Skip to comments.Rebels on principle: Dissident Episcopalians in Chillicothe form new congregation [OH]
Posted on 01/01/2006 8:26:58 AM PST by sionnsar
CHILLICOTHE, Ohio - No stained-glass windows. No pews. No church choir.
And definitely no parking spots left out front.
The new (rented) home of the Chillicothe Anglican Fellowship is packed to the rafters.
The storefront once housed one of Ross County's rowdiest, two-fisted drinking joints. Now it's the center of a quiet, though no less explosive, religious rebellion.
It's been that way since the Rev. Rick Terry decided enough was enough and shepherded most of his flock, about 60 people, two blocks north and around the corner from St. Paul's Episcopal Church to the coffeehouse on N. Paint Street.
That was in the summer of 2004, when the Episcopal Church USA - the American wing of the Anglican Church - horrified many conservative members by elevating Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, to bishop of New Hampshire.
"We had seen it develop for many years," said Bill Schultz, an 82-year-old Chillicothe resident who left behind the church where he was confirmed in 1952 to follow Terry. "But Gene Robinson was a turning point. It was something that everyone saw and everyone could understand."
The splintering in Chillicothe is a window into a painful schism poised to take center stage in June, when the Episcopal Church USA brings its national convention to Columbus. With the backers of the mainline church girding for the fight by drawing up a plan to hold onto church property in the event of a large-scale walkout, it seems inevitable that others will be joining Terry and pastors like him.
While the Robinson consecration was the final straw, Terry and his backers bristle at the suggestion that they are anti-homosexual.
Terry said the real issue for him was that Robinson was involved in an extramarital relationship. The Robinson affair, in Terry's view, is just one component of liberalism run amok among church leaders at odds with the people in the pews.
"For several decades, I've perceived a slide toward a universalist view that undermines the uniqueness of Jesus Christ," the 56-year-old rector said. "It has accommodated the mores of the culture rather than the traditions the church has always taught."
It's difficult to pinpoint how many congregations are rebelling nationwide. Richelle Thompson, spokeswoman for the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Ohio, downplays the split, noting that Terry is the only defector in its region. Still, four churches in the Akron area voted to leave the Cleveland-based Diocese of Ohio in early November.
On the recent Sunday morning when parking was at a premium in front of Terry's makeshift church, there were plenty of spots at St. Paul's.
Inside, a dozen elderly worshippers sat on folding chairs set up in a kitchen area while the church undergoes renovations.
Walt Mycoff, the diocese's canon for ministry, also serves part time as one of the interim pastors at St. Paul's. He said the church is "stabilizing" and draws about 40 worshippers for the two weekly services.
Terry's permanent replacement is expected to be named this summer.
Mycoff said he finds Terry's decision puzzling because Bishop Herbert Thompson Jr., the spiritual head of the diocese, voted against Robinson's confirmation. "I see our diocese as moderate," he said.
Spokeswoman Thompson said the church has traditionally been a threelegged stool of reason, Scripture and tradition. "For Rick Terry and some others, I think Scripture is getting a higher ranking. We think that we should view our faith through all three equally. We think that's what God wants us to do."
Terry's split with the church hierarchy came to a head when he attempted to affiliate St. Paul's with the Anglican Communion Network, a breakaway group of conservative Anglicans.
Bishop Thompson ordered Terry to cut off contact with the renegade group.
Terry, who was deposed by Thompson, said he was left without options.
"We sort of felt like we were kicked out as much as we were leaving," said John Street, a 49-year-old church member who left St. Paul's with Terry.
With white hair receding around the temples and a ready smile, the thoughtful Terry doesn't look the part of rebel leader. But, he said, he's comfortable in his new role.
Small things, such as mingling with the congregation or preaching without notes, he said, have reinvigorated his ministry.
Come spring, Terry will lead a new push by partnering with pastors in Chillicothe's predominantly black neighborhoods. Worship won't be the only item on the agenda, as church members will help renovate long-shuttered drug houses one nail at a time.
"I don't think that would have come about had we not made the move," he said. "It's made us more open to doing things out of the ordinary."
Terry's spiritual renewal, however, has not come without cost. In leaving St. Paul's, Terry gave up a steady salary and perks, including a college fund established for his four children.
Now, he works part-time painting houses to make ends meet. Terry said he knows other leaders who would like to leave the church, but worry about the sacrifice.
In hindsight, Terry views the breakup as "incredibly difficult," but necessary.
In a recent interview, he reflected on the unusual path upon which his reading of the Scripture has taken him. "I can honestly say that I never thought I would be doing something like this."
Terry said the real issue for him was that Robinson was involved in an extramarital relationship.
Hmmmm. So if he'd done it right and proper and divorced his wife, and then got himself properly civil-partnershiped with what's-his-name, it would have been OK?
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