Since separating from St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Church of the United States in 2009, St. Matthew’s Anglican Church has been a congregation without a building to call its own.
The separation, which had been a long time coming, happened at St. Mark’s annual parish meeting on Jan. 11, 2009.
“Each person had a voice,” said Father Doug Blakelock, who was then pastor of St. Mark’s. “Two-thirds of the congregation voted to stay with the Episcopal Church, and one-third voted to leave.”
While on the surface the split seemed to be over issues regarding gays in the church, Blakelock explained that the heart of the matter went much deeper.
“Since the ’70s, the Episcopal Church began to evolve into two churches under one roof,” Blakelock said. “The Anglican Church has always been more historical while Episcopalians became more modernist. In the ’90s, they gained dominance.
“The church recognized no single truth or pathway to salvation, slipping away from the basis of the clear authority of scripture. Opening discussion on the consecration of gay bishops was the cherry on the top.”
Blakelock was among those who wanted to leave the Episcopal Church and needed to find his new congregation a place to worship. Because of his friendship with the Rev. Randy Bain of Oakland United Methodist Church, the newly founded
St. Matthew’s was worshipping at Oakland by the next Sunday.
The two pastors had met while serving on the steering committee of Celebrate One, the annual Christian unity rally.
“In the fall of 2008, I spoke to Randy about the coming storm,” Blakelock said. “I said, ‘When this happens, not if, would you offer us sanctuary?’ ”
Bain readily agreed, but knew he had to gain permission from his church council and trustees.
“I wanted to say yes right away, but knew I had to move slowly,” Bain said. “I gave him permission on my word, but knew I had to talk with someone.”
Permission was granted, and members of St. Matthew’s began using the Oakland church for worship on Jan. 18, 2009.
“I thought it was a great opportunity,” Bain said. “We are only stewards of the Lord’s property. Who are we to say no? They’re another part of the body of Christ. It’s been heartwarming to see my congregation be so kingdom-minded.”
While the Anglicans were grateful for a place to worship, they still yearned for their own church.
“Oakland has blessed us immeasurably,” Blakelock said. “They have been faithful to their trust, but it’s difficult to engage in a mission of our own with a lack of time and space.”
Blakelock also saw his church’s time in transition as a season for healing and growth within themselves and preparation for a new place.
‘God wants me to give you my church’
That place was offered by Pastor John Cable of New Life Christian Fellowship at 334 Southmont Blvd., Johnstown.
“He called me and said he wanted to have lunch and talk,” Blakelock said. “I knew him from Celebrate One also.”
When the two pastors met this June, Cable told Blakelock, “God wants me to give you my church.”
“He told me about the history of his congregation, how it
had dwindled down and they couldn’t afford to keep it going,” Blakelock said. “In their constitution, they vowed that the building would stay a place of worship. He was praying about it, and my name came to him.”
Members of both congregations met over the summer, discussing pros and cons and legal and financial matters. Both congregations voted unanimously for St. Matthew’s to take over the building.
“They left everything intact,” Blakelock said. “There was food in the kitchen, and a musical system was set up. We’ve made modifications to adapt to our own worship style.”
More gifts came when Blakelock was contacted by Father Bob Washko, bishop of the Greensburg Roman Catholic Diocese, who told him St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in New Florence had been closed with all its contents intact and was scheduled for demolition.
“He said if we needed pews, we could take them,” Blakelock said. “We replaced our altar, baptismal font and candles. I can’t count how many items, with no strings attached.”
Blakelock held his first service in the new church on Oct. 6.
“I view everything as a gift from God,” he said. “It was his way, his timing and for his purpose. The body of Christ is not about denominations. We want to be attuned to where God is leading us, and we’re excited about being in Southmont.”
A blessing and dedication service for the new Anglican church was held Wednesday.
The Most Rev. Robert Duncan, archbishop of the province of the Anglican Church in North America and diocesan bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, was the celebrant.
Ruth Rice covers Features for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow her on Twitter at Twitter.com/RuthRiceTD.