Well, not exactly in the wilderness, but this week marked the fortieth since the congregation of St James the Great in Newport Beach, CA was locked out of their building. Last April, the diocesan bishop, the Rt Rev Jon Bruno, announced to the congregation that he had sold the property (apparently, the bishop alone owned the property as a corporation sole) to property developers who wanted to knock down the church and build condominiums. But energized by a sense of injustice, the congregation decided to refuse to be closed and have been worshiping in a nearby park (and in a local museum when the weather is bad).
The Congregation has since mounted a concerted effort to not only re-occupy the church building, but to also call the bishop to account and change how the diocese operates and manages the properties it holds. As well as pluckily refusing to accept that their parish has been closed, they have offered resolutions at the Diocesan convention and filed Title IV disciplinary complaints against Bishop Bruno. In a surprise twist, they also engaged with the descendants of the original donor of the property and held up the sale due to a clause in the original donation that forbids the diocese to use the property for anything other than a parish church.
In a recent open letter marking the anniversary of the closure announcement, the parish lashed out at Bishop Bruno and the Church Center for not moving forward in a timely manner on their promises;
As for transparency and accountability, we have also asked for the financial audit of Corp Sole that Bishop Bruno promised to the entire Diocesan Convention—over 800 people—back in December. To date, the bishop has refused to honor his commitment to release the information. Corp Sole owns over 66 real estate properties; a Delaware LLC with a multi-million-dollar commercial land asset in Anaheim, CA; and unaccounted donations to the diocese. Are we not all curious to know what is financially occurring in our diocese? We seek to understand the truth and we are concerned as to why the bishop will not share the information. For the health of our diocese, we ask Bishop Bruno to produce the audit to aid in transparency and accountability.
Regarding the canon-law-violation complaint against Bishop Bruno, it has been nearly 10 months since we sought help from the Episcopal Church (TEC) in New York for Bishop Bruno’s actions against our congregation. After a failed conciliation process eight months ago (in the course of which Bishop Bruno refused to sign a confidentiality agreement and refused to meet with us), we were told on October 29, 2015 that our Title IV Complaint against Bishop Bruno would go before a Conference Panel made up of three bishops, one priest and one layperson. We have not heard from TEC in over five months about when and where the hearing will take place.
The struggle to survive seems to have energized the congregation, which claims to have been experiencing growth throughout this ordeal. Whether St James ever returns to its former building or not, one might hope that the energy and spirit shown in these forty weeks might continue to animate ministry in this one small part of the world.