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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On Leaving Our Parish Home

By David M. Ball
Special to Virtueonline
March 27, 2012

On Sunday, March 25, the parish of St. David's Anglican Church, Peters Township, PA, met for the last time as the parish of St. David's. At that meeting, the parish affirmed the vestry's decision to leave our current parish home and move to a new facility. I would like to share some of that day because the Holy Spirit was with us, working among us.

The journey to this day has been long and well documented so I will only sketch the basics. In 2008, the majority of the then Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh split from the Episcopal Church to form the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, a Diocese of the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA). We did so knowing full well that the road ahead would require sacrifice, and it has.

Lawsuits, the trademark of TEC, followed and in 2010 the Court of Common Pleas in Allegheny County ruled that the property and buildings of 24 parishes, St. David's among them, were owned by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church. An appeal to the Court of Appeals was unsuccessful and the PA Supreme Court declined to hear the case. St. David's made several attempts to initiate negotiations regarding the property with the TEC Diocese to no avail. It became very apparent that we were paying a significant mortgage on a property that was not ours and that we had little chance of keeping. We realized that we had to leave the building we have occupied since 1954 and have twice expanded.

After considerable searching, we found a suitable new facility, an unused church building belonging to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh in nearby Canonsburg. As the plan to depart took shape, there was, expectedly, a great deal of sadness and concern among the members of our congregation. Many parishioners donated sacrificially to support the parish for years. Many have made substantial gifts and donated memorials. In the end, however, after much discussion with legal advisors and Diocesan leadership, we had to make the decision to leave.

A parish meeting was scheduled for the 25th of March with Archbishop Duncan in attendance. And then wonderful things began to happen.

The readings appointed for the Fifth Sunday in Lent were indeed there for us on that day. All four readings spoke of an end becoming a beginning and sorrow turning to joy.

The Prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) warned of a catastrophe about to befall the people of Israel because they had failed to live as God intended. His words were not without hope, however. He also spoke of a New Covenant, not one on stone tablets like the Law of Moses, but of a relationship of the heart. The prophet spoke of travail and a new beginning, a new relationship with God. The old way became corrupt and the existing church was destroyed to be rebuilt in faithful obedience. This is an amazing parallel to the growing apostasy, secularism and willful disobedience to God within TEC and our commitment to remain Biblically faithful Christians.

Psalm 51:11-16 pleads forgiveness and voices the longing of the faithful soul for a new beginning. As Israel lost its treasures, so may we lose ours. Jeremiah prophesied a new covenant to be written upon our minds and the psalmist prayed that God would open our lips that we might praise the Lord.

Hebrews 5:5-10 is a theological essay written to encourage Christians suffering persecution. The writer assures Christians that Jesus not only understands their suffering, he identifies with it and even enters into it. Jesus agonized over his impending death. Jesus, we are told, learned obedience from what he suffered. So we must learn through our suffering to be obedient to his Word. Jesus was heard by God through his submission. We pray we may be heard through ours. We are not submitting to any force on earth but to Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We leave this building because we have chosen faithful obedience to God's Word over earthly things.

In the Gospel reading, John 12:20-33, Jesus speaks of his own death and resurrection. He speaks of an ending being a beginning. Using the metaphor of a grain of wheat, we are told that as a single grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies to itself, it brings forth an ear of corn that then produces many grains that will fall to the ground and bring forth increased abundance. This is our opportunity to bring forth increased abundance. Jesus was in agony but there was no other way than the way of the cross. If there were another way to the Father, the cross would not be necessary. Christians are not protected from pain. Many of our parishioners suffer their own agony. We sorrow and we hurt. Jesus was not saved from the hour, he was saved for it and so are we.

It is no accident that God put these words before us on this particular Sunday. These readings present a clear message of an end becoming a beginning and sorrow turning to joy.

The meeting was convened with Archbishop Duncan in attendance. Several people gave moving testimonies of their life at St. David's. Many spoke of long membership, baptisms, confirmations, weddings and funerals. Others spoke of coming to know our Savior at St. David's. Tears were shed. The vote was taken to affirm the vestry's decision and to relinquish our building, our processions and our name to TEC.

Shortly thereafter, the vestry resigned and Archbishop Duncan received the resignations of the clergy from the parish of St. David's. Then the Archbishop announced that the name of the newly constituted parish would be Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church and that the parish was received into the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh of the ACNA and that the clergy were also received into the new parish. The vestry was then elected for the Parish of Christ the Redeemer.

The meeting ended with singing "It is Well With My Soul". Indeed it is.

A day that began with sadness ended with great hope and joy in God's great mercy. We ask your prayers for the new parish of Christ the Redeemer. We pray that we, like the grain of wheat, bring forth abundance for the Lord. God is indeed good and His mercy is everlasting.

David M. Ball is a member of Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church, Peters Township, PA

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