Episcopal priest leaves for Druids

The former Downingtown rector said it was “a joyous occasion.”

An Episcopal priest who resigned from a Downingtown church last fall after his ties to a Druid society were made public has renounced his Episcopal ordination and become a Druid priest.

W. William Melnyk, former rector of St. James’ Episcopal Church, has formed the Llynhydd Grove of the Druid Order of the Yew, which he is leading under his Druid name, OakWyse.

In a phone interview yesterday, Melnyk called his move “a joyous occasion.”

The involvement of Melnyk and his wife, the Rev. Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk – also an Episcopal priest – in New Age activities came to light in October, when two Druidic liturgies attributed to them were posted on the Episcopal Church’s national Web site as a model of feminist liturgies.

Conservative groups and Internet bloggers accused the church of supporting paganism. The church denied the accusations but removed the liturgies from the Web site.

When the news broke, the Glen Mills couple explained their involvement as an effort to evangelize to Christians on the margins of the faith. They recanted their involvement in a letter to the Diocese of Pennsylvania, asking for “the mercy of the Church and of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The head of the diocese, Bishop Charles E. Bennison, said yesterday that Melnyk renounced his ordination in a Feb. 28 letter that followed a three-month discernment process. Diocesan officials approved Melnyk’s decision March 22, the bishop said.

“It’s a sadness for the church,” Bennison said.

Melnyk’s decision does not affect his wife’s status as rector of St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Malvern. During the furor, Ruppe-Melnyk retained her post with the support of her vestry.

In an interview yesterday, she described her involvement as limited to examining the connection between the early Celtic church and contemporary spirituality.

“I am a Christian and have always been a Christian and I do not intend to leave the church,” she said.

But Ruppe-Melnyk said she supports her husband’s decision to “exercise his ministry in an interfaith context, which was not available to him strictly within the ordained ministry of the Episcopal church.”

Melnyk and his group have a Web site with photos of him as its “chief” in a long white robe. It says he can preside over weddings, funerals and other life events.

He said by phone yesterday that he performed a wedding last weekend and that he expects a turnout of “a couple dozen” when the group has its first meeting on May 14 in Ridley Creek State Park.

Modern Druidism is a New Age religion whose followers worship the sun, nature and trees and explore traditional Celtic lore, said Bob Bruhin, development director of the Delaware Valley Pagan Network.

In November, the vestry of the Downingtown church decided that Melnyk’s Druid involvement and the subsequent scandal compromised his ability to lead. It asked for his resignation, which he submitted.

St. James recently named a new rector. The Rev. Timothy Steeves, an assistant at St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church in Whitemarsh, is scheduled to assume his new post in May, Bennison said.

At the time of the controversy, Bennison gave Melnyk and his wife a “solemn warning” and directives about how to conduct their ministries. He did not suspend them, however, saying they had persuaded him that they were not Druid leaders but only were exploring pre-Christian Celtic spirituality.

Melnyk can return to the priesthood if he changes his mind and the church approves his request to be “restored,” Bennison said.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Philadelphia Inquirer, USA
Apr. 15, 2005
Kristin E. Holmes,, Inquirer Staff Writer

Religion News Blog posted this on Saturday April 16, 2005.
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