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NORTH CAROLINA: Charlotte Episcopalians Defect to Province of West Africa

NORTH CAROLINA: Charlotte Episcopalians Defect to Province of West Africa

By David W. Virtue

For the Rev. Canon Filmore Strunk, 55, it was a painful but strangely exhilarating moment in his life and ministry. For 19 years he had been a priest in the Episcopal Church. It had been his life's work and ambition - to bring the unchanging gospel of Jesus Christ to the folks at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Waxhaw, a growing and thriving suburb on the outskirts of Charlotte, North Carolina.

On November 1 all that changed. The abandonment of the historic Christian faith, the sexuality mess and the Episcopal Church's embracing of Gnosticism finally proved too much for the evangelical pastor of his 600-member orthodox congregation. He walked away from a newly built, 22,000 sq. ft property valued in excess of $4 million taking half his congregation with him.

"It was a painful separation; we had a large number of folk who wanted to stay behind and did. The original church was 600 with some 300 including nine of the 11 vestry electing to move with me. We walked away from a valuable property barely three years old with new gothic stone worth millions. It was very painful for me personally, but I saw that the gospel could not be compromised any longer. Truth had to triumph over institutional loyalty. The sad truth is that many Episcopalians, have become Gnostics and think they are the center of revelation, not God, and feel perfectly easy about changing things as they see that move them. I could not."

Fr. Strunk sees the move as one of the great stories of how God has blessed him and his ministry. "I spent the best part of a decade moving campuses and then I walked away from it all. I could have been seriously depressed. It never happened."

When he made the announcement that he was leaving, he told his congregation he had no interest in spending thousands of dollars legally fighting for the property. "I wanted them to come freely or stay." The new church, now called All Saints Anglican Church, will be under the ecclesiastical authority of The Church of the Province of West Africa and the Most Rev. Justice Akrofi. Strunk has been licensed by the African Primate. Their visiting missionary bishop is the Rt. Rev. John Guernsey who was recently consecrated by the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi of Uganda.

Strunk, who is on the Pastor's Prayer Summit Leadership Team in Charlotte, faced a challenge: where he would go. Another pastor on the team, a Presbyterian (PCUSA) pastor, the Rev. Bruce Powell immediately offered his church building for the Evangelical Anglican flock now under an overseas African Primate. "The Presbyterian session (vestry) deliberated for two minutes and then unanimously said yes. I was stunned and overwhelmed. God was clearly at work.

"We met for worship in the fellowship hall of the of the Presbyterian Church located in the town of Wesley Chapel just outside of Charlotte on November 1 at a late-afternoon service which included seven priests, nearly 30 musicians and more than 250 congregants. My joy at this brighter day was so profound, God has provided godly bishops for us, a place to worship, a committed congregation and a spirit of joy for this new church that belongs to Him."

Missionary Bishop John Guernsey, who is also Dean of the Mid-Atlantic Convocation of the Anglican Communion Network (ACN) and rector of All Saints Anglican Church of Dale City, VA, presided over the solemn and joy-filled service, during which nine people were confirmed and three received into the Anglican Church.

Other area and regional priests joined Guernsey in traveling to be with Strunk and the congregation on Sunday to witness the start of this new Anglican church. Among them was the Rev. Jim McCaslin of Jacksonville, FL, southeast Dean of the Anglican Communion Network; the Rev. Alan Hawkins, interim rector of King of Kings Anglican Church of Charlotte, NC; the Rev. Clayton Townsend, founder of Matthews Mission, an Anglican church plant in Matthews, NC; the Rev. Craig Welbaum, rector of Light of Christ Anglican Church in the university area of Charlotte, NC; and Fr. Norman Riebe, assisting priest of All Saints Anglican.

"We're not Presbyterians or Anglicans today, we're servants of the Living God," said Siler Presbyterian's pastor Bruce Powell in welcoming the new community of Anglicans to his church's fellowship hall. Strunk and Powell have served together on the servant leader team of the interdenominational Metrolina Pastors Prayer Summit for 11 years. "We were both orthodox pastors in liberal denominations, and we've developed a tremendous bond over the years," said Strunk of his colleague.

Forging a relationship that crosses traditional bishopric lines, Bishop Guernsey is being licensed by Akrofi, Primate of West Africa and Bishop of Accra -- and a longtime friend of Strunk -- to serve as a missionary bishop, helping provide bishopric oversight for All Saints Anglican in the United States.

"This is reflective of the spirit of radical cooperation that we see growing in the leadership of the Anglican realignment," Strunk said of Akrofi and Guernsey's willingness and commitment to work together in an uncharted partnership to support and advise the nascent All Saints Anglican Church.

Holding worship service in another church's home is both a provision and a challenge, says Strunk. "We no longer have a conspicuous church building of our own to attract visitors to our congregation. We will have to be more intentional in our outreach and evangelism as we continue our mission to be disciples making disciples.

"I thought we would hurt financially. It hasn't happened. Some 90 of the 300 who have come over have pledged more than half a million dollars already - that's $6,000 per family. These people are serious about the truth, the church and salvation. It is remarkable what God is doing."

Almost immediately, Fr. Strunk was inhibited by the liberal Bishop of North Carolina, Michael B. Curry for "abandonment of Communion."

"I expect to be deposed. Of course, I have abandoned neither the Anglican Communion nor the faith once delivered to the saints. This is the lie now being constantly perpetrated by liberal TEC bishops. I am not the slightest bit concerned."

Strunk said he got the call on his cell phone from Curry while he was attending an Anglican Relief and Development meeting in Charleston. He was immediately "ministered to" by Pittsburgh Bishop Bob Duncan and the other bishops present. Primate Akrofi is on the board of ARDF and immediately offered his oversight. Fr. Strunk has visited the West African headquarters of the Anglican Province in Ghana over the years.

Strunk says that both Bishop Guernsey and Archbishop Akrofi are two of the godliest, wisest, most prayerful, humblest and strongest men he knows and is proud to be under their authority.

Fr. Strunk is not alone. The area is fast becoming a haven for orthodox Anglican parishes.

The Anglican Church plants in the greater Charlotte region are King of Kings (Southpark area), Light of Christ (university area), Matthews mission (Matthews/Mint hill area) All Saints (Wesley Chapel), Good Shepherd (Huntersville) and Southpointe (Rock Hill). These are all Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) church plants. There is also an APA parish, St. Michaels, in southeast Charlotte. In Raleigh, NC Holy Cross is under the Rev. John Gibson and Holy Trinity in Raleigh has thrived under the British evangelist, author and church planter Canon Michael Green. All Saints Anglican in Chapel Hill is also a new thriving congregation.

Weekly Sunday worship for All Saints Anglican will be held at 4 pm, Sunday School at 5:30 pm, and covered dish supper at 6:30 pm. Youth and children will meet at Siler Presbyterian Church, 6301 Weddington Monroe Rd. Wesley Chapel, NC 28104.

Looking back on his actions Fr. Strunk had this to say: "As the Episcopal Church is not going to repent, I knew I was going to have to leave this building I had worked in for so many years to build. I was in tremendous sorrow, but I was not prepared to trade a beautiful building against my eternal soul."



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