St. John's, Melbourne open for (God's) business

February 3, 2004

When 32 percent of an 887-member parish votes to leave the Episcopal Church along with three of its four ordained clergy, some hard work awaits the congregation.

But St. John's Episcopal Church, Melbourne, which faced that mass departure Saturday, Jan. 31, is up to the task, said Deacon Elizabeth Murray, who resolved to stay and was busy "putting things back together" the Monday after. "We're still here and we aren't going anywhere."

"People are running around here getting organized," Deacon Murray said. "Our members are going to start hearing good things about the Episcopal Church and this diocese."

Fewer than half of St. John's members attended the Saturday meeting at the 107-year-old parish. Of those, 282 voted to leave the Episcopal Church and join with the Anglican Mission in America, which split from the Episcopal Church in 2000. Many of those who renounced the Church on Saturday share the AMIA's and other Episcopalians' disagreement with the majority vote at the denomination's 2003 General Convention to confirm an openly gay man to be bishop of New Hampshire, and to recognize that in some U.S. dioceses, blessing same-sex unions is officially authorized.

The Rt. Rev. John W. Howe, Bishop of the Diocese of Central Florida, was at Saturday's meeting to make the case for staying in the Episcopal Church. He told the group leaving that he was "profoundly saddened" to see them depart. "I wish you only God's blessing and continued care," he said. "Should any of you ever wish to come to the Diocese and the Episcopal Church, we will welcome you with open arms and loving hearts."

After urging undecided members to wait and see how events unfold in the Church, Bishop Howe told those deciding to stay, "I want you to know of my personal commitment to you and that of the Diocese of Central Florida. Together we will seek the Lord's leading for the next chapter in the life of this congregation."

One of the keys to rebuilding the congregation is Bishop Howe's appointment of the Rev. Canon David Lord as interim of St. John's.

"Canon Lord has had a wonderful ministry of building and rebuilding great churches," Bishop Howe said. "I believe that under his leadership we will see St. John's become strong and vibrant once again."