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Priest leads other Episcopalians to join Orthodox Church

Priest leads other Episcopalians to join Orthodox Church

BY SUZANNE PEREZ TOBIAS
The Wichita Eagle

About 40 members of an Episcopal church in east Wichita have established
a new congregation within the Orthodox Church, citing their disapproval
of the "decidedly liberal drift" of the Episcopal Church in recent years.

The Rev. John Flora, 57, retired rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal
Church, w ill lead the new congregation, which will begin worshipping at
St. George's Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Wichita at 10 a.m. on Sunday.

Flora said he and the group of former St. Stephen's parishioners have
grown frustrated with the Episcopal Church, including its approval of
its first openly gay bishop in August.

"When I found the Episcopal Church in college, I really believed I had
found something that was connected to the ancient church and was going
to remain steadfast," Flora said.

"But my experience in the past 31 years as a priest is, there's been a
slippery slide into theological relativism, and that's not where I'm at."

Officials with the Episcopal Diocese of Kansas, including Bishop Dean
Wolfe, were out of town for the holidays and could not be reached for
comment.

Melodie Woerman, spokeswoman for the diocese, said that news of Flora's
new church mission was "a surprise," and that church officials would be
unlikely to make a comment until they learned more about the situation.

The new church, St. Michael the Archangel Antiochian Orthodox Christian
Church, will be the first Western Rite Orthodox parish in Kansas. It
will join a growing number of Orthodox congregations that use a Western
form for their liturgy, rather than the more characteristic Byzantine Rite.

The liturgy of the new church will be similar to that of the traditional
Anglican Book of Common Prayer, Flora said, with some additions to make
it conform to Orthodox theology. Becoming an Orthodox priest, which he
plans to do on Easter, will complete a personal and theological
evolution for Flora.

During seminary, he participated in a dialogue group between Anglican
and Orthodox churches, and he has been interested in Palestinian issues
and Orthodoxy ever since. For now, the new St. Michael parish will hold
worship services in the chapel at St. George's Cathedral, 7515 E. 13th
St. But Flora hopes the congregation will grow and eventually have its
own facility.

Leaving the 2.4 million-member Episcopal Church was "a real hard
decision," Flora said, "but one I felt I had to make."

Other parishioners planning to join Flora agreed.

"This has nothing to do with St. Stephen's itself. It has everything to
do with the Episcopal Church USA," said Bill Anderson, head of the St.
Michael parish council.

"My belief is that we have not left the Episcopal Church; it has left
us," h e said. "This is not a decision we took lightly, nor is it
something that just happened."

END

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