Founded in 1883, the congregation of the St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Oceanside was torn apart ten years ago when the more liberal, establishment part of the church embraced female priests and gay bishops.
The chasm was nationwide. At St. Anne’s, it wiped out the church.
“We had over 200 communicants,” says T.G. Vallas who started going to St. Anne’s at 701 West Street in 1972, “… right after I came back from Southeast Asia. I was a fighter pilot in the Air Force.” When the St. Anne’s rift came down, Vallas says only about 12 or 15 of the St. Anne’s communicants wanted to stay with the Episcopal Church. He says the conservative majority split from Episcopal church and stayed at St. Anne’s just east of Coast Highway. They renamed it as Grace Anglican. A lawsuit forced them to relinquish the church campus to the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego.
The conservative loyalists of Grace Anglican stuck together and moved their congregation to the Carlsbad Community Church, which agreed to lease them their smaller sanctuary every Sunday.
The split decimated the St. Anne’s congregation that stayed behind. In 2015 the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego announced it was selling the church property because St. Anne’s was no longer solvent due to declining parishioners and insolvency.
Speaking only for himself, Vallas says at the time he was particularly miffed over how the Episcopal establishment handled an openly gay bishop. “He divorced his wife and married his lover. I could not rationalize the Episcopal church keeping him as a bishop for all of New Hampshire.” (Vallas makes it clear, however, that he and his current church folk welcome gays as fellow worshipers.) “They wanted to change to non-gender,” he says of the liberal Episcopalians. “They wanted the change the reference of the Lord to a ‘he’ or ‘she’ when it is a ‘he’ throughout the Bible.”
Grace Anglican joined the Anglican Church of North America which formed ten years ago, mostly by unhappy Episcopal groups. It now has almost 1,000 churches in North America including San Marcos, Poway, Alpine, Vista, and San Diego. “We don’t answer to the Episcopal church USA, but we do answer to the Archbishop of Canterbury in England and he has a seat at the Vatican,” says Vallas.
The Grace Anglican congregation moved to a church in an industrial park near Oceanside Boulevard in 2011. Meanwhile the developer who had purchased the property from the Episcopal Diocese had agreed to rent the old St. Anne’s church facility to a start-up church. That start-up had trouble keeping up with the lease at 701 West Street which was reported to be about $10,000 a month according to sources close to the situation.
Two years ago, the original St. Anne’s congregation got some heaven-sent news: they were invited back to their beloved home on West Street. “It was the Lord’s intercession,” says Vallas.
But the happy ending story for the indefatigable congregation just took a wildly different turn. With little warning, Grace Anglican of Oceanside were told that they had to be out of their beloved church by September 11. They relocated to their previous home, the Carlsbad Community Church. They held their first Communion service back at their old sanctuary on September 15.
Vallas says it is his understanding that the Grace Anglicans were displaced by a new “plant” or start-up church under the direction of the Vista-based North Coast Church. “They have 10,000 communicants in six churches,” says Vallas of the popular evangelical group which has churches in Carlsbad, Fallbrook, Ramona Rancho Bernard and Escondido. Vallas says he harbors no bad feelings for North Coast.
North Coast Church was founded in a Carlsbad home in 1976 by Pastor Larry Osborne who still oversees the church. North Coast holds 56 weekend services. Vallas says it is his understanding the new church at the old St. Anne’s site will be categorized as an Assembly of God congregation but will proceed with the blessing of North Coast Church.
When the Episcopal Diocese sold the St. Anne’s campus four years ago, many locals were concerned that St Anne’s would be razed to make way for condos. One insider with knowledge but who did not want to be named says that condos are not in the offing and that a major new worship complex is coming. “Oceanside is going to love this thing,” he says. “It’s still in the works.”
Attempts to speak with Larry Osborne or Grace Anglican’s Reverend Bill Mugford were not successful.
Vallas says he is personally happy that Grace Anglican is back at the Carlsbad Community Church, but that one day he would hope the church could acquire land and build its own church.
“We are Anglican,” says Vallas. “We do not in any way report to the bishop of the San Diego Episcopal Diocese.” He says Reverend Mugford reports to a bishop in Tempe, Arizona. The archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America is based near Atlanta.
Carlsbad Community Church business manager Michelle Cooke says her non-denominational church started in an adobe in Carlsbad 95 years ago. She says the 250-capacity sanctuary where Grace Anglican now meets was built in the 60s. The congregation outgrew the sanctuary and moved into the adjoining 1,900-capacity worship center in the 90s.
Neighbor Curtis Busk says he is happy to hear that a church will eventually be returning to his neighborhood. He says just after Grace Anglican left, noisy homeless people started camping out overnight in back of the church. “I don’t know how they found out, but the day after they moved out we heard that the homeless starting sleeping behind the church. It’s like they moved in overnight.”