The Episcopal Church is no stranger to controversy, and the new incarnation of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Petaluma is living proof. The American version of the church was formed after the Revolutionary War in the late 18th Century, and has since been characterized as a leader in the Social Gospel movement.
Episcopal parishes have wrestled mightily with social issues, opposing the death penalty, supporting the civil rights movement, speaking out against foreign wars and, more recently, supporting marriage equality for lesbians and gays.
The marriage equality issue roiled the Petaluma parish. After the election of an openly gay man as Episcopalian bishop in New Hampshire a decade ago, a majority of the local congregation split away to form the more conservative St. John’s Anglican Church.
Unfortunately, the split was not amicable. The two parishes contested ownership of the historic church building at Fifth and C streets, with the Anglicans occupying the church and the Episcopalians meeting in a parishioner’s living room until they were able to share worship facilities with Elim Lutheran.
A settlement was eventually reached, and the Episcopalian congregation, shrunk from 400 to 100, has since reoccupied the old stone church and begun to rebuild. St. John’s Anglican moved to a new location on South McDowell Boulevard.
Rev. Daniel Green is a fitting leader for a re-energized Episcopalian parish. Green has been priest-in-charge of the congregation, and will be officially installed as rector in February. He has worked as a political activist, community organizer, farmer and carpenter. He has lived abroad and studied for seven years at the San Francisco Zen Center.
Disputes over articles of faith are common in all religions. It’s rare in our busy lives that we take time to debate matters of right and wrong, and we congratulate both St. John’s parishes for their success in serving the diverse spiritual needs of Petalumans.