopal church and other denominations is not just about homosexuality,” Mr. Stasney said. “It’s about whether or not we are going to remain true to the biblical faith and 2000 years of apostolic teaching.”