At first glance, a Cadillac dealer’s showroom may not seem like a “mission outpost” of Christianity, but that’s exactly how Holy Cross Anglican Church was described by a visiting bishop when he blessed the congregation last Sunday evening.
Holy Cross Anglican worships at the Gerry Lane Cadillac dealership, in a spacious showroom where SAAB cars were once sold until the Swedish company liquidated three years ago.
Shepherded by the Rev. Ernie Saik, the 70-member congregation began worshipping there in September, but he didn’t want to make it public until the group could be blessed by the Rev. Clark W.P. Lowenfield, bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast of the Anglican Church in North America.
“On this third Sunday of Easter we celebrate 1,982 years ago, when 11 apprentices of Jesus stepped off a mountain after being told to go and make more apprentices … and they changed the world,” Lowenfield preached as the sun streamed through the large showroom windows. “They started mission outposts all over the world. Mark went to Constantinople and Thomas went to India … and they began to establish exactly what you have established here — a mission outpost of the kingdom of God.”
“This is a place where others can come and taste and see and know Jesus as they come into his kingdom,” Lowenfield said. “You are ushering in the kingdom of God by your very faithfulness.”
Saik previously served four years as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit. He retired Sept. 1, 2014, the day after that church closed. Saik and many of the Holy Spirit members established Holy Cross Anglican two weeks later, he said, and he was officially received as an Anglican priest a month later.
Leaving the Episcopal Church was hard but necessary, he said.
“I had a sense the Episcopal church was straying from the holy word of Scripture due to some comments by our presiding bishop (the Most Rev. Katherine Jefferts Schiori), and I felt like I couldn’t go down the path that they were headed,” Saik said, referring to the Episcopal Church’s approval of gay clergy and same-sex marriage.
“The Anglican Church presents itself as a church that lives into the holy authority of Scripture in a way that I appreciate,” Saik said. “The majority of our people are former Episcopalians, and we have some Baptists and a Presbyterian and some others who are seeking.”
“We recognize the authority of holy Scripture in our lives,” Saik said. “Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life and when it seemed that the Episcopal church, that they (Holy Cross members) had been members of for so long, strayed from that, it just cut them to the quick and they felt they could no longer support such a system.”
A family of faith
Gerry Coryell, a lifelong Episcopalian, said he left St. Francis Episcopal in Denham Springs several years ago, joined All Saints Anglican and when it closed, he and his wife joined this church.
“I was not happy with the way the Episcopal church was going, and I wanted to go to the Anglican church, which is more like the Episcopal church I grew up in almost 60 years ago,” Coryell said.
Coryell said he appreciates the young families and their enthusiasm. “They want to spread the word of God, and we’ve already had several outreach events,” he said.
Nannette Angona, another lifelong Episcopalian, said she came from Holy Spirit Episcopalian to Holy Cross Anglican with Saik because “I disagree with the ordination of gay clergy and same-sex marriage in the Episcopal church. We follow the true word of God. And it’s a friendly church.”
For more than 20 years, John Robert Brown said he attended Holy Spirit and kept his allegiance with this group when Holy Spirit closed. He stayed with them, he said, because they adopted him and supported him through some very trying health issues and major surgeries.
“I would not be here today if it wasn’t for this church,” Brown said. “They are my family.”
Promise Keepers connection
The church got connected to Gerry Lane Enterprises thanks to a longtime Promise Keepers relationship kept alive with Saturday morning prayer and Bible study meetings at the Cracker Barrel restaurant.
“Father Ernie is one of my Promise Keeper brothers,” said Eric Lane, president of Gerry Lane. When Saik told the men’s group last summer about the new church, “we had a SAAB showroom we weren’t using, and if it helps glorify the Lord, why not?”
In addition to the showroom, the space includes three former sales offices that are now a sound booth, a youth room and a nursery, as well as restrooms and a small kitchen. After the recent Sunday evening service, the congregation held a sprawling potluck meal in an adjoining automotive service bay.
“They (Gerry Lane) are terrific about letting us use this space,” said the Rev. Jarrett Fontenot, Holy Cross associate rector. “They basically let us have it — for no rent.”
“It’s the Lord, not me,” said Lane. “I want the Lord to be glorified in whatever we do.”
A growing movement
Bishop Lowenfield is overseer of 27 Anglican churches in Louisiana and Texas, that are part of the larger Anglican Church in North America, a denomination that is growing while many mainline denominations, like the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA), are seeing their memberships go down.
“When we started this movement 15 years ago, it was mostly folks coming out of the Episcopal church,” Lowenfield said. “But now, we’ve got almost 1,500 churches across the United States, and I would say well over 50 percent of those are actually made up of people who have come from all sorts of backgrounds, not just the Episcopal church.”
“Many of them have come from no church background at all because our church plants are reaching folks who have never known any church,“ Lowenfield said. “We just broke ground last week for a new church in Austin.”
“This church is one of the most loving, caring group of people I’ve ever met,” Lowenfield said. “It’s the kind of love that comes out of people who believe what Jesus told them — ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself.’ They have a deep love because their Lord commanded them to do so.”
ä Internet Resources:
Holy Cross Anglican Church: holycrossbr.org
Anglican Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast: dwgc.org
Anglican Church in North America: anglicanchurch.net