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Taken and destroyed

The Episcopal Church won a legal battle over a church building, then got rid of it

Taken and destroyed

St. James Church (Faith Street)

On May 20, about to leave Xi’an in northwest China, I sat at breakfast checking email on my iPhone. The news: J. Jon Bruno, Episcopal bishop of Los Angeles, is selling the former St. James Church in Newport Beach, Calif., completed in 2002. St. James was the largest and most vibrant evangelical congregation in the Diocese of Los Angeles. Eight hundred members at least. Now, a developer will pay $15 million for the property and probably replace the church with townhouses.

Aghast at the sale of the church that was my spiritual home for a dozen years, I reread the Orange County Register report. Memories flooded back, as they flood back for members of the more than 100 Episcopal-to-Anglican congregations that have lost their buildings. I saw our beloved former rector, now Anglican Bishop David Anderson, talking with my father as he was dying. I saw myself in the group for mothers of young children, trying to figure out how to be a decent mom. I saw our son, David, in the Christmas pageant’s kindergarten angel choir, and coming home from the youth group’s winter sledding expeditions full of tales of how he almost hit a tree.

When plans came for a new church, my husband and I commissioned ceramic Stations of the Cross done in medieval Catalan style. On 9/11 we were among the standing-room-only crowd meeting in a remodeled bank building until the new church could be built. A little more than a year later we sat and listened to Bishop Bruno dedicate to the glory of God the newly completed St. James Episcopal Church.

St. James also had history in a previous building. Begun as a mission church in the 1940s, St. James soon opened the day school my husband attended through sixth grade. In the 1970s the Charismatic Renewal swept through part of the Episcopal Church and touched St. James. The congregation engaged the entire community—prison ministry, evening adult education classes, marriage and divorce support groups, food and clothing ministries to the poor, vibrant youth groups, mission trips around the world. 

Soon the church had three services—traditional at 7:30 a.m., family service at 9, charismatic service at 11. Something for everyone. It all centered around loving and serving Jesus Christ—the Son of God, our crucified and risen Lord. Study focused on the Bible, God’s authoritative Word.

St. James with its evangelical commitment was a thorn in the less-orthodox bishop’s side.

The Episcopal Church came to reject that belief, so St. James chose to become part of the Anglican Church of Uganda. Bishop Bruno sued the vestry and court battles commenced. They ended in 2013 with the California Supreme Court upholding appellate court rulings that gave the Episcopal hierarchs a legal victory: The St. James property went to the bishop. Between 150 and 200 members of the original congregation now meet in a senior center in Newport Beach. Other members have given up on churches.

The city of Xi’an, an ancient Chinese capital, saw dynasties come and go. It is home to the first Chinese emperor’s famous Terracotta Army. When those terra-cotta sculptures of thousands of soldiers were found in 1974, most were in shreds. Angry at the emperor’s rule, soldiers about 2,220 years ago had attacked his unfinished tomb as soon as he died.

Attempts to obliterate the past have many precedents. In 1009 the Muslim caliph ordered the destruction in Jerusalem of Constantine’s golden Church of the Holy Sepulchre. French revolutionaries in 1793 burned the archives and library of the giant abbey church at Cluny. On Aug. 27, 2013, Muslims destroyed 38 Coptic churches in Egypt, leaving six dead.

Christian churches aren’t the only targets. In March 2001 the Taliban blew up the ancient and revered Buddhist shrine at Bamiyan, Afghanistan. In July 2014, ISIS blew up Muslim shrines at the tombs of the prophets Jonah and Daniel in Mosul, saying they drew the faithful from proper worship. Just this February, in Mosul, ISIS shattered 2,700-year-old stone images of Assyrian gods.

St. James with its evangelical commitment was a thorn in the less-orthodox bishop’s side. Though his method—the courts—is less violent, its result is the same. St. James will go the way of Constantine’s church and the Buddhist shrine at Bamiyan.



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  •  Peter Allen's picture
    Peter Allen
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:20 pm

    WE SHOULD NOT CONTNINUE TO FUND ENDOWMENTS AND GLORIOUS BUILDINGS.  Spend funds on ministry and evangelism NOW instead of storing it up in "barns".  You never know what your gifts to such projects will pay for, or who will end up with them on down the road.  And souls won with such funds now will fund tomorrows ministry.

  • socialworker
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:20 pm

    It's another example that God's ways are not our ways.  He could have made the decision to come out differently, but instead He allows this beautiful building to turn to dust even though it saddens many of His people.  It's hard living in the world and striving to not be OF the world. 

  •  phillipW's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:20 pm

    This passage of scripture came to mind upon reading this...Does any one of you, when he has a case against his neighbor, dare to go to law before the unrighteous and not before the saints? 2 Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to constitute the smallest law courts? 3  Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life? 4 So if you have law courts dealing with matters of this life, do you appoint them as judges who are of no account in the church? 5  I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren, 6 but brother goes to law with brother, and that before unbelievers? 7 Actually, then, it is already a defeat for you, that you have lawsuits with one another. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded? 8 On the contrary, you yourselves wrong and defraud. You do this even to your brethren. 9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11  Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
    1 Cor 6:1-11 (NASB)

  • Peter James
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:20 pm

    If you are looking at the 2,700 year-old stone images of Assyrians gods for historical references, then I get your point. But in an article about the destruction of godly churches due to denominational hiearchy, my question would be: why weren't the gods destroyed long ago?

  •  jrmbasso's picture
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 12:20 pm

    The inerrant Word speaks:Matthew 16:18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.