Wellspring Anglican Church was birthed during the pangs of dissension between the theologically liberal Episcopal Church and its dioceses and parishes whose members held more conservative views. The first and only local congregation to voluntarily leave its former property at the beginning of the conflict, the Wellspring group walked away from a multimillion-dollar campus at St. Paul’s on Oakdale Road in 2009 and has spent the past five years meeting in rented space in downtown Modesto.
Parking has been tight, trains rumbling next to the sanctuary have disrupted worship services, and having people in the area who were vagrants or addicted to drugs posed challenges, but the congregation persevered.
Members finally will have their own home again. The congregation bought a building near the Modesto Junior College West Campus in 2013 and is remodeling the former food-testing laboratory space to make it suitable for a church. Work is expected to be complete in early 2015.
“It’s like entering the promised land,” said the Rev. Michael McClenaghan. “This is a really good congregation. They’ve stuck with it, and we’re getting there.”
The new site at 1548 Cummins Drive is part of the West Campus Business Park. It covers 2.4 acres, with a 14,600-square-foot building and 140 parking spaces behind Home Depot. The property formerly belonged to Silliker Laboratories and was used for food testing.
The church paid $955,000 for the property, which had been empty for a year, and will spend about $1.75 million to remodel it. Among improvements, the project will transform the lab rooms into a 4,700-square-foot sanctuary to seat 350 to 400 people, plus classrooms, a youth room and a fellowship area.
The sanctuary remodeling will include lifting the ceiling an additional six feet. Sound and multimedia equipment will be installed, too.
The church has partnered with Building God’s Way, an architectural and construction company that builds Christian churches and schools throughout the country, for the project. Hilbers Inc., a Yuba City firm, is the general contractor used by BGW. Local subcontractors will be used in the reconstruction, said Jan Wysong, chairman of the church’s building committee.
Construction began June 30.
Ministry over property
McClenaghan grew up at St. Paul’s, where his father was the priest when the sanctuary was built, so he understood his congregation’s emotional attachment to that site. But in 2009, McClenaghan announced the congregation’s decision to walk away from this valuable property rather than get involved in the expected lawsuits.
“Our focus is not about the property. It’s about ministry,” he said at the time. “We don’t feel we have to have this property to accomplish what God has for us to do.”
In the end, his view saved his congregation a great deal of money for legal fees.
“I could not be happier to let it go and move on with our lives,” McClenaghan said July 28. “We would have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars by now and seen our church atrophy in the process. It wears you down to be in conflict with others.”
Six other independently incorporated parishes, similar to St. Paul’s, reverted to the Episcopal Church USA in the past year. Three still are in litigation. The 29 other Anglican parishes lost a court decision in May, which ruled that ECUSA and not the departing diocese owned the properties.
Anglican Bishop Eric Menees said in May that the legal fight to retain diocesan properties had cost $500,000 to $1 million. Independently incorporated churches, such as St. Francis in Turlock, St. John the Evangelist in Stockton and the historic Red Church (St. James) in Sonora, had to pay additional costs.
The split began in 2007 when the San Joaquin Diocese, under the late Bishop John-David Schofield, became the first in the country to leave the national church, claiming that ECUSA no longer followed traditional biblical principles and instead consecrated gay bishops and said Jesus was not the only way to heaven. Forty parishes went with Schofield, while seven decided to remain Episcopal. Smaller Episcopal groups from other parishes joined them.
The Episcopalians elected Bishop Jerry Lamb to lead them in a parallel diocese, and he filed lawsuits against Schofield and the departing parishes. In May, a Superior Court judge in Fresno filed an initial judgment that the remaining 29 diocesan parish properties and headquarters, plus frozen assets worth more than $7.25 million, also would go to the Episcopalians.
That judgment has not become final, and none of that property has changed hands. When the final judgment is published, Menees has indicated he intends to appeal at least part of the ruling.
Meanwhile, Episcopal Bishop David Rice this year succeeded Bishop Chet Talton, who took over from Lamb in March 2011. Rice, who last served in New Zealand, has encouraged his congregations to focus on reconciliation and on projects to improve their communities. He shares office space with the Episcopalian parish at St. Paul’s.