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VERO BEACH FL: Trinity church in Vero Beach may break from national church

VERO BEACH FL: Trinity Episcopal church in Vero Beach may break from national church

By Elliott Jones (Contact)
Vero Beach Press journal
December 12, 2007

VERO BEACH - Disagreements over religious beliefs are leading Trinity Episcopal Church to consider breaking from the national Episcopal Church, following in the footsteps of other parishes in Florida and nationwide.

The Rev. Lorne Coyle says the national church is being unorthodox, in his estimation, on everything from interpretations of the Bible to allowing a gay bishop to be ordained in 2003. He is not alone in his beliefs - members of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, Calif., voted this week to split from the national church, the first entire diocese to make such a move.

The Episcopal Church nationally has a "culture the Holy Spirit cannot honor," Coyle said. "It is losing members."

Members of the 81-year-old Trinity Episcopal parish are talking among themselves about making a decision, possibly within six months, Coyle said. If part of the congregation decides to stay, it would continue to remain in the church and worship there, diocese officials said.

So far, Coyle's conservative congregation is the only Episcopal parish on the Treasure Coast openly considering a split, diocese officials say. However, Trinity Episcopal is among six parishes in the 90-parish Diocese of Central Florida that are considering going their own way.

Breaking off would mean Trinity Episcopal Church's buildings - including a new multi-million-dollar church, with custom bell tower and imported organ - would go to the diocese, said Joe Thoma, spokesman for the Diocese of Central Florida.

"That is clear in Florida law," said Thoma, whose diocese includes Indian River and St. Lucie counties. "They have no legal claim on the property. We can't give away the property."

Coyle said he hopes the diocese will be kinder. His disagreement isn't with his diocese and its bishop, the Right Rev. John Howe, but with national church officials, he said. And he is concerned that if the current local bishop leaves, policies could change.

The Rev. Jan Nunley, a spokeswoman for the national Episcopal Church, said the church organization allows diversity of thought and local control. Yet, they all adhere to a fundamental creed.

"I believe in one God, Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth," Nunley said. "I don't say that with my fingers crossed behind my back."

She estimated that 10 percent of the church membership nationwide is upset about changes in the church that have been taking place in the last 40 years. Those range from revision of the church's Book of Common Prayer in 1979 to a national leadership convention in 2003 that approved an openly gay man as bishop in New Hampshire.

Trinity Episcopal Church treasurer Ron Joaquim said he and the church's lay leaders are still making up their minds about the proposed split. As Joaquim sees it, the disagreement is over the interpretation of the Bible, which he said shouldn't be different because of changing attitudes on modern social issues.

"This is not a gay bashing issue," he said. "Members of our congregation are gay."

If the local church breaks off, Coyle said his parish would still be under the Anglican Communion, of England, which is an association of denominations that includes the Episcopal Church.

Other Treasure Coast churches are not following Trinity's lead at this point.

"For the sake of unity, our parish decided not to pass judgement on the issues that are dividing the church nationally," said the Rev. John Hagood, with Holy Faith Episcopal Church in Port St. Lucie. "The issues are not worth dividing ourselves over. Our parish is growing and doing well."


The minister and some members of Trinity Episcopal Church are talking about breaking with the national Episcopal Church.

•They say the national church isn't interpreting the Bible literally enough.

•Since 2000, portions of about 55 of the 7,600 Episcopal congregations nationwide have voted to leave the church. Rarely does that result in a parish collapsing. Usually, part of a congregation votes to disassociate while the remainder stay.

•The number of active baptized Episcopalians in the United States has declined from 2.3 million in 2000 to 2.2 million in 2006.


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