St. James the Great Newport Beach – buyer backs out


UPDATED with links to news reports.

The Diocese of Los Angeles reports the prospective buyer of the St. James property has backed out of the agreement. The property will not be sold, but it will not be operated by the displaced parish either. The bishop coadjutor had previously said for the diocese to do the same — back out of the sale – would be fiduciarily irresponsible.

From the bishop’s office, signed by the bishop coadjutor and the president of the standing committee:

October 10, 2017
from The Bishop’s Office, Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles

Statement on cancelled sale of Newport Beach property

We understand that the buyer has decided not to proceed with its purchase of the property on Via Lido. This event, we believe, gives our diocesan community a renewed opportunity for careful discernment about our mission and ministry in south Orange County. We again pledge to do all we can pastorally, logistically, and financially to assist the St. James congregation should it wish to regain mission status in the diocese. After a suitable period of discernment and planning, we will reopen the church as a bishop’s chapel, with supply, or guest, clergy invited to conduct Sunday services. It will be open to all in the community who wish to attend and glorify and serve our God in Christ.

The Rt. Rev. John Harvey Taylor
Bishop Coadjutor

The Rev. Dr. Rachael Anne Nyback
President, Standing Committee

The Living Church has more and points out the announcement was sent out after business hours. In a phone conversation with TLC, Bishop Taylor said: “We’re offering as we have all along to enter into a conversation with the folks at St. James about whether they’d like to re-engage with us as a mission church.” Asked if St. James the congregation might be invited back he referred TLC to the statement above.

The spokesperson for the congregation learned of the statement from The Living Church.

In August Bishop Taylor wrote a lengthy justification for carrying through with the sale. Excerpt:

In prayerful discernment, we opened our hearts to a variety of possibilities for reconciliation in Christ and healing for St. James and our whole community. But Bishop Bruno has entered into a binding contract to sell the property. The buyer has the legal right to expect the seller to honor the contract. Much as we might wish it were otherwise, we do not believe that it would be in the interests of the diocese or consistent with our fiduciary responsibilities to endorse any steps leading to breaching or threatening to breach an enforceable contract that could lead to further expense and litigation.

In the spring of 2017, Bruno entered a new contract to sell the property at the same time a disciplinary panel was considering the denomination’s charges surrounding a previous contract to sell the property without consulting with the parish. It is this new contract that has fallen through.

News stories from LA Times and Orange County Register add some confusion to Bishop Taylor’s edict, if you don’t recall that the congregation is no longer a parish or mission of the diocese — by action of Bishop Bruno.

Taylor said the first step for St. James would be to return to the diocese and officially become a “mission church.”

These stories also tell the buyer’s side:

Burnham Ward, the developer which many in the community perceived might demolish the building, was actually in it to save the church, CEO Scott Burnham said Wednesday.

“What’s frustrating for us was that we were perceived as obstructionist when our goal was actually to help solve a community problem,” he said, adding that he has been involved in several redevelopment and preservation projects throughout the city including the Port Theater in Corona del Mar.

“We simply couldn’t discuss this matter because of a non-disclosure agreement,” he said. “We got involved for the right reasons.”

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David Ouzts
David Ouzts

Why is this so difficult? Why have the Bishops of Los Angeles dug their croziers in? The pastoral decision seems so obvious to me and to many others also.

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Liz Zivanov
Liz Zivanov

St James just can't get a break, can they? Not only are they still locked out of their building but they have to learn from TLC (what?) the coadjutor's plan for its future. Wow. Thankfully someone read the issue. Is this an example of communications and problem solving in the future from this new bishop? I guess the lesson for other dioceses is to be very, very aware of these two qualities in their candidates. Sounds like the Holy Spirit needs to intervene yet again in this situation. All of this, of course, is in my humble opinion based on what I've read and have been following.

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Cynthia Katsarelis

It seems like the St. James congregation is being treated harshly. Weren't they mistreated in the first place? And wouldn't that call for a more pastoral response?

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Let's do the math here...

We have a congregation in the south Orange County area without a church home meeting in rented or borrowed space.

We have a church building in south Orange County that is owned by the diocese that sits empty.

The building used to be used for Episcopal worship and ministry.

The congregation has been asking-- fighting for-- a space to worship and do ministry (that happens to be in the same building).

Hmmm... I wonder where the congregation ought to worship?

And I wonder where the Diocese might find a congregation who might want to worship and minister in their building?

It seems to me that the thing to do is to just welcome the congregation back, have party and a big liturgy, let all sides declare victory and just move on. How hard can this possibly be?

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David Curtis
David Curtis

Shouldn’t the headline read “buyer backs out”?

[Yes. Fixed. Thank you! - eds.]

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