Episcopal Church Reopens After 3-Year Battle With Bishop Trying to Sell Building to Condo Developer

Saint James Church of Newport Beach, California. | (Photo courtesy Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles)

An Episcopal church in California has reopened three years after a local bishop tried to sell the property to a condo developer.

St. James the Great Episcopal Church of Newport Beach held their first worship service since 2015 on Sunday, with Bishop John H. Taylor of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles giving the homily.

"Our Easter work, as it always is, is to reclaim the unity, the sense of common purpose, the awe-struck buzzing in the chest over the fact that all things had been made new ... and reinforce it and express it every Easter," said Taylor.

"Look at what we could do if we were together in Christ. Doesn't that beckon us to do better? In the Diocese of Los Angeles, reconciliation begins this Eastertide."

In 2013, the Los Angeles Diocese won a property lawsuit against St. James Anglican, a 700-member congregation that voted to break away from the Episcopal Church over theological differences.

As a result, the diocese gained control of the Newport Beach property, which for a time was not being used by any congregation.

However, eventually a relatively new Episcopal Church congregation began to meet at the property, even as then Bishop J. Jon Bruno considered selling the building.

In May 2015, Bishop Bruno announced that he was selling the property of St. James the Great to Legacy Partners Residential, which planned to build 22 townhouses on the real estate.

By July of that year, Bruno had locked the new congregation out of the building, stopping the members from accessing various items including choir robes and Communion elements.

"We were blindsided," explained one St. James member to the Orange County Register in 2015. "I am stunned the leadership of the diocese is so eager for condos instead of this congregation."

However, the congregation protested the decision and Bruno was eventually brought before a hearing panel for the Disciplinary Board for Bishops.

In July 2017, the board recommended that Bruno be suspended for three years due to his attempt to sell the property in a 4-1 vote.

"During the period of his suspension Bishop Bruno shall refrain from the exercise of the gifts of the ministry conferred by ordination ... and not exercise any authority over the real or personal property or temporal affairs of the church," read a draft of the majority opinion.

Bruno was officially suspended last August and the effort to sell the property was halted. In December, Bruno resigned from his office, with Taylor succeeding him as bishop.

"A Christian's core belief is that pain and loss are never the end of the story," Taylor said last year, according to the OC Register.

"In Christ, there is always a way back to unity, common purpose and renewed energy for mission and ministry."

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