Episcopal again

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat /

Sonora's historic Red Church is once again an Episcopal church.

On Monday, leadership with the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin started moving back into what became known in 2007 as St. James' Anglican Church.

The church has regained St. James' Episcopal Church as its name after six years of legal wrangling over the oft-photographed building at Highway 49 and Snell Street.

"We got the keys this morning," the Rev. Eldon "Andy" Anderson, a priest with the Episcopal diocese overseeing church operations, said Monday. "It's quite an amazing church."

The church will hold Sunday services at 10 a.m., with the first taking place July 7. The local Episcopal congregation previously met in Jamestown after theological differences led to the Red Church's parish affiliating with the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin.

The Anglican group held its last service at the historic building on June 12 before relocating to St. Michael's and All Angels Anglican Church on Highway 108 in East Sonora as its home church.

St. Francis Anglican Church in Turlock held a similar service last month, as their congregation also moved to a new location as the result of the legal settlement between the Anglican and Episcopal dioceses.

Both the Red Church and St. Francis have been involved in legal battles with the San Joaquin Episcopal Church over who owns the church properties. The churches were previously under the authority of the Episcopal Church, but their affiliations were shifted in 2007 when the previous San Joaquin Diocese pulled out of the Episcopal Church and joined the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone.

The Red Church had been Episcopalian since it was built in 1859.

The legal fight has involved multiple churches in the San Joaquin Valley region, with the disagreement stemming from ideological differences between congregations and the church doctrine. The more conservative wings of the church took exception to the Episcopal church's liberal stances on issues like gay and female clergy.

Under the leadership of the late Rev. Wolfgang Krismanits, the Red Church sided with the Anglicans.

The Episcopal Church later sued, claiming the Anglican churches did not have the right to take the properties with them.

While the Red Church is back in Episcopal hands, Anderson said not to expect major changes to the iconic Mother Lode building, though he said they are looking into finding a way to allow tourists to walk through the church during daytime hours.

"It's a historical monument, so it should be opened to the public," Anderson said.

The Union Democrat
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