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Full-Circle Revival

first_imgThe Rev. Elias Yinka Eniade is from a country that was Christianized in the 19th century in part by American and European missionaries. Two hundred years later, African clerics are now coming to the West to restore what they say are the true teachings of the Bible – to bring biblical orthodoxy back. “I’m starting to look at my own faith in a whole new way,” said Winfrey, a born-and-bred Episcopalian. He and others say they have slowly become disenchanted with the direction of Episcopal leaders, who are under intense pressure from their counterparts in the Anglican Communion to state unequivocally that homosexuality is incompatible with biblical teaching. Episcopal bishops met a few weeks ago in New Orleans, where they crafted a statement promising to “exercise restraint” by not consenting to any candidate for bishop “whose manner of lifestyle presents a challenge” to the church. It remains to be seen whether that statement was strong enough to appease conservatives around the world. The issue will be hashed out again when Anglican leaders who represent 164 countries and 80 million members around the world meet next year. In the meantime, roughly 60 congregations out of 7,000 in the United States have left the Episcopal Church and aligned directly with dioceses in Africa, where orthodoxy has been largely preserved since the arrival of 19th century missionaries. Four of the churches that departed were from the Episcopal Los Angeles Diocese, including All Saints in Long Beach. The ordination of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay bishop from New Hampshire, fueled the highly publicized exodus. But disputes over biblical interpretation have been simmering for decades, and could eventually lead to a historic schism within the Communion. “Everybody is still welcome here at All Saints, but we won’t say something is true when it isn’t,” said the Rev. Bill Thompson, rector at All Saints, referring to the notion that homosexuality is condoned by God. The Rev. Eniade came to All Saints in 2005, and a few months ago formed a Torrance offshoot, Christ Our Savior. He hopes to find a permanent building by January; for now its members drive to Long Beach on Sundays and meet in Winfrey’s home on Wednesday nights. Eniade plans to eventually create a South Bay network of Anglican churches that would fold into a yet-to-be-formed Anglican diocese in Southern California. For now they answer to the Anglican Diocese of Uganda, and are governed by a bishop overseas. “I know God has a strategy for Torrance,” Eniade told the dozen or so followers who gathered on a recent Wednesday. “We are ready to minister according to God’s plan.” The style of worship in Nigeria and Uganda, and the role that faith plays in a person’s life, are vastly different than what Winfrey and the others are used to. American Episcopal churches are typically more ritualistic, similar to Catholics, and don’t usually “evangelize” or talk about their faith outside church walls. Eniade, meanwhile, has been pounding the pavement in Torrance, passing out fliers, talking to business and community leaders, and teaching adherents how to do the same. The “good news of the gospel,” he said, “wasn’t meant to be kept to yourself.” “We’re slowly learning,” Winfrey said. “Evangelism has not been one of our strong suits.” Despite the cultural differences, he added, “We all believe that the Bible is God’s word, and that what’s written in there for our knowledge, that’s what we should adhere to.” Liberal Episcopal churches also hold the Bible at the center of liturgy, but they tend to rely on modern interpretations for guidance on social issues such as homosexuality, scholars say. Several Episcopal churches have special ministries for gay and lesbian members, and perform blessing services for same-sex couples. Churches in San Pedro and elsewhere have also employed gay clergy throughout the years. The Anglican Communion is loosely structured – there is no pope who has the final say on theological disputes – which has muddied the question of who has authority to speak for the church or resolve these theological disputes. National leaders in the Episcopal Church, however, have officially asked their African counterparts to stop treading on their territory as more clerics from overseas arrive in the United States. “We deplore incursions into our jurisdictions by uninvited bishops and call for them to end,” said a statement by the U.S. House of Bishops after its Sept. 25-28 gathering. This issue will also be addressed at the next worldwide gathering, called the Lambeth Conference. By most accounts, the tension is less pronounced locally. However, the pastor of the Episcopal church in Torrance, the Rev. Virginia Benson of St. Andrew’s, had an odd first encounter with Eniade at a local farmers market about a month ago. The African priest was passing out brochures, announcing an informational meeting for the new Anglican church in Torrance. “I said, `That’s funny, I’m the pastor of the Anglican church in Torrance,”‘ she said. The meeting wasn’t acrimonious, both said. It did, however, point to what may be in store for the future – two separate branches of the church competing for parishioners. Only a few families, including the Winfreys, have left St. Andrew’s. The Rev. Benson said she isn’t concerned about losing significant numbers. All Saints lost about a dozen families out of about 400 when they voted to split in 2003, Thompson said. They gained at least as many members, he added, from liberal Episcopal churches in the Harbor and South Bay areas. The church and the Los Angeles diocese are still in litigation over who owns the church property, but the experience has been “freeing,” Thompson said. “We’re really free to preach and live the gospel. ? The (Episcopal) church, when I left, really bore no resemblance to the historical understanding of things.” Winfrey is aware that, in many ways, they are going back in time. “We’re now the recipients of that evangelism,” he said. “I hope the church begins to thrive here again like it does (in Africa).” [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! By Melissa Evans STAFF WRITER In the midst of a tense, worldwide dispute over Christian doctrine, religious history is coming full circle in the living room of Tom Winfrey’s Torrance home. A priest from Nigeria sits on a folding chair at the front of the room, leading an American congregation in prayer. His followers are former members of the Episcopal Church, the American arm of the centuries-old Anglican Communion, who left their childhood church because they say leaders have strayed too far from biblical scripture. The tipping point, defectors say, was the ordination of a gay bishop in 2003. last_img
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