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Parishioners Leave Episcopal Church But Judge Denies Antiochian Orthodox Converts Keys To Holy Trinity Church

In a borrowed church with borrowed priests, more than 150 people converted from the Episcopal to the Orthodox Christian faith Wednesday night.

“We’ve waited a long time for this,” said Pat Murray, a choir member with the congregation. “It’s really wonderful to do it.”

The Rev. Robert Creech, a former Episcopal priest, was first in the long line to be chrismated - anointed with oil and welcomed into the faith.

The converts were the bulk of the Holy Trinity Episcopal Parish. They are now members of the Holy Trinity Antiochian Orthodox Church. But they don’t have a building in which to worship.

Earlier in the day, a judge gave Episcopal Bishop Jeff Terry control over their sanctuary, Holy Trinity Church, 1832 W. Dean.

Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor ruled that the diocese owns the property and Terry should control what goes on inside. She said a potential for irreparable damage exists should an Orthodox service be held in the Episcopal sanctuary.

On April 30, more than 150 members of Holy Trinity voted to join the Antiochian Orthodox Church.

The diocese requested a temporary restraining order Tuesday to prevent Orthodox services in the church.

O’Connor made her ruling at noon Wednesday, forcing the congregation to scramble to find another sanctuary by the 6 p.m. service.

After securing permission from the Greek Orthodox bishop of North and South America, the service was held at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church.

Visiting Orthodox priests, both Greek and Antiochian, officiated at the service.

The Very Rev. Michael Trigg praised the converts’ courage in the face of frightening court orders and the media spotlight. Trigg hailed Creech as a leader with mettle and spirit.

“The truth of the Orthodox Christian faith constitutes the true and unadulterated teachings of the Lord,” Trigg said. “Your congregation previously built on sand will be built upon the rock.”

It was the first time in North America that a Western Rite Orthodox service was performed at an Eastern Rite church, said the Rev. Gregory Cooke, a pastor and church historian from Portland.

The Antiochian Church has an archdiocese in North America, with headquarters in Englewood, N.J. Members report to a patriarch in Damascus, Syria.

While many of the members of the Antiochian Church in American are of Middle Eastern dissent, a growing minority are converts from the Episcopal or Roman Catholic Church, Trigg said.

Creech’s congregation will practice the Western Rite services, which are similar to Episcopal and Roman Catholic liturgies.

Creech and his followers are hoping to return to their 100-year-old church. O’Connor will hold another hearing and make a permanent ruling June 5.

While Creech is in Troy, Mich., being ordained an Orthodox priest, the Rev. John Downing, of Los Angeles, will conduct Saturday evening and Sunday morning services. Downing, as well as Trigg, are former Episcopal priests.

The location for the services is still unknown.

The Episcopal Diocese allowed the congregation to return to the parish hall Wednesday night for a dinner celebrating the chrismation.

In giving the building back to the diocese, Judge O’Connor deferred to the hierarchy of the Episcopal Church.

The diocese had asked O’Connor for an eight-point restraining order, delineating what type of services can be held at the church by what type of priest.

O’Connor said that made her uncomfortable.

“That puts the court squarely where the court should not be,” she said. “And that is in the issues of doctrine.”

Instead, she simply ruled that the bishop should have the keys to the building and command of the worship services.

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? The restraining order expires June 5. A permanent ruling on ownership of the church property is expected after that.

This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT’S NEXT? The restraining order expires June 5. A permanent ruling on ownership of the church property is expected after that.