Priest leaves Episcopal Church to lead Druid order

Downingtown, USA - An Episcopal priest has renounced his ordination to lead a Druid order.

W. William Melnyk, former rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Downingtown, called his decision to become a Druid priest "a joyous occasion."

Melnyk has formed the Llynhydd Grove of the Druid Order of the Yew, which he will lead under his Druid name, OakWyse.

Melnyk said Thursday he had performed a wedding last weekend, and expects "a couple dozen" people to attend the group's first meeting May 14 in Ridley Creek State Park.

Melnyk resigned in November as rector of St. James. A parish board asked him to step down after his involvement in Druidism - and that of his wife, the Rev. Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk, also an Episcopal priest - came to light in October.

The Episcopal Church's women's ministry had listed two of the couple's Druidic liturgies on its Web site for possible use in developing feminist liturgies, prompting accusations that the church was promoting pagan rites.

The church denied it, and the couple said they had been trying to reach out to Christians on the margins of the faith.

Bishop Charles E. Bennison, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania, decided in November not to suspend them, saying they had participated only in "exploratory thinking" with Druid circles as students of pre-Christian Celtic spirituality.

After a three-month "discernment process," however, Melnyk renounced his ordination in a Feb. 28 letter, and Bennison said diocesan officials approved the decision on March 22. "It's a sadness for the church," Bennison said.

Ruppe-Melnyk has retained her post as rector of St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church in Malvern, with her church's support.

"I am a Christian and have always been a Christian and I do not intend to leave the church," Ruppe-Melnyk said. But she said she supports her husband's decision to "exercise his ministry in an interfaith context."

Bob Bruhin, development director of the Delaware Valley Pagan Network, described modern Druidism as a New Age religion whose followers worship the sun, nature and trees and explore traditional Celtic beliefs.