After years of fighting a lawsuit over its property, the parishioners of St. Francis Anglican Church in Turlock will close their doors for the final time Sunday and walk to a new beginning a few blocks away.
The 75 or so regular attendees will take almost nothing with them not even membership and financial records of the past few years and instead will start from scratch as Grace Anglican Church in rented space at another local church.
"At the end of the day, we walk away from all this with a great deal of peace in our hearts," said the Rev. Gerry Grossman, who has led St. Francis Anglican Church since 2008.
The tussle over property began after the San Joaquin Diocese left the national Episcopal church in 2007 over issues such as the ordination of gay priests and the interpretation of Scripture. The theologically conservative group that left remained part of the larger worldwide church called the Anglican Communion.
Seven parishes, including Christ the King in Riverbank, and other individual parishioners stayed with the Episcopal church, which filed multiple lawsuits in 2008 and 2009 against the departing Anglican diocese, claiming all property belonged to the national church.
St. Francis and the historic Red Church St. James in Sonora are the two most recent parishes to turn over their property to the Episcopal church. Parishioners in St. Paul's in Modesto walked away from its property in 2009. That congregation formed Wellspring Anglican Church, which recently purchased a new facility near the Modesto Junior College West Campus.
Lawsuits against the diocese and other parishes are still in the courts.
Grossman said his parish has spent about $30,000 to $40,000 in legal expenses in the past four years. "We decided our money could be better spent in missions and ministry. We got tired of having the litigation hanging over us."
The Rev. Kathryn Galicia of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Turlock, which has been meeting in rented space in another Turlock church, declined comment. Her congregation estimated at 20 when the split occurred in 2008 will take over the property June 1.
Grossman said that earlier this year, he contacted the Rev. Greg Frazier of First Christian Church to begin a dialogue among Turlock pastors to find a place where Grossman's congregation could meet. Instead, Grossman said, "he came back to me and said, 'We've been praying for a year to find another church to come alongside and do ministry with us. I think this will be a perfect fit.' "
The new church will "have an office, a sanctuary, a parish hall and a place to store our stuff," Grossman said. "We're going to worship in our own style and at our own time, but we're going to minister to Turlock together. In fact, we already did a Love Turlock day together."
The parishioners will hold a closing ceremony at 2:45 p.m. Sunday at St. Francis Anglican Church, which will include guests such as Bishop Eric Menees and other priests and officials from the San Joaquin Anglican Diocese. Following the service, the parishioners and guests will conduct a procession to their new church about three blocks away and hold their first service as Grace Anglican Church at 4 p.m.
"It's a public statement," Grossman said. "We could have had our last service and then driven over, but we felt that we need to tell people we're here and who we are and this is a new church community starting in Turlock."
The church, which previously held two services Sundays, will combine them into one service at 4 p.m. each Sunday. They will hand over keys to St. Francis to the Episcopal congregation May 31. Grossman said the two sides held a walk-through at St. Francis in March, which he called "very amicable."
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2012.
AT A GLANCE
The closing ceremony at St. Francis Anglican Church, 915 E. Main St., Turlock, begins at 2:45 p.m. Sunday.
Procession to First Christian Church, 180 S. Denair Ave., Turlock, begins about 3:30 p.m.
First service as Grace Anglican Church begins at 4 p.m.
Grace Anglican will hold weekly services at 4 p.m. Sundays. Address: 180 S. Denair Ave., Turlock 95380; phone: (209) 632-0788; website: www.graceanglicanturlock.com.