St. James Church Files Complaint Against Bishop

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St. James the Great Church holds its Sunday service in a park near the locked church building. — Photo by Gina Dostler ©
St. James the Great Church holds its Sunday service in a park near the locked church building.
— Photo by Gina Dostler ©

St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach has filed a formal complaint with the national Episcopal Church against Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno, Diocesan of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, over his abrupt sale of the St. James church, which has resulted in the church congregation being locked out.

According to information received from St. James the Great Episcopal Church, the complaint, called a presentment, went to the national church’s Ecclesiastical Court and could result in sanctions and disciplinary action against the bishop as well as actions to relieve the dire situation of the Newport Beach congregants.

It was signed by dozens of members of the Los Angeles Diocese, including several priests.

The complaint alleges 147 specific violations of church law by Bishop Bruno, including instances of reckless or intentional misrepresentation, conduct unbecoming a bishop of the church, possible failure to get required diocesan approval for the sale, and creating or promoting conflict.

The presentment was filed on behalf of the members of St. James the Great Episcopal Church.

In a separate action, the congregation of St. James the Great has asked the national church to appoint an alternate pastoral bishop to minister to the congregation and represent its interests with the LA Diocese and national officials.

As noted in an article in the NB Indy from July 3, Bishop Bruno entered into an agreement to sell St. James the Great Episcopal Church property and buildings, located at 3209 Via Lido, to developer Legacy Partners Residential, Inc. for approximately $15 million. The developer plans to build luxury condos on the site. The sale is still pending.

The congregation was notified of the sale on May 17, and were told that the last service in the facility would take place on June 28.

The congregation was also told they had 30 days to de-construct, remove stained glass and the ashes of loved ones kept at the church.

However, according to Rev. Canon Cindy Evans Voorhees of the St. James the Great Episcopal Church, Bishop Bruno attempted to fire her by “accepting her resignation, but it was a resignation never offered.”

He then changed all the locks on the church building, effectively leaving 200 parishioners as well as volunteers, a Brownie troop, musicians, and others stranded with no access to the church. Many of them have personal items still inside.

Rev. Voorhees called his actions “ill-considered and heartless,” and that they are “directly threatening the loving community we have built at St. James the Great, and indirectly threatening the larger Episcopal Church that we love and are proud to call our spiritual home.”

According to a press release from St. James the Great Church, many questioned the sale, and the original donor of the land, the Griffith Co., pointed to a deed restriction that the property remain a church. Bishop Bruno then sued the Griffith Co. for clear title and also for damages for “title slander,” an unprecedented action by a nonprofit against a major donor.

Bishop Bruno has turned away repeated attempts at communication from the congregation about the use of the building while escrow remains open and during a two-year entitlement process.

Rev. Voorhees and the congregation are now conducting their services in a small park across the street from the church.

The Ecclesiastical Court now has 30 days from July 6 to review the presentment and could schedule proceedings that would require the bishop to account for his actions.

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NB Indy staff writers Gina Dostler and Christopher Trela contributed to this story.

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