Historic Episcopal church's membership declines over gay bishop conflict

BY admin

February 04 2004 1:00 AM ET

A 157-year-old Episcopal church in Kentucky is becoming a ghost town on Sundays, as its conservative members have broken off to form their own congregation. Historic St. John's Episcopal Church in downtown Versailles drew only 60 people to its three services on Sunday. Most of its former members left after diocesan leaders fired the church's entire governing board. The conservative board had clashed repeatedly with the diocese bishop, Stacy Sauls, because of Sauls's support for the ordination of openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson, a Lexington native. Church leaders were removed by the diocese's executive council on January 7 after they allegedly failed to follow proper procedures for hiring a new minister.

Days after the firings, peeved St. John's members voted to form a new church, called St. Andrew's, and contributed $40,000 in seed money. The group, which met informally in a supporter's living room for three weeks, had its first formal worship service on Sunday and welcomed its new pastor, the Reverend David Brannen, to Versailles. About 180 people attended St. Andrew's on Sunday, gathering at the Falling Springs Arts and Recreation Center in Versailles. A former St. John's senior warden, Tom Thornbury, now St. Andrew's top lay leader, asked God to "instill in us the resolve to carry on, I give us the courage to continue, and never be satisfied with what we have accomplished."

The church building they left has stunning stained glass, shiny brass lectionaries, marble, artwork, and polished wood. Former president George Bush and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II have worshiped there. And there's hardly any choir left: Only two of its members were there Sunday. The rebuilding has begun, though, according to the Reverend Phillip Haug, who is temporarily serving as minister-in-charge. A new treasurer has been picked, and a committee has been formed to work with
Sauls. "It's a sign of wholeness that many have stepped forward," Haug said.

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