National debate prompts breakup at flagship Episcopal church

By Abe Levy – Express-News

Web Posted: 07/19/2010 12:00 CDT

The Rev. Chuck Collins greets Susan and Bill Galbreath after Collins’ last service at Christ Episcopal Church in late May. He retired over concerns about the national Episcopal Church’s liberal changes, including approval of gay and lesbian clergy. JERRY LARA/glara@express-news.net


In its storied 99-year history, Christ Episcopal Church has fashioned itself into a pillar of orthodox beliefs, Anglican heritage and charismatic fervor for spreading Christian salvation worldwide.But in recent years, a gut-wrenching question has tested the bonds of this spiritual family.

Should it leave its parent organization, the Episcopal Church, for making unwelcome liberal changes by accepting openly gay and lesbian clergy and modernizing time-honored theology?

One group had enough.

They walked away from the 2,400-member parish in Monte Vista last month to forge a new one — free of potential intrusion from national leadership but one that will meet, at least for a while, in less ideal facilities.

A larger group remains in the parish, and while equally disturbed about the direction of the national church, it is resolved to carry on the parish legacy despite the shifting winds.

The unraveling began in earnest in May when the parish rector, the Rev. Chuck Collins, announced plans to retire for a future outside the Episcopal priesthood. Most of the lay governing body resigned the next month to organize the new church, including architect Rick Archer, a 22-year member and former junior warden.

“We miss the people the most,” said Archer, 53. “Being in that place with that body of believers — young and old — is my fondest memory. But at the same time, we’re not trying to re-create it. We’re trying to understand what it is God wants of us.”

Both groups have kept hostilities in check. Many still meet for Bible study and restaurant meals and respect each other’s consciences. Yet both face new challenges.

Will those who left succeed in uncharted waters? Who will lead them, and what new Anglican network will they join?

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