By David W. Virtue
April 30, 2010

The end came swiftly for the priests and parishioners of St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church.

“At 5pm last Friday, we got an e-mail from Bishop Dabney Smith’s office saying they were locking the doors and asserting control of the property and that a priest-in-charge (Fr. Norman Howard) would move into my office,” Fr. Ed Sellers has told VOL.

“It came as a shock and surprise. We had been talking with the Diocese through ours and their attorneys and we kept asking ‘will you negotiate’? The diocese said it would. But they reneged on a promise to let us stay even if they took over the offices. They promised to give us a key so we could worship in the sanctuary but they reneged on that promise. We’ve been effectively locked out and removed the ‘Anglican Church’ signs.

“In typical Episcopal fashion they suddenly ended it all and preemptively struck us. While we had been preparing for the possibility it still came as a shock,” said the 68-year old evangelical catholic priest.

Sellers who has been an Episcopal priest for 42 years and priest at St. Dunstan’s for 12 years, said he never expected to end his career like this and he is hurt, sad and just a little bit angry. “I have poured my life into this church and this is how they treat us.” Two of his fellow priests Fr. Charles Bennett and Fr. Oscar Seara who will leave with him, have also been released from their ordination vows. “At least we were not deposed,” said Sellers. Fr. Bennett has put close to 40 years service into the Episcopal Church.

“It is very sad. How can seven people (out of 207) keep a church open and viable? The property will either be shut down or put up for sale. It is pitiful. We had a better solution for people who maintained this parish for 55 years and continue to have a use for it. They bought it, built it, sustained it and now they are being thrown out of it. How do seven people and the diocese expect to come up with $8,000 a month to run the place?” The buildings have an estimated value of $3 million.

The parish changed its name from St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church and incorporated it as St. Dunstan’s Anglican Church.

Sellers said he is concerned for the school, St. Dunstan’s Anglican Learning Center, affiliated with the church. “They took $75,000 from the school’s checking account which is now independently incorporated virtually bankrupting it. We had to loan them $10,000 just to keep it open. We will move the school as soon as possible to avoid more harassment from the diocese.”

Sellers is not without friends and resources. “When I got word that we were out on the street a local Methodist Church offered us a place to worship. Faith United Methodist Church in Largo is going out of business. They had their last services on Easter Day and have merged with another Methodist Church.” He said Pastor Jack Stephenson has been very gracious towards him. “We now have new offices and a sanctuary and we will work out a lease arrangement with them. On Saturday we moved out of the office and took out all the computers files and boxes. God has provided for us. He always does.”

“The final insult is that they took over our 7.30am and 10.15am worship slots to make it look like everything is normal, but we have gotten out the word to make sure our people come to our new place of worship,” said Sellers.

The church is now under the ecclesiastical oversight of the Diocese of Quincy and Fr. John Spencer. This diocese is a constituent member of the Anglican Church of North America. Archbishop Robert Duncan is their new ecclesiastical head.

The Rt. Rev. Dabney Smith is the bishop of Southwest Florida.

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