Twenty years ago on Advent Sunday, December 2, 1990 a few Episcopalians led by Father Vernon Grosvenor founded St. Stephens Anglican Church in Athens, Texas. Meeting first at the Cain Center they soon acquired from the Church of the Nazarene a building on Rocky Ridge Road where they worshipped until they built and occupied their current facilities on East College Street. Their numbers grew quickly from seven to over fifty.
They affiliated themselves with the Anglican Church in America (ACA), a small group of similar parishes in what was known as the Anglican Continuum. Concerns over ordination practices and departures from traditional beliefs in the Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican Communion, united these parishes in a common doctrinal orthodoxy. Following the 2003 consecration of a bishop living in a committed same-gender partnership and other significant doctrinal changes, well over 100,000 Anglicans left the Episcopal Church. Individuals, parishes and four major Dioceses, including the nearby Diocese of Ft. Worth, left and ultimately formed the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) as a separate province for orthodox Anglicans in the United States and Canada.
On July 5, 2009 St. Stephen’s voted to leave the ACA for several reasons and became an independent parish. Father Jerry Pardue, a Nashotah House Seminary graduate, continued as the Rector of the parish. Anglicanism is hierarchical and a parish, although not preferred, can survive as an independent organization but a priest must have a Bishop. After much prayer and discernment Father Pardue sought membership and was received by the Missionary Society of St. John the Evangelist (MSJ) coming under the care and supervision of the Rt. Rev. Frederick Fick, Father-General of the order.
The parish remained independent continuing to discern where the Holy Spirit might lead it. After much investigation, discussion and prayer the members of the congregation unanimously decided to follow their Rector into full membership in the society. MSJ is a convocation of the Missionary Diocese of All Saints with the Rt. Rev. William Ilgenfritz, Diocesan Bishop. The diocese is in the Anglican Church in North America. St. Stephen’s was in communion with a few hundred when first joined to the ACA, then in communion with no one as an independent, is now in communion with over 100,000 fellow Anglicans in 750 plus congregations. In fact they are now in communion with millions as the ACNA
is affirmed by the majority of the world wide Anglican Communion.
Sunday, December 5, Bishop Fick came to St. Stephen’s to accept the parish into the MSJ at a Pontifical High Mass at 10 am assisted by Father Bob Tomlinson, Dean of the Texas chapter. At 4 pm the parish presented its annual Lessons and Carols for Advent for the many friends of St. Stephen’s who worship at other churches in the morning to celebrate the new affiliation.
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