Sadly there are several versions of the story going around, however after sorting through many of them, this seems to be the basic gist. The Diocesan Bishop, His Grace Bishop Joseph determined that there were simply too many clergy in that one parish and sought to reassign some of them to missions and parishes in need of clergy. In addition around that time, he also sought to bring the liturgical practices of the parish under the practices of the Antiochian Orthodox Church since the parish was under the Antiochian Archdiocese of North America. There was a meeting held by the senior priest John Weldon Hardenbrook with the other Clergy that further deteriorated the situation. Here is a brief summary of that meeting as presented by one who attended Father Deacon Thomas Zell (Now Father Thomas Zell) as written in AGAIN Magazine:
"One telling of the Ben Lomond disaster, popularized on the Net, is that what happened here was solely the result of our bishop transferring one of the core Ben Lomond clergy from here to a parish in the Midwest. Another version would have us believe that this disaster occurred as a result of a "simple request" for our parish to transfer to another jurisdiction.
Would that it were that simple.
Below this tiny tip of the iceberg looms a much deeper reality. Our parish, with all its size, with all its liturgical beauty, with the strength of its leadership, had somehow become an entity unto itself, an Orthodox "free agent." Our leadership had become resentful of any ecclesial authority above their own. Many observers believe that the transfer by the bishop merely provided (then) Father John Hardenbrook, the opportunity he had been looking for for many years -- to break rank with the Archdiocese in search of other pastures.
Of course we had all felt the rising tensions at the parish, and were aware that things were not right between certain of our priests and the hierarchy to whom they had pledged obedience in 1987. Since, however, the communication level at the parish had by this time dropped to an all time low, no one -- not the people, not the deacons, not even all the priests (except for an elite inner core composed of select members from all three groups) -- really knew what was going on. As a deacon of the Church, I should have known. TO the extent that I blinded my eyes to the realities of what was happening around me, optimistically believing that things would turn around soon, I failed my Church and my bishop.
My own rude awakening to exactly how desperate things had become came by way of an emergency meeting of the deacons of Ss. Peter and Paul which was called on February 11, 1998. The priests had met the night before to discuss how to respond to the transfer order. The majority decided to assume an attitude of defiance, no matter the cost.
My memories of that February 11th deacons' meeting include, among other things, a long and emotional dissertation by (then) Father Hardenbrook. Having firmly decided on a course of action, he had only one evening to win us over to his side and he gave it everything he had. He spoke of deep-seated resentments which had been building up between the authority structure of Ss. Peter and Paul and the hierarchy of the Antiochian Archdiocese. Most of us were hearing these details for the first time.
At times his presentation bordered on the bizarre. He claimed, among other things, that Metropolitan PHILIP's name had been supernaturally removed from our Church's intention.1 (This report was corrected some time later by a priest who admitted he had rinsed the intention in water after a spill from the chalice, thus causing the water-based ink to release from the fabric.) He also told a nightmarish tale of being attacked by demons after a Holy Friday meeting between himself and one of our hierarchs.
Frequently he resorted to vicious character assassination, as he systematically discredited various priests and bishops of the Archdiocese who had no chance to reply. The stunned group of deacons stared on wide-eyed, denied the time (or in some cases lacking the inclination) to check out the details of these stories for themselves or verify any of the largely unsubstantiated allegations being made.
I will never forget the sad moment when, after a few other brief presentations by priests loyal to Hardenbrook, and a period of questions and answers, we were told to make our decision known. "Those who are with me, raise your hands," we were told by Hardenbrook. With nothing more than the words spoken in that one meeting, it was heartbreaking to see that a majority of the deacons chose to follow this immensely self-confident and persuasive figure who was shocking them into making a decision they would have to live with for the rest of their lives.
At the same time, it was of great encouragement to note that a solid group of men stood against what they saw to be a direct act of rebellion against Metropolitan PHILIP, who had courageously and graciously brought the Evangelical Orthodox Church into the Antiochian Archdiocese in 1987, and of whom we as clergy were representatives. After the dust finally settled, eight of the deacons and two of the priests (Fr. Andrew Beck and Fr. George Washburn) of Ss. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church refused to follow John Weldon Hardenbrook in his rebellion against the episcopacy of the Holy Orthodox Church.
If that night was bad, it was only the beginning of our woes. Perhaps that deacons' meeting was little more than a dress rehearsal for what was to come the following evening. Father George Washburn describes the terrible scene which took place at Church the following night:
"In retrospect it is clear that the climactic meeting of February 12 was organized for the purpose of causing a division in the parish. It was held while His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH, was in Pennsylvania. The priest-representative Metropolitan PHILIP sent to chair the meeting and present his position was denied the chair and not allowed to speak. Instead, Hardenbrook as chief prosecutor, chief witness, and chief judge led an emotionally charged and patently unfair attack on the hierarchy.
"People were stampeded that night into an immediate, defining decision. The unspoken, manipulative, emotionally abusive subtext of the meeting emerged when voices which counseled patience, prayer, and dialogue with the hierarchs were either ignored or overwhelmed by accusers. Frustration and anger erupted from all sides. What took place in the presence of the holy icons of Ss. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church on that night in February was a shameful spectacle which should never have been started in the first place, let alone allowed to continue throughout the evening.
"On a human, interpersonal level the consequences were immediate, defining, and given our history of authoritarian leadership, almost inevitable. Relatives stopped speaking to one another and friends were immediately ostracized by those who had been their brethren for twenty years. Demons of slander deliberately loosed that evil night in the sanctuary ravaged the parish; for months, labeling, recriminations, and invective were traded by both sides, and rational argument over the issues was either forbidden by the breakaway leaders or rendered impossible by the strength of people's emotions. By the time that died down, or at least started to die down, the lines were too deeply drawn for any easy crossovers." ...
The events which followed at Church occurred in rapid, unrelenting waves. Quoting AGAIN from Father Washburn:
"On an official level, Metropolitan PHILIP reacted decisively to the repudiation of his authority inherent in the rejection of his emissary. Within two days he had severely disciplined all the clergy who joined in the revolt, and ordered the loyal clergy to take control of the antimension- but his letter of discipline invited repentance. The reply of the disciplined clergy was immediate: they changed the locks to the church and never voluntarily let the bishop or the faithful back in to the building except for one brief prayer service.
"For the first month or so after the rebellion most of us were too shell shocked and sleep-deprived to do much, except maintain a semblance of our daily lives and a moderate schedule of pre- and early- Lenten services. The lockout kept us hopping as we worshipped in a succession of three sister churches and three separate public meeting halls. (The disciplined priests, since they could not celebrate the Divine Liturgy, quickly arranged with a neighboring church of a different jurisdiction to hold many of their own worship services in its sanctuary at a separate altar.)
"Official representatives of the Archdiocese, and unofficial spokespersons for our exiled group and the broader Orthodox world kept up a dialogue which sought to promote repentance and reconciliation, or at least gain us access to the sanctuary for our services. We kept hoping, but the dialog bore no fruit.
"We were finally galvanized into action during the week of March 13 when we learned of plans to illegally gut the church office building and turn it into a sanctuary the dissenters could present to a sister Orthodox jurisdiction, complete with choir and congregation, as a sort of "turn- key operation" so to speak. This action, if allowed to proceed, would have helped the disciplined priests in their attempt to change the ecclesiology of the Church from Orthodox to Protestant, and would have forever locked out those members who had chosen to remain loyal to their bishop. Suit was filed that day in the Metropolitan's name for the return of all the church property, and it led quickly to a court order which permitted us to use the sanctuary for canonical services from early April through mid-August.
"For most of those months we had the surreal experience of either waiting for the opposition's 'reader's services' to end, or emerging from our own prayers to run a grim-faced gauntlet of former friends, waiting to worship God in the same building. This spectacle continued until just after the trial in August, when the California Superior Court unequivocally restored possesion and control of all church uildings to the Archdiocese."
Earlier in May, a Church court had ruled that those who remained faithful to the Archdiocese were the "true" church. It further ruled that the disciplined clergy were deposed and excommunicated (and the man who took over Conciliar Press was excommunicated) until they repented, and for a minimum period of time.
A Church community does not recover quickly from blows such as these. Much like the victims of floods or tornadoes, we have had to pick up the pieces of our lives in the wake of disaster. Many relationships have been destroyed, perhaps permanently. Friends, godparents, relatives, and neighbors now find themselves on opposite sides of the controversy.
The continuing parish of Ss. Peter and Paul is gradually rebuilding its life together and is beginning to regain its equilibrium, under the gentle and able leadership of Father David Barr. (Father David came in to take the helm in June, after a sacrificial tour of duty by Father Gordon Walker, our interim pastor during the worst and most traumatic months.) Meanwhile, the breakaway group is meeting in a temporary chapel established just a few miles down the road, with a Sunday Divine Liturgy being celebrated by a priest from the Jerusalem Patriarchate, who in violation of the canons of the church has given communion to the excommunicated former clergy. Of all the avenues the breakaway group has approached in an attempt to regain acceptance within the Orthodox community, genuine reconciliation with Antioch has not been explored. " From AGAIN Magazine VOL. 21 NO. 1 Winter 1999
What has happened since---John W. Hardenbrook appealled the action of Metropolitan Phillip to the Antiochian Patriarchate ,however the action of Metropolitan Phillip was upheld by the Antiochian Patriarchal Synod. It is interesting to note although some of the former Antiochian Clergy were allowed to serve by the Jerusalem Patriarchate, John W. Hardenbrook was not allowed to become a Priest again or serve in the Church. His son after attending Seminary was ordained a priest of the Jerusalem Patriarchate and serves as the Priest for St Lawrence Orthodox Church under the Jerusalem Patriarchate. Interestingly, just this past year some of the former Antiochian Priests have returned to the Antiochian Jurisdiction as repentant laymen.