WESTERN NEW YORK: Parish leaders say they will leave without property

October 8, 2008

The rector, other affiliated clergy and some members of St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Tonawanda have told Diocese of Western New York Bishop Michael Garrison that they intend to leave the Episcopal Church.

"People may come and go, but St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church in Tonawanda will continue," Garrison said in a news release. "We are ready and able to carry on with worship, pastoral care and administration. We stand ready to support and work with continuing Episcopalians who have been a part of St. Bartholomew's, as well as those who have felt disenfranchised by the position of its leadership."

Garrison said that he intends to handle the Rev. Arthur Ward's departure "as sensibly and amicably as possible."

"He has indicated to me that the time has come for him to seek to continue his priesthood in a different branch of Anglicanism," the bishop said. "I respect his right to follow his personal conscience in this matter."

The diocese said that Ward and his followers plan to vacate church property by the end of the year. In an October 9 Buffalo News article, Ward said that the departing members intend to buy a former synagogue for their new congregation and will not engage in a legal battle for St. Bartholomew's property.

St. Bartholomew's is one of the larger parishes in the diocese, with average Sunday attendance of about 500 and annual pledging of approximately $380,000, according to the most recent statistics available. Its attendance accounts for just less than 10 percent of the diocese's total average Sunday attendance.

Ward told the newspaper that "the gay issue is the straw that broke the camel's back."

The newspaper reported that the parish has withheld its diocesan assessment of about $70,000 since 2003.