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JACKSONVILLE, FL: Priests and 8 more churches plan Episcopal split

JACKSONVILLE, FL: Priests and 8 more churches plan Episcopal split
They would join six other churches that already have left the Florida diocese

The Times-Union

A "good-sized second wave" of at least eight conservative Northeast Florida churches will be following six that have already quit the Episcopal Diocese of Florida to realign themselves with Worldwide Anglican Communion, two local priests said Friday.

One of the original "Florida Six" cut ties with the Jacksonville-based diocese and its denomination, the Episcopal Church USA, in November and now worships at the University of North Florida.

The remaining five -- All Souls and Church of the Redeemer in Jacksonville, Grace Church in Orange Park, St. Michael's in Gainesville and St. Luke's Community of Life in Gainesville -- formally ended their relationship with Bishop John Howard's diocese on Dec. 31 or will do so by Sunday, said the Rev. Sam Pascoe, rector at Grace Church.

Pascoe said more parishes are on their way to "disassociating" with the diocese and the denomination.

"The second wave is what we call the churches that have made up their mind to do what we're doing, but have to get their ducks in a row to do it and have put the bishop on notice they are going to do it," Pascoe said.

A diocesan official declined to speak about the second wave on Friday.

"I can't comment on a hypothetical," said the Rev. Canon Kurt Dunkle, Howard's chief of staff.

But he added: "I'm constantly aware that people threaten things, but very rarely does it come true."

The Rev. Mark Eldredge, rector at the Church of the Epiphany in Jacksonville, said it will all come true as 2006 unfolds.

Eldredge said his parish and up to seven others are actively making plans to follow the first six churches out of the Episcopal Church.

One of those congregations, St. James in Macclenny, announced its realignment in a Dec. 31 letter to Howard.

Two more congregations, which wish to remain anonymous, may cut ties as early as next week, Eldredge said.

Another five -- his own, Good Samaritan in Orange Park, St. Teresa in Wakulla County and two that wish not to be identified -- will wait until after June to see if the Episcopal Church repents for its actions at its next General Convention.

"We have no expectation of repentance," Eldredge said.

And there could be even more leaving in the fall and beyond, he said.

Some are reluctant to go public until they see how the diocese handles the property issues with Church of the Redeemer, All Souls and Grace Church, Eldredge said.

On Friday, Howard sent a letter to Grace Church citing church and federal laws that prohibit the transfer of diocesan property to other dioceses who agree to oversee departing parishes.

Others are nervous about how Howard will handle the job status of the priests of those congregations, he said.

"Part of the reason the second-wave churches are second-wave churches is they are more skittish," Eldredge said.

He said there could even be a third wave comprised of individuals who leave parishes that do not realign themselves with the Anglican Communion, which has some 70 million members worldwide.

Howard has maintained he is an orthodox bishop who intends to keep the diocese both in the 2 million-member Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion, of which the denomination has historically been a part.

But Eldredge and other priests and lay people in the diocese have wanted Howard to sever ties with the denomination and stop taking communion with its leaders.

The diocese has approximately 31,000 members worshiping in 77 congregations in 21 North Florida counties, Dunkle said.

The original "Florida Six" long ago stopped giving money to the diocese and have joined parallel Anglican groups, including the Anglican Alliance of North Florida.

Fifteen parishes and an additional 14 clergy from the diocese are members of the alliance, said Eldredge, who is one of its leaders.

Some of the second-wave churches are now stopping their giving, Eldredge said.

Dunkle said it's sad anytime a congregation leaves the diocese, but he said its job is to care of those who do not leave.

"Those who remain should be assured there will be ongoing Episcopal ministry in those locations," Dunkle said.


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