NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. Church leader steps down, congregation follows

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Mon Jan 5 21:04:12 EST 2009

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. Church leader steps down, congregation follows

By Arielle Clay
January 4, 2009

The Vicar of St. John's Episcopal Church in North Augusta stepped down Sunday. He says it is because he does not agree with the direction the National Church is taking.

Now dozens of his congregants are following him to a new church and new denomination.

Sunday was Phyllis Kirkland's last time in the kitchen of St. John's Episcopal Church, Susan Bafford's last time singing in the sanctuary, and Paula Wahl's last time as senior warden.

"I turned in my key today," Wahl said.

That's because for the three women and most other members of the church Sunday was their last day as congregants at St. John's and of the Episcopal denomination.

"The Episcopal church has been going in a direction that I wasn't in agreement with," Wahl said

"I was disappointed with the leadership at the national level. I had been waiting since 2003 for a different movement," Bafford said.

In 2003 the church made national headlines when an openly gay bishop was consecrated.

"We were all shocked," Wahl said.

But Father Rob Hartley who resigned Sunday as vicar of the church says the issue of homosexuality was not his main concern.

"I found it an error because it was contrary to scripture and I don't think it was any deeper than that," Hartley said.

He says his issues with the Episcopal Church started long before 2003.

"Early 80's probably," Hartley said.

That is when he said he started to see a shift in the theologies and teachings of the church.

"The Episcopal church really wants to make Christianity relevant they really want to make the truth of the gospel easier to ingest for the modern mind. I think the truth is the truth and changing it to make it digestible isn't exactly what the apostles learned from Jesus," Hartley said.

"I think that's what's been confusing across the county is that all of a sudden the national church is like you can believe whatever you want to believe but what do we believe," Bafford.

Now much of Hartley's congregation is following him to The Church of the Holy Trinity which is forming under the Anglican Church in North America but it is far from easy especially for St. Johns older members.

"It was really it was sad because my mother went there and she just passed away recently and her funeral was here," Wahl said.

But Wahl says she is coming to terms with saying goodbye.

"It's just a building and the church is the people and the family and I could never stay and have my family leave," Wahl said.

The church of the Holy Trinity will hold public worship temporarily at the Merovan Business Center on Highway 25.

Father Hartley says he does not have an exact count of how many members are moving with him. But, he says his main concern is to make sure that those who choose not to move are taken care of.


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