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Diocese officials tell unhappy parishioners to leave

Diocese officials tell unhappy parishioners to leave

Almost 90% of the congregation at St. Nicholas' Episcopal Church in Midland, Texas, want to disassociate with the national Episcopal Church. Instead, diocese officials have given the unhappy parishioners until June 1 to leave church property. They are upset by the 2003 decision naming the first openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, and by the approval of same-sex marriage blessings. A parish vote was taken in March in which the overwhelming majority said they want to remain part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. The order to leave church property came after negotiations between the two sides in the parish and Bishop Wallis Ohl of the diocese of Northwest Texas, the Midland Reporter-Telegram reported in Friday editions. The title to the church property is vested in St. Nicholas' church but, according to the denomination, is held in trust for the diocese and the national Episcopal Church, said the Reverend Jonathan Hartzer. Ohl informed the congregation of his decision in a letter Tuesday. "I believe that in the long run, delaying the decision would have been much more difficult for all involved. The animosity between the factions of what currently constitutes St. Nicholas' Episcopal Church was not ameliorating; in fact, it was becoming more exacerbated with each passing week," he wrote. "I do not believe that is good for the souls of those wishing to remain or those who wish to depart the Episcopal Church to remain in the close proximity relationship that currently exists." Among those asked to leave are Hartzer and the Reverend Jon Stasney, the church's rector. "The battle in the Episcopal Church and other denominations is not just about homosexuality," Stasney said in a press release. "It's about whether or not we are going to remain true to the biblical faith and 2,000 years of apostolic teaching. The people of St. Nicholas love all of God's people, no matter what their sexual preference. But the overwhelming majority at St. Nicholas want to remain true to biblical faith no matter what the cost--even if it means having to leave our church building." Edna Hibbitts, a member of St. Nicholas for 35 years, plans to stay at the church and is saddened by the loss of fellow members. "I think whatever problems the church has should be solved within the church structure," she said. "I don't think the people who are staying are more liberal than others, but they just don't think it's necessary to leave the church." (AP)

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