Common Roots: Ancient Evangelical Future Conference

In the wilderness: An update from St James the Great Newport Beach

This past Friday marked 40 days and 40 nights that the St. James the Great, Newport Beach, CA, congregation has been locked out of our unsold church building.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

This past Friday marked 40 days and 40 nights that the St. James the Great, Newport Beach, CA, congregation has been locked out of our unsold church building. Parishioners from 4-year-olds to 90-year-olds, along with three pregnant women, and visitors now gather in a nearby park in the summer heat to worship and continue our mission and outreach in the community.

We have learned a great deal about ourselves during this time in the wilderness and have been tempted as was Christ as well. It would be easy to give up as Bishop Bruno has hoped. Instead, we have grown and continue to intentionally embrace our call to be the body of Christ locally, nationally, and globally. 

It has been inspiring to watch this vibrant and dynamic mission parish mobilize after being told to make something great happen here 22 months ago. Ministry leaders and teams were formed to take on the various responsibilities of running the church. Now those teams collaborate with each other, pray for each other, and fan out to make sure no one is left behind, especially now that we are worshipping in the park. Technology has been a key to our success, and it is truly a remarkable organization to behold.

Yet, in the midst of this exceptional congregation, the utter callousness the diocesan leadership has shown has left me profoundly sad and nearly speechless. The congregation continues to be stonewalled by the bishop and his staff and is now being threatened with more litigation instead of pastoral care or communication. This is not the Episcopal Church we know and love. We pride ourselves on intellectual dialog, protest of injustice for the other, and speaking up for the marginalized. But St. James the Great, one of their own, has itself now been marginalized.

Our children have asked our Sunday school teachers, “Why have they locked us out from God?” What would you say to them? That when someone does them wrong, they can choose to stand for what is right or back down and be bullied? We encourage them to be followers of Jesus, who stood for peace and justice even in the face of adversity.

St. James the Great is not a disposable church. We are living breathing souls who have suffered an egregious injustice from our leadership by being sold out like slaves without a place at the table. I have grieved for the many testimonials I have heard from others who have been treated in the same manner or worse by this diocesan leadership. And, although we have received amazing support from numerous clergy and churches, many more support us but fear retaliation by the bishop if they voice their support.

We are also not just a property on a balance sheet. We are real people who care so much for the greater church we are willing to take a stand and say, no, you cannot displace a viable, growing church for profit. We are called to serve the Newport Beach community that has overwhelmingly told us they need and want the church and its facilities that have been serving them for the past 70 years to continue for another 70 years and beyond.

St. James the Great has become a lens through which one can see past an old, opaque institution into a new, transparent model of inclusiveness. Where old structures based on absolute power and hierarchy give way to the new church. Where relationships, teamwork, and collaboration thrive. We pray Bishop Bruno stops the sale of our church while he can. We pray for reconciliation. We pray the rest of the church stands with us and says what has happened to St. James the Great can never happen again.

Please support us by encouraging Bishop Bruno to resolve this conflict immediately by stopping the sale of our building, placing it back in the Corporation of the Diocese where it belongs, and letting us back in the church so we can baptize our newborn babies, marry our young adults, and comfort our elderly who keep asking where they will be buried. /We persevere and greatly appreciate your prayers and support in the hope that we will have our home back soon.

Still standing,

The Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees, Vicar St. James the Great Episcopal Church Newport Beach, CA

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