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JACKSONVILLE, FL: Two churches merge to form single Anglican ministry

JACKSONVILLE, FL: Two churches merge to form single ministry - Christ Church, Anglican

By David W. Virtue

JACKSONVILLE, FL. (9/4/2006)---Emerging out of the ecclesiastical wars in the Episcopal Diocese of Florida and the realignment raging in the Anglican Communion, two parishes have united; Epiphany Episcopal Church and Christ the King Anglican Church to form Christ Church, Anglican of Jacksonville.

The merger will bring together 300 Anglicans, mostly former Episcopalians, under the ecclesiastical authority of the Anglican Mission in America (AMIA) and their new Bishop, Connecticut-based, the Rt. Rev. Thad Barnum.

In describing the new church's ecclesiology, The Rev. Dr. Robert Sanders said this: "We will be a church thoroughly grounded in the historic Anglican tradition with its commitment to balancing the Sacramental, Evangelical, and Charismatic streams in the Christian faith. We are applying to be a part of the world wide Anglican Communion through affiliation with the Anglican Mission in America which is a missionary extension of the Anglican Communion province of Rwanda.

"It is a new day for Anglicanism and the historic faith in west Jacksonville," said Sanders, a former Episcopal priest, (1977-2004), theologian and rector of Christ the King Anglican Church, one of the two merging churches.

The merger is the brainchild of two priests: the Rev. Mark Eldredge of Epiphany Episcopal Church and the Rev. Dr. Robert Sanders of Christ the King parish.

"When Mark and I first started talking about a merger he was still in the Episcopal Church. I had left the ECUSA and moved to the AMiA. Mark looked into the AMiA and really liked it. It was a merger of minds, hearts and theology," said the scholarly Sanders whose website http://www.rsanders.org hosts a number of scholarly articles drawn on years of theological training and scholarship.

Eldridge has provisional oversight while his application for membership in the AMIA as a priest is under review.

"We have had some wonderful things happen in terms of getting this off the ground," Sanders told VOL.

As Sanders describes it: "Epiphany Episcopal Church was founded in 1958 but the events that led to its union with Christ the King Anglican Church began when the Rev. Mark came to Epiphany as rector in 2003. He came with the objective of using the purpose driven strategy for growth. This was so successful that the average attendance of 140 jumped by 2006 to well over 200."

"This growth occurred as a result of several factors: the congregation was taught how to become seeker friendly, and a contemporary service started in 2005. The parking lot was upgraded, a sign scheme was put in place for the campus, a projector was introduced for the worship services, a greeter system and a welcome center were put in place. Contemporary music was used in worship, a discipleship process inaugurated, and a Discovery Class series was introduced as a required membership class. This class created unity and a sense of purpose." The parish had completed the Forty Days of Purpose and the Forty Days of Community spiritual growth campaigns, said Sanders. "These were very effective in enabling people to buy into the vision and to grow people spiritually. In 2006 they began to implement small groups and went from two small groups to nine."

Of his own congregation, Sanders had this to say. "Christ the King Anglican Church began in the spring of 2004 when a group, virtually all Episcopalians, began to meet at the Baptist Church in Avondale with the hope of forming a new congregation. Charlie Vensel, a lay person and now a seminary student, called this group together. In June of 2004, the Rt. Rev. Thad Barnum (AMIA bishop) met and spoke with the group. The Rev. Whitey Haugan, an Episcopal priest sympathetic to their efforts, began to meet with them for Bible study and Eucharist."

In March of 2005 Sanders began to meet with the group. That summer he left the Episcopal Church and was received into the AMiA. In August he began to work for the emerging congregation. In October of 2005, they began worship services at Avondale Baptist. A Bible study led by Sanders led to the formation of a leadership group and interest rose with Sanders being asked to form a new congregation. The name Christ the King Anglican Church was chosen.

"Christ the King was a completely new church start up. Almost all of its members were former Episcopalians who were deeply committed Christians, spiritually mature, and very active in their former parishioners where many of them were leaders. They came from several Episcopal Churches in the area and joined up because of the apostasy actively being taught in their parish, or because their parish was hiding from the issues and they could sense that the spiritual life was going out of their parish. They became disgusted at their parish's refusal to take a clear stand and because they knew their souls were in danger from the deceit being promoted by the diocese and their parish. The final straw was the abandonment by the Episcopal Church of the Christian faith and their consciences would not allow them to support an institution that was corrupting people's souls. As a result, I received a wonderful group of committed Christian people into Christ the King. As a result we grew as a fellowship and by late spring of 2006, we had 60 people," said Sanders.

About that time, Sanders began to enter into conversation with the Rev. Mark Eldredge about forming an Anglican Church on the West Side of Jacksonville. "We both realized that the Episcopal Church had abandoned the Christian faith, and that he needed to lead his parishioners out of the Episcopal Church," he told VOL.

"We began to meet and pray together to discern God's will in regard to unity. We were joined by the Rev. Anne Stewart Hemphill a deacon at Epiphany. (She is licensed in the Diocese of Recife in Brazil, Province of the Southern Cone, by the Rt. Rev. Robinson Cavalcanti.)

A team was formed from both churches to explore the idea. "To everyone it seemed clear that this was the Lord's call. We also saw a number of significant advantages. First, the clergy complemented each other. Mark is a young priest with skills in organization, strategy, and vision on how to grow a church. I was older, an experienced rector with skills in teaching, writing, missions, spiritual renewal and healing. Anne Stewart is a deacon with considerable experience in pastoral care, worship, retreat leader, and educational design. We couldn't have fit more perfectly."

The people from both congregations also complemented each other. Epiphany was mainly made up of new Christians and numerous young people. Christ the King had almost no young people. They were mostly mature Christians with extensive backgrounds in Christian service. Epiphany, on the other hand, was well into a program of growth and evangelism. Christ the King had not developed such a program but many of its members possessed the skills needed in developing and managing a large, dynamic church.

"In June, within a week, God found a beautiful worship space in a Roman Catholic High School located in an area with many new homes, with another building for office space and a gift of $50,000 from a member of Christ the King to start the work. We decided then to work together," said Sanders.

There is one other Episcopal Church in our area (west Jacksonville) which may decide to join us at a later date, Sanders told VOL.

Both men will co-pastor the new thriving congregation. "We see this new church as new seed coming out of good, fertile ground. The withered seed of ECUSA has fallen on fallow ground and cannot bring forth good fruit. We will bear new fruit in west Jacksonville," said Sanders.

"We believe that a Great Commitment to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission will grow a Great Church," he said.


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