Nearly five years after splitting from the Episcopal Church, launching an emotional legal battle over church property on Watertown Plank Road, several former members of St. Edmund's congregation are still praying together — in a new location.
"We went through a battle, but we're still alive and serving Christ," said Patrick Malone, who leads the congregation now known as Holy Cross Anglican Church.
The group, which numbers about 50, had their first service in its new space, St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Wauwatosa, Oct. 13.
Finding a new home
The former St. Edmund's Episcopal Church congregation was the first in the state to leave the Episcopal Church in 2008 in reaction to a series of decisions, most prominently the ordination of a gay bishop. The congregation became part of the more conservative Convocation of Anglicans of North America.
"They started allowing things no one had allowed before," Malone said of the Episcopal Church. "There's always been a broad spectrum of belief, but the perspective was, the Episcopal Church doesn't care about us and does what it wants to. In saying 'no' to the Episcopal Church, we were saying 'yes' to Christ in our understanding."
Three years after the split, courts upheld the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee's order for the group to leave the church property, which it had been using for decades. Without a building, Malone said, about a third of the parishioners moved to Holy Apostles Anglican Church in Pewaukee, another third "just evaporated," and the rest stayed together in search of a home.
"It was hard initially," Malone said. "It's easy to see your identity with brick and mortar, and when that's taken away, that hurts. But I think they understand now the church is the people, not the building."
Before finding space at St. Mark's, the congregation had been using a classroom at Elm Grove Lutheran since August, 2012.
"The Lutherans have really reached out to us and given us a home," Malone said.
A growing group
Malone arrived in the community Feb. 17, coming from out of state to lead the congregation. At his first service, there were just 17 people.
"That was pretty depressing," he said. "The first six months was to help folks see that this was a possibility."
On Oct. 13, about 45 people gathered, and Malone expects the group to continue to grow.
The new parish is predominantly made up of former members of St. Edmund's, although Malone said about a quarter of the membership is from families who have joined since Easter. About a third of the group is under age 30, he said.
"In many ways, we're a stronger congregation now," Malone said. "When a group is focused on a building, a lot of effort is focused on that, and we're kind of free of that. People are very encouraged and hopeful."
In addition to meeting every Sunday, several members of the parish help with a service for seniors at Brookdale Place and hope to expand their service work.
"We're something different now," he said. "We're no longer St. Edmund's in so many ways."
Meanwhile, the church that housed St. Edmund's sits empty. The Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee has been exploring options for about a year, but has not decided what to do with the property, the Rev. David Pfaff, spokesman for the diocese, said.
Pfaff said the diocese may find a use for the property in the ministry, but is also considering selling it. He hopes the diocese will make a decision in the next year.
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