The planned sale of the former St. James the Great Church in Newport Beach has fallen through, but apparently the Diocese of Los Angeles does not plan to invite the congregation to return. The congregation has been locked out of the building for two years.

In a message circulated by email after business hours Oct. 10, Bishop Coadjutor John H. Taylor wrote to the diocese: “After a suitable period of discernment and planning, we will reopen the church as a bishop’s chapel, with supply, or guest, clergy invited to conduct Sunday services. It will be open to all in the community who wish to attend and glorify and serve our God in Christ.”

The statement, signed also by the Rev. Rachel Anne Nyback, president of the diocesan Standing Committee, added: “We again pledge to do all we can pastorally, logistically, and financially to assist the St. James congregation should it wish to regain mission status in the diocese.”

“The whole diocesan community has been through a rocky couple of years,” Taylor told TLC by telephone Tuesday evening. “Today’s development gives us the opportunity to do some discernment, and all things worth doing are worth doing in a deliberate, discerning way.

“The church is going to be open to all who want to worship there, once [we determine] what the bishop’s chapel will look like,” Taylor said. “We’re offering as we have all along to enter into a conversation with the folks at St. James about whether they’d like to re-engage with us as a mission church. So we’re going to do that discernment with them.”

Taylor said there had been no discussion with the St. James the Great congregation or its priest, the Rev. Canon Cindy Voorhees, about the announcement. Roger Bloom, the public relations consultant hired by the congregation, learned of the announcement from TLC.

“Frankly, we have the same questions that you probably do, and no answers, so please give us some time to sort things out,” Bloom said by email. Voorhees, who has consistently declined to comment, did not return a call to her cell phone.

When asked specifically whether inviting St. James the Great to return to the building is one possible result of the discernment process, Taylor declined to expand on the written announcement. “What we have for you is what we sent you,” he said.

He said the conversations with the congregation would happen “on a parallel track” with the diocesan discernment period, “and it will take the time it needs to take.”

The termination of the sale comes amid a series of receptions celebrating the ministry of J. Jon Bruno, who has served as the sixth Bishop of Los Angeles since 2002. Bruno retires at the end of November, and Taylor will become the seventh Bishop of Los Angeles.

Bruno has been sanctioned repeatedly for misrepresentation and for conduct unbecoming a member of the clergy for his statements and actions after his first attempt to sell the property for $15 million, a sale that later fell through. The 40,000-square-foot building has been empty since Bruno had the locks changed in June 2015.

The congregation reincorporated as Save St. James the Great, and has continued to worship each Sunday since the lockout, most recently in a community room of the Newport Beach City Hall.

Bruno was suspended for three years by a disciplinary hearing panel after a public church trial in March. Under the canons of the Episcopal Church, the suspension was automatically stayed when Bruno appealed it.

After learning of Bruno’s unannounced attempt to sell the property a second time, both the hearing panel and Presiding Bishop Michael Curry ordered that the property not be sold. But a binding contract already had been signed with Burnham-Ward Properties, a large local developer.

In the first step of a potentially lengthy appeal process, the Disciplinary Board for Bishops in September exercised its authority to suspend Bruno from all ministry as of Jan. 1, 2018, while the appeal continues. The timing of the suspension means that Bruno may continue to function as bishop of the diocese through his retirement date.

Kirk Petersen

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