Sunday, September 16, 2007

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — The exodus from the Episcopal Church continued last week as leaders of another Colorado congregation prepared to split with the increasingly liberal denomination.

The Rev. Charles Reeder is scheduled to preach his last sermon today as rector of the Church of the Holy Comforter here. Then, “Father Chuck” and the church’s leadership — including the 10-member vestry and youth ministers — plan to join the growing number of traditional Episcopalians fleeing the embattled denomination.

In this case, the trigger was money. Donations have dropped precipitously since 2003, when the church consecrated its first openly homosexual bishop, V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, and agreed to perform same-sex blessings.

John Bosio, Holy Comforter’s senior warden, said the 49-year-old parish is now basically insolvent.

“This has been a problem in the Episcopal Church for a number of years as the church becomes more and more liberal,” said Mr. Bosio, who plans to leave the church with Mr. Reeder.

In Virginia, 11 churches and their clergy voted to leave the diocese in the wake of the denomination’s shift away from conservative interpretations of marriage and Scriptural authority.

The leader of the 77-million-member Anglican Communion, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, will meet in New Orleans this week with U.S. Episcopal bishops.

At the meeting, the Episcopal House of Bishops will weigh demands from Anglican leaders that the U.S. church pledge not to consecrate another openly homosexual bishop or authorize official blessings for same-sex couples. If Episcopal leaders fail to agree by Sept. 30, they risk losing their full membership in the communion.

The decision by Mr. Reeder and other church members follows by six months the move by another Colorado congregation, Grace and St. Stephen’s Church, to split from the diocese and join the Anglican communion, a breakaway group of traditional Episcopalians.

While that split was notable for its rancor — the congregation has refused to give up the church building and is now fighting the diocese in court — this most recent departure is notable for its civility.

Mr. Reeder agreed to leave the church without contesting the diocese’s ownership of the building and property. The diocese plans to maintain the church in its present form with any parishioners who decide to stay.

The departing leadership also is working with Bishop Robert O’Neill to ease the transition to a new rector and elected vestry.

“We decided some time ago that if it came to this, we didn’t want it to be a bitter battle,” church staffer Wendy Ellis said.

The bishop, who is working on a financial-recovery plan for the church, took the news stoically, diocese spokeswoman Beckett Stokes said.

“It’s always sad when someone decides they need to go somewhere besides the Episcopal Church, but he told the congregation that he trusts that those leaving do so in good faith and respect to the calling of God in their lives,” Miss Stokes said.

Where Mr. Reeder and the leadership will go, nobody yet knows. He initially announced he would leave Oct. 1, but the bishop moved the date up to today , primarily to help with the transition, Miss Stokes said.

The outgoing rector is expected to announce his plans by early this week.

“Father Chuck has indicated he will stay in the area and stay in the ministry, so I think he’ll be starting up a new church,” Mr. Bosio said.

The church has about 350 parishioners, most of whom are expected to follow Mr. Reeder.

“We certainly know that many people will follow Father Chuck, and some people will stay with the parish, and other people will go somewhere else,” Mr. Bosio said. “We just hope everyone is happy with their new church home.”

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