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LARGO, FL: First Southwest Florida Episcopal Parish Leaves TEC

LARGO, FL: First Southwest Florida Episcopal Parish Leaves TEC
St. Dunstan's to Join ACNA. Affiliates with the Diocese of Quincy
Clergy Cite Presiding Bishop's Drift from The Faith

By David W. Virtue
Sept. 14, 2009

The evangelical parish of St. Dunstan's in the Diocese of Southwest Florida voted overwhelmingly to leave The Episcopal Church on Sunday following five years of discernment, saying the final straw was the abandonment "of the Faith once delivered to the saints" by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori with her comments about salvation at GC2009.

By a vote of 173 to 13, the membership of St. Dunstan's Church voted to sever its ties with The Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) as a parish within the Anglican Diocese of Quincy, Ill. The vote took place during a special meeting convened following regularly scheduled church services. The parish has regular attendance of about 250 families.

"The situation has been brewing for a couple of years. We conducted seminars explaining the deterioration of The Episcopal Church with meetings and power point presentations," said Fr. Ed Sellers in a phone call to Virtueonline.

"Jefferts Schori's statement at GC2009 about calling personal faith in Jesus a 'Western heresy' and a 'work' was a bridge too far," said Fr. Sellers to VOL. "We could have lived with Gene Robinson's consecration, but her comments indicate she can no longer say the Creed with theological honesty."

St. Dunstan's is the first parish in the Diocese of Southwest Florida to leave TEC. Bishop Dabney T. Smith sent observers from the Standing Committee. They also had an attorney with them taking notes at the morning service.

Questioned as to what he and the parish will do if the bishop comes after the property, Sellers told VOL, "We won't fight in court but they will have to send in the sheriff to escort us off the property. We will not voluntarily leave the property."

The priest said the church was valued somewhere between $2 and $3 million, has five acres, with two parish halls, a large education building and the church itself. He said average Sunday attendance is about 200 so the recent voting did not cover the whole congregation. Voting was restricted to communicants of the parish. We had 205 qualified voters and 186 participated.

He said if the congregation is forced off the property, more than 94% of the congregation would go with him and his staff.

Sellers said that three weeks ago the church recently set up a foundation to lease the property from the old church to the new church. "We think Bishop Smith may try and overturn that decision, but it will give us time and hopefully the bishop will lease it back to us."

"I hate to leave The Episcopal Church. It has been my family all my life. This is a bitter sweet day. I have no deep desire to leave. However this is not the church I signed on to 43 years ago. I have lost all respect for this church and I told that to the congregation. I could not give heart and soul to a church I no longer respect. What Episcopal Church leaders have done to other faithful Episcopalians forcing them off their property they bought and paid for, I simply cannot reconcile that with what it means to be Christian. I cannot understand how they could prefer to see an empty building rotting on its foundation...I cannot reconcile that at all."

"I am also tired of being the loyal opposition. I would rather resign than go through all that process of reconciling what is not reconcilable," Sellers told VOL.

Fr. Sellers said that another incident really hurt him when Bishop Smith would not ordain Fr. Oscar P. Seara to be on his staff. The day before the Standing Committee was to vote on his ordination Bishop Smith took him off the agenda and never ordained him. "When I confronted him he said 'why don't you go back to the Diocese of Quincy.' We did. Retired Bishop Ed MacBurney did the ordination at St. Dunstan's with the approval of Bishop Smith. This is just another example of the failed doctrine of Inclusion proclaimed so loudly by TEC leaders. It's the big lie."

Sellers said he is particularly troubled that both Fr. Seara and Bishop Smith are both Nashotah House graduates and while the bishop voted to keep the moratorium on gay bishops (B033) he voted for resolution for C56 but against D025. "At the end he became a company man, he couldn't stand up for the truth,"

The parish has two other clergy on staff, the Rev. Oscar P. Seara, Major, United States Air Force (Ret.) who is the Associate Priest and Hispanic Missioner. He is a bi-vocational priest and Fr. Charles M. Bennett a retired evangelical priest who has been serving the parish as 'priest in charge' after Fr. Sellers resigned as Rector in June of this year.

Seara told VOL that the people are fully behind Fr. Sellers and are prepared to go wherever the Lord leads them.

Both men expect to be inhibited and deposed by Bishop Smith.


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