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Virginia Parish Leaves ECUSA, Pastor Awaits Possible Reprisal

by Jim Brown and Jody Brown
November 21, 2005

(AgapePress) - - A Virginia congregation says it has left the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) -- and the pastor of that congregation fears his former bishop may take retaliatory action against the parish.

South Riding Church is the first parish to leave the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia after two years of conflict over ECUSA's ordination of an openly homosexual bishop in New Hampshire. But Pastor Phil Ashey says his problems with the Episcopal Church run much deeper than its approval of Bishop V. Gene Robinson.

"Really the issue of Robinson's consecration and the blessing of same-sex unions is simply the presenting issue of a deep, deep disease in the Episcopal Church and its leadership," Ashey explains, "which is the abandonment of Holy Scripture as the basis for what we believe."

Ashey says his church is now under the canonical authority of the Anglican bishop of Uganda, Rev. Benezeri Kisembo. But according to an Associated Press report, Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia says he does not recognize South Riding's withdrawal from ECUSA because, in his opinion, Bishop Kisembo has no authority in the Diocese of Virginia.

"Only a diocesan bishop has the authority to transfer a cleric from the Diocese of Virginia," Bishop Lee says in a statement released by the diocese. "Mr. Ashey remains under my canonical authority until disciplinary action is taken if any." Pastor Ashey, however, believes there is a "distinct possibility" Lee would try to punish South Riding Church for moving under the authority of the Ugandan bishop.

"One of the things that could happen," he shares, "is that I would be inhibited and deposed by the Episcopal Church." But he contends such a reaction would be meaningless because he has already transferred South Riding into another branch of the Anglican Communion. "And the grounds on which they choose to do that -- abandonment of communion -- is simply a misuse of our own canon law, because I haven't abandoned the communion," he says.

The Virginia pastor explains that in moving under the authority of the Anglican bishop of Uganda, he has actually sought to realign himself and his parish with the vast majority of Anglicans around the world.

A press release from the Diocese of Virginia says upon announcing South Riding's departure from ECUSA, Pastor Ashey "returned the parish register, service book, a copy of the congregation's 2004 audit and an inventory of all assets" that belong to the diocese. The congregation plans to keep its name and will continue to worship at Little River Elementary School in South Riding.

The Episcopal Church is the U.S. branch of the worldwide Anglican Church. There are 195 congregations in the Diocese of Virginia and about 90,000 members.

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