What the Lord has joined…

Greeting, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader is not now, nor has he ever been in communion with the Episcopal Church of the United States. Frankly, he’s never been a member of any Episcopal/Anglican Church. He’s attended more than a few services in the Episcopal/Anglican Church, but that is about it.

Readers of this space are likely familiar with the ongoing secession of various Episcopal parishes in Virginia from the Episcopal Church of the United States (ECUSA) and their joining the Anglican Communion (under the auspices of a branch of the Anglican Church in Africa). The secession (schism if you will) has been the subject on an ongoing battle in the courts. You see the congregations that seceeded took their physical church buildings with them. Here is a little overview from the Washington Examiner.

If you happened to read that piece you might recall seeing that St. Stephen’s Church in Heathsville, VA is among those churches in the thick of the dispute.

So now your Maximum Leader is coming to the point… You might recall (from the last post) that your Maximum Leader went to visit his in-laws over the weekend. The path from the Villainschloss to the in-law’s runs through Heathsville, VA. For many years your Maximum Leader has driven by St. Stephen’s and always notices the wooden Victorian structure as he passes.

(NB: Indeed, he always tried to guess the age of the building as he passed. It is a little game your Maximum Leader plays in his mind while he drives across Virginia. He tries to guess the age of old homes or buildings based on what he knows of building styles and trends in VA. In the case of St Stephen’s he knew that although the congregation was established in 1664, the building was much later. He figured from the style of the church that it was likely built after the Civil War, but prior to 1900. He has toyed with dates from 1870-1880. And he learned recently from the church web site that the building dates from 1874.)

When St. Stephen’s left the ECUSA your Maximum Leader knew that there were bound to be some hard feelings. The tangible sign of the change came a little while after St. Stephen’s organized with the Anglican Communion. The sign was, in fact, the church sign. The old sign in front of the church was white with the crest of the ECUSA and it read “St. Stephen’s Church, Episcopal, Est 1664.” Then one day there was a new sign. It wasn’t white, but sort of gray. The crest of the ECUSA was gone and in its place was a symbol like a compass rose. The new sign read “St. Stephen’s Church, Anglican, Est 1664.”

Down the road about 50 yards from St. Stephen’s Church (Anglican); the first church sign appeared outside what had heretofore seemed to be a nice sized private home. Now within a stone’s throw of each other are a little white church which is St. Stephen’s (Anglican) and a nice house which is St. Stephen’s (Episcopal).

This past weekend, your Maximum Leader met his in-laws in Heathsville to go to the Farmers Market at the courthouse. While standing on the green behind the courthouse, he started talking to his father-in-law and a family friend about the church split. At some level your Maximum Leader knew that the split had to be hard on the tiny town of Heathsville. He knew that a significant portion of the original congregation (perhaps 20%) had not supported leaving the ECUSA. Those people are now the core of St. Stephen’s (Episcopal). He imagined that the Episcopal congregants were likely bitter and angry. Well, listening to the friend of the family describe it, the schism has torn some families apart. Two families were in fact pointed out to your Maximum Leader. They stood on opposite sides of the green. He is sure their physical position happened to be coincidence at that moment in time. But to hear the tale, these were close families. They were neighbors, friends, and at the distant cousin level related by marriage. Now they will not speak to each other. The kids no longer play together or even socialize at school. The adults avoid each other in public. It was sad to see. If your Maximum Leader had been more bold (and had the time) he’d have actually approached the people directly and asked them about the experience. He isn’t sure why he would want to hear the lurid details of the sad story from the actors themselves; but he does. He isn’t sure what he could learn from that. Perhaps it is a twisted voyeuristic tendency in him? At some level he wants to hear the story of what happened at the congregational level.

Your Maximum Leader isn’t sure that he’ll ever hear the tale directly from the people themselves. At some level just putting faces to what has happened in this tiny town has been enough to humanize the story…

In case you care to… Here are two web sites for you. St. Stephen’s (Anglican) and St. Stephen’s (Episcopal).

Carry on.


ECUSA is a microcosm of what is happening in the country. A hijacking, if you will, of the established, chartered and blood-bought heritage of the Anglican aspect of the Episcopal Church.

At the most local levels it is what you see: generations of supporters of the building and grounds and names on the tombstones and in the church registry being made uncomfortable by the radical factions, but not really willing to part with their physical heritage in favor of a spiritual distinction. The other side is unwilling to break bread with those who would seem to, by their unwillingness to leave, tacitly approve of the national leadership’s apostasy. But it’s not that easy to extricate all the personal, financial and spiritual baggage amongst the fellow-travelers.

It’s very sad, indeed.

The Ancient said:

Episcopalians behaving like Baptists.

(What will the neighbors say?)

Hey Joan. I realize I intentionally avoided discussion of the “why” behind the split. It is a big why that is, as you rightly point out, part of a larger split in our nation between different, and at some level, irreconcileable world-views. If I were attached by generations to a particular church I know I would be very hard-pressed to leave - even when I found that my fellow congregants no longer held similar beliefs to my own. I can afford an air of detachedness because I don’t have a dog in this fight; and I don’t personally feel connected to a particular parish community.

The hijacking of the church is by the Conservatives. The Episcopalian faith has always been malleable - it was a political creation, after all. Elizabeth’s 39 Articles are intentionally vague. The Anglican communion has little real dogma and has always accepted a three-legged stool of interpretation: 1) The Bible (literary, not literal), 2) The traditional teachings of the church, and 3) reason. The third leg drives change. Episcopalian leaders were some of the first to jump on the bandwagon of challenging English authority. The church was also the first to shift towards the idea that slavery was blessed by God. They were also the first (of the mainstream churches) to accept African-American equality. They changed with the times (vie 3) reason) to allow women ministers. They’ve done the same with gays.

All religions change with the times. The Episcopalians are just more open about moving with society. The fundamentalists want to resist that historical tradition. They are the hijackers.

The Ancient said:

It’s not a hijack — it’s a mutiny.

The crew takes over the ship and puts the captain adrift, along with all who side with him.

(A hijacking would be more in the nature of piracy.)

quasimodo said:

The hijackers may be trying to do a U-turn and return to a Christianity that they can recognize rather that an anchorless Christianity that blows with the wind. Cultural winds blow in strange directions and many of those directions are incompatible with anything that resembles apostolic Christanity.

Ancient, Thanks for commenting. Sorry it took a little while to get the comments up. They were caught in the filter. You shouldn’t have that problem again.

Once you got down the schismatic path, there really isn’t any turning away. I have sympathy for those people who are part of the St Stephen’s Episcopal community. They do feel as though they have had their church stolen from them. But, I am equally sympathetic to those who are in the St Stephen’s Anglican community. I think that they were within their right to leave and join with another part of their global church who’s understanding of their faith is more in line with their own beliefs.

I re-read Smallholder’s comment and feel that I need to respectfully disagree that the “conservatives/fundamentalists” hijacked the church. In this case it is clear that between 70-80% of the congregation was of a mind to leave the Episcopal Church. By fighting the move isn’t it the minority the side that is trying to hijack the church?

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