TORRANCE, CA: Anglicans find a home in Old Torrance

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Fri Aug 12 10:42:43 EDT 2011

TORRANCE, CA: Anglicans find a home in Old Torrance

By Melissa Evans Staff Writer 
August 10, 2011 

 The Rev. Dale Smith sets up the office that Christ Our Savior Anglican Church now calls home in Old Torrance after its members split with the Episcopal Church. (Sean Hiller Staff Photographer)

Four years ago, a small group of former Episcopalians - disheartened with the denomination - huddled in a Torrance living room for church services led by a Nigerian priest.

After the ordination of a gay bishop in 2003, these and other conservative members left the Episcopal Church, the U.S. arm of the historic Anglican Communion. They formed their own churches aligned with Anglican dioceses in Africa that shared their views on biblical teaching.

Now, as the organizational structure of this fledgling Anglican body in the United States takes shape, the local congregations are planting roots in local communities and hiring American priests.

This Sunday, the local Anglican church, Christ Our Savior, will hold services in its first permanent home in Old Torrance. The Rev. Dale Smith, a former Episcopal priest from South Pasadena, has led the church for more than a year.

"It's been a difficult time for more than 50 years during this gradual split," Smith said.

After 2003, he said, "We knew there were effectively two churches, one that believed the historic faith and one that didn't."

A spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles agreed that doctrinal disagreements have stretched back decades, but said the denomination has not departed from its core values and tradition. Rather, the church "has come to understand more fully the meaning of the baptismal covenant that calls us to respect the dignity of every human

being," said Robert Williams, the church's canon for communications.

The issue of gay ordination - and biblical teaching on homosexuality in general - has likewise roiled other Protestant denominations. In July, after years of debate, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) lifted barriers to allowing gay clergy; a year ago, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America formally abolished its celibacy requirement for gay and lesbian ministers.

Leaders and members of both of the U.S.-based denominations have been closely watching the schism in the Episcopal Church since 2003, when the Rev. Gene Robinson, an openly gay minister, was ordained as a bishop in New Hampshire.

As conservative churches began to defect, legal fights erupted over ownership of church property and, in many cases, have yet to be resolved.

The Torrance congregation started as a mission church of All Saints Anglican Church in Long Beach (formerly All Saints Episcopal). The pastor of that church, the Rev. Bill Thompson, now serves as bishop of the Western Anglicans, a diocese that includes the local church.

"We have someone a lot closer to home," Smith said. "The bishop from Africa had to travel 8,000 miles to visit us."

The Torrance church has about 50 members, and draws 25 to 30 people each Sunday. Leaders are hoping to increase those numbers after signing a three-year lease for an office building on Sartori Avenue, their first permanent site since bouncing from a living room to the Salvation Army to renting space at a South Bay Lutheran church.

Members worked this week to install prayer kneeling boards inside the third-story suite.

"The Lord has really blessed us," said Tom Winfrey, one of the original members who hosted services in his home. "We're finally in a place where we can meet at the same time, and we can start reaching out to the community."

Despite recent growth and strides to organize the Anglican church in the United States, the Episcopal Church is still the official U.S. arm of the Anglican Communion, which traces its roots to the Church of England formed after the 16th century Reformation.

There are about 2.5 million Episcopalians in the United States and 7,500 congregations. Figures for breakaway Anglican churches are more difficult to confirm, but the Anglican Church in North America, an umbrella group formed about five years ago, claims 100,000 members in 1,000 congregations across the U.S. and Canada.

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles includes 70,000 members and 147 congregations. Just four congregations voted to leave the denomination after 2003, according to the diocese.

Williams said the emphasis of Bishop Jon Bruno, who heads the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, has always been reconciliation.

"The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ," he said. "This remains a priority of Episcopalians across our denomination."

Officials with the Torrance church say they hope to move past the acrimony of schism and began planning for the future. Smith said he doesn't routinely preach on subjects that caused the split, but does emphasize the authoritative nature of the Bible and that the only path to salvation is through Christ, "the way, the truth and the light," he said.

The church plans to start a Sunday school and hold community outreach events to promote awareness on issues such as emergency preparedness and public health.

"We've come a long way," Winfrey said. "We hope people will join us."

Want to go?

Christ Our Savior, 1108 Sartori Ave., Suite 220, in Torrance will hold services at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

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