Newport's St. James church sale is called off, and locked doors will reopen for worship

The latest planned sale of the shuttered St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach has been canceled, and the building will be reopened to worshipers, according to the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

The move would end more than two years in a drama in which the diocese's top bishop, J. Jon Bruno, tried twice to sell the property to developers, locked out the congregation and kept the church closed even after the first sale attempt fell through. The actions resulted in Bruno's being sanctioned by the Episcopal Church.


The Right Rev. John Taylor, bishop coadjutor for the diocese and Bruno's successor, who is retiring soon, said Wednesday that the church's reopening date is yet to be determined but that it will be as soon as possible.

"These matters are sensitive and involve the feelings and prerogatives of a lot of folks," he said.

Taylor said the diocese will encourage people to go to the church to worship and enjoy "the refreshment of being in that beautiful place."

The second planned buyer for the property, Newport Beach developer Burnham Ward Properties, pulled out of the sale, Taylor said.

On Wednesday, Burnham Ward principal Scott Burnham said: "Our pending purchase of the property was imminent before we made the decision to step aside this week. … Ultimately, we felt that stepping aside — despite our significant investment of time and expense in the acquisition process to date — was the right thing to do and was in the best interest of the community at this time."

Representatives of Save St. James the Great, a group that formed after the church's closure, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bruno told the congregation in May 2015 that he had committed to selling the site at 3209 Via Lido for $15 million to would-be luxury townhouse developer Legacy Partners. He locked the church doors and kept them closed, even after the transaction fell through.

Worshipers since have held services at multiple sites in the area and currently meet in a community room at the Newport Beach Civic Center.

Bruno has faced a string of ecclesiastical disciplinary orders this year related to his attempts to sell the St. James property.

In March, a church panel conducted a three-day hearing similar to a trial in which Bruno answered allegations of misconduct related to his 2015 sale attempt.

In June, before the hearing panel reached its decision, it warned Bruno not to close on a second sale before it reached its verdict. In August, the panel recommended a three-year suspension from ministry for Bruno, plus halting his efforts to sell the St. James site. It also recommended unlocking the building so the congregation could resume worship there.

However, the diocese later said it planned to proceed with selling the property to Burnham Ward, citing a legal obligation created by Bruno.

Last month, the Episcopal Church's Disciplinary Board of Bishops ordered that Bruno refrain from ministry and exercising any authority over property or church affairs while he appeals the hearing panel's finding that he had engaged in misconduct when he first tried to sell the site.

Taylor said Wednesday that guest clergy will be invited to lead St. James' Sunday services. The Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees, who had continued to lead the church's flock since the building's closure, did not return a request for comment.


Davis writes for Times Community News