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Newport Beach Church Parishioners Protest $15M Sale Amid Claims Of Sudden Lockout, Plan For Condos

NEWPORT BEACH ( — Parishioners of a Newport Beach church are protesting its sale, saying they were locked out in a push to demolish their place of worship to make room for luxury condos.

Parishioners and the priest at St. James the Great Episcopal Church on Via Lido, near Lafayette Road, say they knew their 70-year-old church, which was recently rebuilt, was going to be sold to developers.

But they were shocked when two days ago they say the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles changed the locks. And they say Bishop Jon Bruno told the Rev. Cindy Vorhees she was stepping down.

"They locked up the whole church and told the employees to go home for the week and basically seized control of the building," Vorhees said. "It was very little time to react."

Debbie Drummond says she and her family, along with about 400 parishioners, have donated faithfully to more than meet expenses. She says the $15 million sale is based on greed.

"It's a disgrace. It is a travesty," she said.

But as it turns out, those fighting the sale may have help from its original donors.

Protesters say language forbidding a portion of the property from being used for anything other than a church is blocking the sale. They also say the diocese is suing the original donors' family to clear the title.

In a statement issued by the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, a spokesperson stated: "I can confirm that due diligence on the sale is proceeding. But because litigation is currently pending, I am not authorized to comment further at this time."

Parishioners have no plans to back down. They plan to hold a news conference in front of the church 11 a.m. Thursday and have plans to hold Sunday mass on the sidewalk this weekend.

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