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Schism partitions Parkrose church

In resistance to the Episcopal Church's acceptance of homosexuals as fellow beings in Christ and upset over female bishops' power to ordain new priests, conservatives at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church split off to form St. Matthew's Anglican Church under their interpretation of biblical authority


A schism at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church led to the division of the congregation, including some families who worshipped for years at 11229 N.E. Prescott St. in Parkrose.
(photo left) St. Matthew's Anglican Church Senior Warden Ann Ehrlich delivers a report to her congregation on the second Provincial Council of the ACNA.
(photo right) New deacon at St. Matthew's, Rev. Marla McGarry-Lawrence, left, talks to Ellen Riseley after a recent Sunday service. St. Matthew's welcomes new members at 9 a.m. Sunday mornings.
Schismatic Rector and Pastor David L. Humphrey conducts a recent Sunday service. St. Matthew's Anglican Church currently rents space at the Mt. Tabor Seventh-day Adventist Church at 1001 S.E. 60th Ave. for 10 a.m. Sunday services.
St. Matthew's Episcopal Church rolls on with faithful “old bones” parishioners, from left, Jim Schoonmaker, Toddie Butts, Jim and Janet McInroe, Barbara Heidegger, Priscilla Hall and Sharon Weese (a visitor from St. Aidan's Episcopal Church).
Debates concerning religion and politics can divide friends, families and neighbors, sometimes even leading countries to war and destruction. Universal and controversial, individual and communal, uniting and divisive, the mere mention of these two topics sends heart rates soaring. Banned in polite company and even in bars, discussions of politics or religion stir people's passions.

The variety of religious sects and political parties existing side by side in one country or under one mother church demonstrates that religion and politics exist as dynamic, living entities, driven by people, their personalities and perspectives, and often in reverence or knee-jerk reaction to current events that either threaten or inspire.

The politics of the world stage play out in community committees and churches, on a smaller but no less significant scale. In Parkrose, world-stage religion and politics came home in a single vote taken by members of St. Matthew's Episcopal Church on March 21, when a majority of the congregation agreed to leave the Episcopal Church to become the first Portland chapter of the Anglican Church in North America. Founded in 2009 in rejection of the Episcopal Church's increasingly liberal policies - ordination of female bishops and acceptance of homosexuals as beings in Christ - the ACNA website states, “Within the last decades, the Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada have increasingly accommodated and incorporated un-Biblical, un-Anglican practices and teaching.”

Those who left St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, located at 11229 N.E. Prescott St., to form St. Matthew's Anglican Church, now holding Sunday services at Mt. Tabor Seventh-day Adventist Church at 1001 S.E. 60th Ave., view their departure as an inevitable undertaking necessary to preserve Christianity's historic traditions and to preserve biblical authority. Their rector and pastor, Rev. David L. Humphrey, described the followers of the ACNA as “part of the historic Anglican tradition who wish to differentiate themselves from the Episcopal Church, which we believe has differentiated itself from historic biblical Anglicanism.” Oregon Episcopal Diocese spokesman JT Quanbeck described those who chose to remain at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church as “really nice folks who are definitely not pleased with what happened.” Episcopalian Ellen Riseley said, “Those of us who stayed have strong feelings that the Episcopal Church is still alive and strong enough to accept all peoples.”

Schisms such as the one playing out in the modern Episcopal Church account for the spectrum of denominations available within Christianity today, with each worshiping the same figures and events described in the same book yet with different interpretations, emphasis and practices. Though Catholics still comprise the largest Christian group, followed by the Eastern Orthodox in numbers, the Anglican Communion of Churches, of which the Episcopal Church is a member, is third.

The Anglican Church came into being in 1536, when Henry VIII used the Protestant wave (and his desire to divorce and remarry) gaining popularity on the European continent as an opportunity to claim England's independence from Vatican authority. In essence, Henry's move created a separation of church and state, with England the state separating from the Roman Catholic Church, which commanded a heavy hand over sovereign states at the time. The Kingdom of England, however, remained closely entwined with their Anglican church.

As the age of discovery spread British colonies throughout the world, their churches followed. Yet the American Revolution presented a quandary for the Anglican clergy in the newly formed United States, who as representatives of the Church of England, were required to swear allegiance to the King. Thus, the Episcopal Church formed under the same principals as the Anglican Church, to separate the church from its authority. As each colony gained independence, so did their churches.

With over 80 million members in 160 countries, today's Anglican Communion has 44 different branches that, while sharing the same ecclesiastical structure, principles and expressions of worship, also encompass a wide variety of those beliefs. Evangelical, liberal and Anglo-Catholic churches all worship under the Anglican umbrella.

The Episcopal Church, which in addition to its North American following, currently includes provinces in Taiwan, Central and South America, and the Caribbean, as well as parts of Europe, has generally offered a softer, friendlier Catholicism. Often found on the front lines of human rights movements, Episcopalians have granted more authority to women in their church than their Anglican counterparts and most recently have accepted homosexuals as ”children of God” who deserve protection.

Yet the swing to one side of any political movement usually inspires a backlash. Sometimes soaked in politics, religion follows suit. Those disputing newly adopted, modern policies seek refuge in long-honored traditions, reviving old conservative schools of thought.

St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, founded in 1944 in a small chapel at the corner of Northeast 102nd Avenue and Skidmore Street, grew exponentially along with the neighborhood. Within a decade, the congregation grew enough to warrant the construction of a new church building at Northeast 112th and Prescott Street, where its remaining Episcopal congregation still gathers every Sunday at 9 a.m. More conservative than many of Portland's other Episcopal congregations, St. Matthew's was known for its straightforward style of liturgy and worship and its practice of expository Bible teaching, which, according to Riseley, was particularly emphasized when Humphrey joined the church as rector in 2004. Humphrey described “expository Bible teaching” as when they, “take a passage from the Bible and try to explain what it says, means and how it applies to our life.” Riseley said the increased Bible focus led to a strict explanation of its meaning, contributing to the church's split. While defending the Bible's role in the Episcopal Church, Riseley pointed out that “it does lend itself to many interpretations, which is evident by the number of authorized versions that have been accepted over the years.”

Humphrey cited their conservative slant as a draw for the St. Matthew's Episcopal Church congregation. “I think that we perhaps have people coming from a greater distance because we have always been somewhat distinctive,” he said. St. Matthew's garnered parishioners from as far north as Kelso, Washington in the north to Oregon City southward, from west Portland to Gresham, most of whom followed Humphrey in the movement to align with the Anglicans.

Humphrey also credited their focus on families and youth as responsible for attracting a large population of young children to the medium-sized congregation. St. Matthew's Anglican Church now includes roughly 125 adults and 45 children. These days, young people are generally more accepting of homosexuals than their elders, but Riseley may have identified an interesting generational shift when she noted that while “those who left are of a more conservative mind about Anglicanism than those who stayed, curiously, those of us who stayed are mostly 'old bones.'”

When Humphrey's Anglican congregation departed, only a dozen or so of St. Matthew's parishioners voted to remain. Three months later, the Episcopal Church now draws approximately 30 people on any given Sunday, which Quanbeck attributed to “people that were members before who left for one reason or another but have now returned.”

However, while many individuals convert for personal reasons, increasing interest has centered on the internal conflicts that have caused whole churches to defect. St. Matthews is not alone. Episcopalians who disagree with the more progressive decisions of their diocese have found refuge in the conservative Anglican Church. Humphrey, ordained in the Church of England where he resided for 20 years, described Anglican churches as “models and inspirations to us, and now that we are St. Matthew's Anglican Church, more than ever that is the kind of Anglicanism that we identify with.”

Yet the Anglican Church of England is of many minds. The debate over the ordination of women bishops intensified recently when the church's historic nemesis, the Roman Catholic Church, headed by Pope Benedict XVI, extended a sort of denominational sanctuary within the Catholic Church for Anglo-Catholics who oppose this practice. While many British Anglicans accept the ordination of female priests, the proposal to instate them as bishops has stirred more dissent. Under the present arrangements, Anglicans that disagree with female ordination can simply switch churches. When female bishops begin ordaining priests, it becomes more difficult for those who do not approve this practice to avoid churches that they feel lack the legitimacy of a presiding pastor who has been ordained by an approved (male) bishop.

Meanwhile, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the first female to preside as primate of the worldwide Anglican Communion currently presides as the 26th bishop of the Episcopal Church, a post she adopted with little resistance. Yet a similar controversy now threatens her church. In 1976, when the Episcopal Church first extended the proverbial olive branch to homosexuals, many disagreed with the interpretation. The recent ordination of the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop, however, spurred the current conservative exodus.

What drives some apart brings others together. As some Anglicans in Britain consider reuniting with rival Catholics, the ACNA has united Canadian and American Episcopalians seeking a more traditional alternative to the Episcopal Church on their continent. Although not yet formally accepted into the Anglican Communion by the Church of England - whose present Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, has lent his blessing to the ordination of women bishops but has been diplomatic on the issue of homosexuals - more conservative chapters of the Anglican Communion, specifically those in Africa, have recognized its legitimacy and align with its cause. Moreover, St. Matthew's is not the only Episcopal Church in Portland to divorce the larger church; St. Mark's Episcopal Church in N.W. Portland converted to the Anglican province of Christ the King in the 1990s.

Switching churches involves far more than a name change. Present day religious institutions must comply with modern laws. The ACNA converts required new certifications, new tax filings and a new place to stage their services. Since the Episcopal Church owns the St. Matthew's Episcopal Church buildings, the Anglican congregation found themselves searching for a new home, eventually taking refuge with the Seventh-day Adventist community of Mt. Tabor, creating another new alliance.

“We didn't happen to know each other personally before coming to this arrangement, but all of the discussions went smoothly and what I could not have known was how truly gracious and welcoming they would be to us,” Humphrey said of the Adventists. The Mt. Tabor church fit all their objectives: They sought a traditional-style Christian church with Sunday morning availability, located not far from their Parkrose site, which served as a somewhat centralized location for its far-flung congregation. Although a long shot, the breakaway church landed in the right place. Seventh-day Adventists recognize Saturday as the original seventh day of the Judeo-Christian week and thus the Sabbath day of rest and prayer. They also believe in the infallibility of the scripture, the literal interpretation of which they share a common bond with Humphrey's Anglicans. They also share the same views on homosexuality: they both believe that sexual intimacy belongs only within the marital relationship of a man and a woman.

“[The Adventists] are so warm and gracious, it has been amazing and we have so enjoyed getting to know them and appreciating them,” Humphrey said. “They have very beautiful facilities which have obviously been well cared for and we are very humble that they are able to open them up to us and we couldn't have been more grateful.” On their first Sunday service, the Adventists approached Humphrey's congregation and suggested the two share a Father's Day breakfast, both to welcome the Anglicans and to strengthen their relationship.

The Mount Tabor Seventh-day Adventist Church hosts a preschool during the week and their own services on Saturday, but on Sunday mornings, a small blue sign appears on the grounds announcing the 10 a.m. Anglican service.

Regarding his church's long-term plans, Humphrey said, “Because we are renting those facilities, it is not a permanent move. We have no idea of how long it is going to be. We are happy to be there and we have no plans to be anywhere else, but in the years to come, we'll see if it continues to work for them and if it continues to be right for us. Right now it is our home and we will stay there as long as it seems right.”

As for their services, Humphrey said not much would change: “We are doing what we have always done but what we have always done has been distinctive as compared to what many Episcopal churches do.” He describes his Anglicans as “orthodox with a small 'o,' which is understanding the faith as it has always been understood, having a more historic biblical understanding of the Christian faith.”

He said that embracing Anglicanism has re-energized the congregation. “Each service has been a bit larger than the last, so the direction is great. A few new people come every week so that has been really exciting. That has been really great getting to know new people, so it has been a smooth transition for us, a very warm welcome from the host church and a number of new people, coming to see if we might be a place for them.”

The congregation continuing to hold services at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church has also faced a transition period. Bereft of clergy and administrators, the diocese of Oregon has stepped in to provide clergy and handle the finances until the congregation reorganizes its structure. Lin Knight, described by Riseley as “our champion,” currently heads Sunday services. Knight, a deployment officer for the diocese, customarily ensures that parishes have supply clergy, a temporary position usually employed when priests fall sick or go on vacation. The congregation will seek a permanent rector when they have recovered enough to resume their own administration.

Spokesman Quanbeck said the members of the Episcopal Church in Parkrose, while shy of the media attention they have received, are recovering. He described the new/old St. Matthew's Episcopal Church as “a welcoming and open community to the people of Parkrose.” Riseley, who found the media attention “unflattering,” described her congregation as “also a warm, loving group.” She paraphrased her church's outlook thusly: “As the First and Great Commandment tell us, we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts and souls and minds and our neighbors as ourselves.” Quanbeck welcomed the curious to attend a service to witness “a living church in action.”

“St. Matthew's used to be known for their outreach efforts,” he said. “In the early days, Loaves and Fishes actually worked out of there before they moved their operations.” He described a church's outreach activity as “the sign of a parish that is outward-focused and we really feel that we are going to see a rebirth in that, and that is going to be the exciting part of what will happen out there.”

In recent years, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church has supported nearby Prescott Elementary with school supplies and a Christmas ”giving tree” as well as through their participation in the Start Making A Reader Today (SMART) program. The church also has links to the charities SnowCap and William Temple House. They have helped coordinate activities at Senn's Dairy Park, and held an ice cream social to raise funds for Pamoja House, which works with immigrants. Their annual “It's a Dickens of a Christmas” bazaar, which some heralded as one of the area's best, featured handmade décor, homemade food and live music.

Humphrey, who lives in Parkrose with his wife and four small children, said his Anglican congregation's commitment to community would continue the St. Matthew's tradition. “My wife and I, and those of us who live here in Parkrose and have been SMART readers can continue to do that and we certainly hope to be able to continue to support Prescott Elementary in different ways. We still see ourselves ... as a part of this neighborhood and I think we would be wanting to continue to work within [Parkrose] regardless of where the congregation happened to be worshiping.”

Humphrey also took the church's Web site, with him to his new venture.

Yet, while both sides wish each other well, mixed emotions and feelings remain. In Riseley's words, “There are no hard feelings, just some sadness that it had to come to a complete break,” which may align with what the Anglicans once felt for the Episcopalians, and the Catholics once felt for the Anglicans, and which someone in the future will most likely utter again in a similar context. On a positive note, where once war, bloodshed and death surrounded religious secessions and schisms, today only tears, sadness and grieving evidenced over the split.
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