Last week, Deacon Frances Levy told her congregation at St. Phillips Anglican (formerly Episcopalian) Church that it was the final Sunday of their tenancy of the Coalinga location. The doors of the church would be closed to locals forever as the Episcopalian denomination took back the property under court orders.
The problem began years ago as more conservative Episcopalian congregations disagreed with the actions of more liberal leadership.
Ironically, the Episcopalian Church was the church created due to the Americans revolting against England. Recognizing the importance of the separation of church and government, the newly developed church was designed to be completely independent from domination by external force. Leaders such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were both members of the new church, and James Madison served as a bishop for the state of Virginia.
Having survived a brief split between the north and the south during the Civil War, the Episcopalian Church weathered issues through the years in one piece. They even survived the ordination of women as deacons, and eventually priests and bishops.
As denominational changes challenged the faith and Biblical teachings of some in the Episcopalian church, some congregations found themselves realigning with the more conservative, fundamental Anglican Church (formerly known as the Church of England). Many parishes left the Episcopalian denomination to become Anglican instead. After a split for more than 200 years, the Anglican church was gathering parishes internationally.
Church buildings and property acquired by local churches was done so with a contract binding the churches and their real estate to the Episcopalian Church. Newly split churches were still under Episcopalian denominational membership. It was decided in court that the property belongs to the Episcopalian church rather than the local groups themselves.
Unlike a divorce, the local churches involved found that there was no 50-50 split, but instead, a winner take all.
Some churches were offered the opportunity to purchase their former buildings and property from the Episcopalian denomination, but most chose not to do so.
Levy’s announcement came as no surprise to the congregation. A fierce court battle had been going on for several years. But it still marked the end of a fight, and sealed the church’s future.
Church member, Mary Curtin, says, “We are leaving history, and a lot of love in that church building.”
She recalls the many people who attended the church through the years and the leaders who brought them through good times and bad.
One of the many things they leave behind is a pipe organ the church commissioned for a young man in their congregation, James Moore. Moore later earned a doctorate in organ, and is a priest.
Another phenomenal project Curtin remembers is the Lyceum for music offered to students in an after school program through the church. The group brought many students from Coalinga and encouraged musicianship.
The Coalinga church plans to fellowship and worship with their Anglican neighbors in Lemoore. The church in Lemoore has opted to buy back their property from the Episcopalian denomination. Deacon Levy plans to retire after serving Coalinga for nine years.