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Former Members Say Church Leaders Doomed St. Margaret's

2:41 PM, Mar 13, 2012   |    comments
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FLEMING ISLAND, Fla. -- Questions are still swirling around the abrupt closing of one of America's oldest churches. St. Margaret's Episcopal Church in Fleming Island is shut down.

"I've been a lifelong Episcopalian. And right now, I just don't have faith in the Episcopal church," said Lee DiGiovanni.

Former members are speaking out, saying their faith is shaken. These four say they were all stripped of leadership positions at the church and told to stay away.

"Throwing out all of the leadership of this small church broke this church," said Shirley Trane. "The problem was we have been members for many years, and we saw the membership going down, down, down and nobody was really worrying about it."

They say they took their concerns to Bishop Samuel Howard. They provided a letter Bishop Howard wrote. "The atmosphere of complaint and derogatory comments has continued," he wrote last July.

"This letter runs three pages saying everything that is wrong with St. Margaret's is due to long term parishioners," Trane said.

We've been trying since Friday to get a response from church leadership. Bishop Samuel Howard finally sent us a statement late Monday, via Doug Walker.

"God willing, this will not mark the end of the ministry of St. Margaret's, but will, rather, provide an opportunity for prayer, conversation and the seeking of Divine guidance with regard to the future of this wonderful and historic parish," Bishop Howard wrote.

He called the closing a "restructuring."

Presley Shrader joined the church in 1988 and even built its iconic concrete cross at the entrance.

"The leadership of the church did not shepherd their people. It's like a CEO of a company that has no boss. They did what they wanted to do, when they wanted to," Shrader said.

St. Margaret's dates back to the 1800s and was one of the oldest operating wooden churches in America. Not anymore as the church is empty and the future uncertain.

First Coast News

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