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Pushed out of church, parishioners mark Christmas Eve under the stars

Pushed out of church, parishioners mark Christmas Eve under the stars
The Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees sings as she leads St. James the Great Episcopal Church members in an outdoor Christmas Eve celebration at Lido Park in Newport Beach on Thursday. (Kevin Chang)

After days of wet weather leading up to Christmas Eve, parishioners of St. James the Great Episcopal Church were relieved with a forecast of drier conditions Thursday.

For the first time, the congregation celebrated Christmas Eve under the night sky at Lido Park, across from the closed church building in Newport Beach.

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"At first, we were so sad that we would not be able to worship in our church, but then we looked at what we will have, an opportunity to demonstrate how much we love being in our Lido community on this very special night," said the Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees, pastor of St. James the Great.

The celebration marked the end of a challenging year for St. James.

In May, Bishop J. Jon Bruno of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles announced that he was planning to sell the church property at 3209 Via Lido for about $15 million to Legacy Partners Residential, which plans to build 22 high-end town homes there.

Less than a month later, parishioners held their last service in the church, and days after that, Bruno had the locks changed and wouldn't allow the congregation back inside, churchgoers said.

The sale of the church has not closed as the property remains tangled in a legal battle between Bruno and Griffith Co., which owned the property before it was transferred to the Episcopal Diocese in 1945.

While the traditional costumes, decorations and ornaments normally used in the holiday festivities remain inside the building, the parishioners held a more informal celebration featuring a live Nativity scene with children dressed up as Mary and Joseph, and Voorhees' 2-month-old granddaughter, Cali, assuming the role of baby Jesus.

Instead of the customary golden candlesticks, the park was lighted with luminarias and tiki torches as a choir and string musicians performed Christmas carols. Palm trees replaced the traditional Christmas trees.

"It's fun," Voorhees said. "It's a serious evening, but I don't get uptight about it. It's all about the message and having fun."

Fry writes for Times Community News

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