Episcopal Bishop George Rath of Newark, N.J., said he will go to court to recover a West Orange church whose rector and congregation have split from the Episcopal Church.
Last Sunday, the Rev. William F. Burns, 59, who earlier this month was elected bishop in the dissident Anglican Church in North America, turned away a diocesan official who had been sent to reclaim St. Mark's Church for the Newark diocese.
When Archdeacon Sydney Grant, Bishop Burns' replacement, appeared at the church last Sunday Morning, Burns told him: "You're welcome to worship with us, but you're not going to officiate at the service."
The congregation of St. Mark's, a church cited as historic landmark by New Jersey and the federal government, voted almost a year ago to leave the Episcopal Church. The members rejected the other church's decision to ordain women and to update the Book of Common Prayer.
Burns, who entered the priesthood 16 years ago after working in plumbing, was deposed from the Episcopal priesthood only five days before last Sunday's confrontation.
Bishop Rath said he would send no further emissaries to the church but would "institute legal proceedings" to reclaim the church.
The West Orange controversy is one of a growing number of church disputes heading for the courts as result of the split within Episcopal ranks.
Last week, a Los Angeles court held that the property of our dissident parishes must remain with the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. The decision is expected to have a chilling effect on defection of churches from the denomination.
On the other, the Diocese of Lexington, Ky., has been praised by breakaway churchmen for permitting one rebel congregation to occupy parish buildings even after joining the rival Anglican Church in North America.