Diocese of PA Boots traditionalist Christians from Parish Buildings

David Virtue DVirtue236 at AOL.COM
Tue May 29 23:40:13 EDT 2001


Special Report

By David W. Virtue

Huntingdon Valley, PA--Bishop Charles E. Bennison, Episcopal Diocese of
Pennsylvania, has issued an ultimatum to the newly formed St. John the
Evangelist Anglican Church (formerly St. John's Church) telling them they
must vacate the church premises by June 10 and that the rector Fr. Philip
Lyman and family must vacate the rectory within 30 days.

The ultimatum was issued following the decision by more than 350
former members of St. John's Episcopal Church in Huntingdon Valley to
leave the Episcopal Church U.S.A, and affiliate with the Anglican Mission in
America, which is linked to the Episcopal Church of the Province of Rwanda.

Diocesan leaders told St. John the Evangelist representatives
that its congregation must get out of the church on Welsh Road in
Huntingdon Valley no later than June 9.  The Bishop said that he is
taking this action after consulting with the Board of the
Episcopal Diocese in Philadelphia, as well as the leadership of
the Episcopal Church U.S.A. in New York.

The Bishop also told Fr. Lyman and Associate Rector, the Rev. Kenneth Cook
that unless they reverse their decision to leave the Episcopal Church U.S.A.,
he will take action to inhibit and depose them.

The bishop said the decision of the parishioners to leave the Episcopal
Church U.S.A. and affiliate themselves with another part of the worldwide
Anglican Church poses "a threat to the system."

Church Offers Over $1 million For Property

The newly formed congregation has made an offer of $1,030,000 to the bishop
and the diocese for the church's properties that include the main church, a
chapel, and the rectory. "The parish wishes to stay on the property and we
are offering over a million dollars to keep it," said Lyman.

According to Senior Warden Bob Wisniewski this represents fair market value
of the property.  "The parishioners will have to work hard to pay
that substantial sum for the property, but they are willing to do
so, and we hope that the Diocese will let us keep it."

Mr. Wisniewski said the parishioners believe that the Diocese has a moral
responsibility to allow those who built and maintained this church to keep
it. The parish has been here for 82 years, he said.

"The parishioners also believe that it is in the best interests of everyone
and for the Diocese to accept the purchase offer", said Lyman.

"Nobody profits from empty churches. There are too many church buildings and
not enough churchgoers as it is.  The purchase price we have offered can be
put to good use in the Diocese.  There are many struggling Episcopal churches
in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties who could use that money.  The
few parishioners at St. John's who remain in the Episcopal Church U.S.A. will
be welcome in nearby Episcopal churches," he said.

Bishop Bennison had previously suggested a possible purchase of the property
by the parishioners, but changed his mind, said Lyman. "The church's offer to
purchase the property was in keeping with a  suggestion made by Bennison at a
meeting in January 1999. St. John's leadership was told at that meeting that
the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and St. John's parishioners were moving in
different theological directions.  The Bishop said at the meeting that
perhaps the best thing would be for St. John's to leave the denomination. He
then asked St. John's leadership if it was interested in purchasing the

"Acting on those suggestions the annual meeting on January 31, 1999 voted to
seek an amicable disaffiliation from the Episcopal Church U.S.A. and the
Diocese of Pennsylvania. Only two parishioners did not attend," said Lyman.

"Bennison failed to respond to our repeated attempts to negotiate an amicable
separation and purchase of the church's property for over two and a half
years. During his March 2000 visit to St. John's he told the church's board
that he had changed his mind on the matter."

"Regardless of the outcome of the property issue, we are moving
forward," said Lyman. "We just want to get on with the mission of
our church without looking back and without any further distractions."

Lyman said there had been strong community Support for the newly formed

Dr. Paul Randolph, pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Huntingdon Valley
said, "The Rector and congregation at St. John the Evangelist are well-known
to us.  They have a long-standing, wonderful
reputation in the community."  Pastor Randolph said that his church and
many other of the churches with established histories in the
neighborhood have offered to help St. John the Evangelist Anglican
Church.  "We all want to do anything and everything we can to support
and help them. The Rector and parishioners there have a very active and
valuable Christian ministry in this community and in the whole Philadelphia

Though no longer affiliated with the Episcopal Church USA, the parish will
still remain part of the worldwide Anglican Communion because of its
affiliation with the Anglican Mission in America (AMIA) and the Episcopal
Church of the Province of Rwanda.

Lyman said matters came to a head following many years of prayer and
discussion regarding nearly four decades of increasingly irreconcilable
theological differences with the Pennsylvania Diocese and ECUSA.

"Although this was an agonizing decision for many in our parish the vast
majority of the parishioners decided that they simply could no
longer stay within the Diocese and the national Episcopal Church and be
true to their own consciences."  At a recent parish meeting held on
May 19 to discuss the disaffiliation, not a single person suggested
that the parish should stay in the Diocese.

"To many of us, the Episcopal Church in the U.S. today is
unrecognizable, and we believe it is they, not we, who have departed
from the Anglican tradition of faith. We hold the same theological views and
practice the Anglican faith in the same way that we always have".

Lyman explained that parishes that hold a traditional theological
perspective have been increasingly marginalized within a national
church that has drifted far from the theology of the majority in the
worldwide Anglican Church. St. John's parishioners concluded that the
only course open to them was to leave the Episcopal Church, and
affiliate with another part of the Anglican Church that shares their
perspective. More...

Following its decision to leave the Episcopal Church U.S.A. on May 20,
St. John the Evangelist Anglican Church was received into the Anglican
Mission in America, which is formally a part of the Anglican Province
of the Episcopal Church of Rwanda in east Africa, one of the Anglican
Church's 38 provinces worldwide.

The parish in Huntingdon Valley has a strong evangelistic and social outreach
with parishioners tithing 20% of their annual income and a significant amount
of their free time to those in need. The church has sent youth groups and
pastors to Native American reservations in the Dakotas to help with summer
bible camps and the congregation has made substantial financial contributions
to several ministries in Africa.

Father Lyman is a graduate of Princeton University and the University of
Edinburgh in Scotland. Lyman is a recognized scholar in Church History and
has lectured in Jerusalem and England on the subject of the Puritans' strong
ties with Israel and the Jewish people.


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