Skip to comments.St. John's Episcopal splinters (Tallahassee FL)
Posted on 10/04/2005 5:57:19 PM PDT by sionnsar
There was stunned silence, then gasps and then standing ovations at both services Sunday at St. John's Episcopal Church. It was the sound of Tallahassee's second-oldest church splitting apart.
Father Eric Dudley on Sunday told parishioners that he was leaving St. John's to start a new church because he could no longer support the national Episcopal Church and because he was "disillusioned" by the actions of John Howard, bishop of the 76-congregation North Florida diocese.
Dudley announced he would start St. Peter's Anglican Church, which will adhere to the doctrine of Anglicanism, on which the Episcopal Church is based. St. Peter's will move into a recently abandoned International Church of Christ complex at 901 Thomasville Road and hold its first service Sunday morning.
Dudley, 46, had been the pastor at St. John's for 10 years. He had been an outspoken critic of the Episcopal Church since 2003, when national controversy erupted over the ordination of a gay bishop by the Episcopal Church. But he said his decision to leave St. John's was about the national church's increasing departure from Bible-based teaching.
Dudley becomes the second Tallahassee pastor to split from the Episcopal church since the 2003 controversy. In 2004, the Rev. Dennis Ackerson left the Church of the Holy Spirit to start The Living Word Church, an Anglican-based church located at 2763 Capital Circle N.E.
"I'm not a fundamentalist. This is about more than homosexuality," Dudley said Monday. "It has to do with the fact that the Episcopal Church has turned its back on Scripture as the foundation of ethical decision-making. The national church has repeatedly made it clear that God has taught them a new truth and it contains no Scripture. We believe in the old truth of Scripture. "
Half may leave
St. John's has more than 1,500 members. It was unclear Monday how many would follow Dudley to his new church, though some members speculated the number could be as high as "half." Dudley said his two assistant pastors, Brad Page and Michael Petty, plus a dozen staff members and 12 of the 14 vestry members already have said they will join him at St. Peter's.
Dudley, a Yale-educated rector, had become popular at St. John's for innovations such as a church cafe, youth programs, an expanded Sunday School and Bible study sessions.
Dozens of his supporters swarmed around the new church Monday as Dudley and his administrators began setting up offices. The church was purchased by a St. John's parishioner, who will allow St. Peter's to use it for three to five years while the congregation raises money for a new building.
"I'm sad to go. But sometimes you've just got to part company," said Tallahassee attorney Tom Crapps, a St. John's member who will move with his wife and three children to St. Peter's. "I want to follow Scripture, and Father Eric clearly articulated that. So that's the way I'm going."
Dudley said his departure from St. John's also was spurred by disagreements with North Florida Bishop John Howard, who has supported the national Episcopal Church even while saying he did not agree with the ordination of gay priests. Howard also recently criticized St. John's for not adhering to diocese financial policies.
St. John's recently sought to add a $300,000 loan to its $450,000 debt, which is part of the church's fluctuating line of credit that began with a $1.5 million loan for church expansion in 1992. Howard said the diocese must be notified of such financial transactions. Dudley said St. John's has borrowed money and paid it off seven times since 1992 - without having to notify the diocese.
"The bishop says one thing and does another," Dudley said. "I think he cares more about the institution of the Episcopal Church than about faith and holiness."
According to the book "Favored Land," Tallahassee's first church congregation was Trinity Methodist in 1827, followed by St. John's in 1829 and First Presbyterian in 1832. St. John's first church was constructed in 1837 and later burned down. The current church, at 211 N. Monroe St., was built in 1879.
From the beginning, the St. John's congregation has included notable politicians, planters, attorneys, educators and businessmen. One of the founders was two-time territorial governor Richard Keith Call, whose great-great-granddaughter, Mary Call Collins Proctor, said Monday she and many others will remain with the church. Bishop Howard will meet with St. John's parishioners at 5:30 p.m. today to discuss the church's future.
A phone message to Howard was not returned Monday.
Attempts to heal
Proctor has been part of a group, "Parishioners for Hopeful Reconciliation," who have tried to heal the rift in St. John's congregation, which like many across the nation was divided by the 2003 ordination of a New Hampshire gay bishop, Gene Robinson.
"It's been a sad few years. I think our clergy has been frustrated with the national church, and that has permeated our church," Proctor said. "But it's a time for renewal, and I feel very positive for the future of St. John's. We've been through struggles before. We'll miss those who are leaving and welcome those who will join us."