Churches fire back at claims of diocese

Deepa Bharath

Three churches, including one on Via Lido, refuse to bow to the

authority of an Episcopal bishop from whose diocese they seceded

during the last two weeks.

St. James Church in Newport Beach, All Saints' in Long Beach and

most recently St. David's in North Hollywood, broke away from the

Diocese of Los Angeles, citing the Episcopal Church's liberal views

on the supremacy of Jesus Christ, the Bible and homosexuality as

reasons.

The three churches have placed themselves under the Diocese of

Luwero in the Anglican Province of Uganda, Africa.

Eric Sohlgren, an attorney representing the seceded churches,

faxed a letter to the diocese on Monday in reply to a letter from

Bishop J. Jon Bruno's attorneys on Friday, demanding that the

churches ceased worship and business operations by 10 a.m. on Monday,

stop using prayer and hymn books and submit complete financial

records going back a year.

The bishop also maintains that all churches and surrounding

properties belong to the diocese.

But St. James pastor Praveen Bunyan and other church

administrators say the church and the surrounding land on Via Lido

are owned by St. James, a nonprofit organization, not the diocese.

The letter from the three churches expresses disbelief at the

demands made by attorney John Shiner on behalf of the bishop.

"Your demand that hundreds of families and children immediately

cease worshipping God in the buildings they alone have erected and

supported defies belief," the letter states. "Incredibly, your letter

even seeks to bar people from using their own private prayer books

and hymnals, and to force the disclosure of private financial

information about their tithes and offerings."

The letter goes on to state emphatically that the three churches

no longer believe they are part of the diocese or the Episcopal

Church.

"[The diocese] has no authority or grounds to dictate or interfere

with the religious worship, instruction, oversight, communications,

employment and property use at these three churches," the letter

says.

The bishop received the faxed letter on Monday and is "consulting

his attorneys," said Janet Kawamoto, media director for the diocese.

"We did not receive any response from the churches as of

[Monday]," she said. "The letter from their attorney was the only

response we received."

A nonprofit organization has every right to hold property under

California real estate law, Newport Beach attorney Michael Lawler

said.

"Unless St. James entered into some kind of agreement, where they

subordinate their interests to the parent church, they have the right

to the building and surrounding property," he said.

* DEEPA BHARATH is the enterprise and general assignment reporter.

She may be reached at (949) 574-4226 or by e-mail at

deepa.bharath@latimes.com.

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