Harrison church's dedication signals 'new era' for Christ Our Hope

| Friday, Feb. 14, 2014, 1:26 a.m.

Christ Our Hope Anglican Church in Harrison will finalize its departure from the Episcopal Church on Saturday when the Anglican leader of North America sanctifies its new place of worship.

Christ Our Hope — formerly St. Andrew's Episcopalian church in New Kensington — is hosting a dedication ceremony for its new church in Natrona Heights.

The congregation moved into the former Methodist church along Painter Avenue in July when it separated five years ago from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Archbishop Bob Duncan of the Anglican Church in North America and Diocese of Pittsburgh will bless the Harrison church and lead the service for the congregation of about 80.

“We're very excited to welcome the archbishop as a symbol of unity in the Anglican Church,” said the Rev. John Bailey, pastor of the former Episcopalian church now known as Christ Our Hope. “We're honored to celebrate with those who also stand up for what we believe in.”

Christ Our Hope, then St. Andrew's, was one of about 40 Western Pennsylvania churches that left the fold of the Episcopal Diocese five years ago to align with the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The conservative sect left in the wake of the election of an openly gay priest as bishop of New Hampshire, fearing that the church was abandoning its traditional values, according to Bailey.

Although it split from the Episcopalian Diocese of Pittsburgh, the congregation at St. Andrew's continued to worship in the Edgewood Road sanctuary while ownership and other issues remained tangled in litigation.

In November 2011, state Commonwealth Court upheld an Allegheny Court decision that the Episcopal Diocese should retain the properties it owned during the split.

That's when Bailey and his congregation began searching for a new place of worship. They found the Painter Avenue property last year and bought the former Free Methodist church for $111,000.

Rich Creehan, spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, said the diocese never forced the congregation out of St. Andrew's, but the parties never agreed on a price for the building.

The church is now used essentially as a community center with several church groups, a day care and local community groups renting out the space as needed, Creehan said.

“Anytime you own a large building like that, you want to get as much use out of it as possible,” Creehan said.

St. Andrew's is significantly larger than Christ Our Hope's new Natrona Heights location, according to Bailey. The downsizing, however, has not affected the congregation's ability to host events like its fall pumpkin party and its weekly “Lifetree Café,” where people gather to exchange stories and discuss topics relating to life and faith.

“We're very pleased with our new home,” Bailey said, “but there are some challenges that we have to work out. We don't have a commercial kitchen and our primary reception area in the basement isn't handicap accessible.”

Christ Our Hope will host a post-ceremony reception on Saturday in the church's basement.

Longtime parishioner Julie Polczynski of Lower Burrell said she's looking forward to Saturday's ceremony as a symbol finalizing the congregation's realignment with the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“It's going to be the icing on the cake,” she said. “It's a new name, a new church and a new era. We're all very excited to be able to be a part of it.”

Braden Ashe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4673 or bashe@tribweb.com.

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