Skip to comments.Stage Set for Costly Legal Property Fight in Episcopal Church USA
Posted on 12/18/2006 8:44:21 PM PST by Huber
Historical Parishes Vote to Affiliate with Conservative Diocese in Nigeria
(AgapePress) - A possible legal battle over millions of dollars worth of church property looms in the aftermath of votes on Sunday by a group of Episcopal churches in Virginia to leave the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) and associate themselves with conservative Anglican groups in Africa.
The votes, which affect about ten percent of the 90,000 Episcopalians in the Diocese of Virginia, came in response the denomination's growing acceptance of homosexual relationships. Another factor in the decisions was those churches' rejection of the authority of recently installed Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who supports openly homosexual New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson.
Eight parishes, including two of Virginia's largest, announced Sunday that their members have voted to leave the U.S. branch of the world Anglican Communion. Leaders of Truro Church in Fairfax and The Falls Church in Falls Church, which have roots back to the 1700s, have led the way in establishing a conservative alternative to ECUSA. According to the Washington Post, those two parishes -- both of which voted 90 percent or more to severe from the denomination -- will form the core of a Virginia-based mission of the conservative Episcopal Church of Nigeria, whose archbishop has called the growing acceptance of homosexual relationships a "satanic attack" on the church.
In interviews with Associated Press, Truro leaders spoke sadly of the denominational demise they have witnessed in recent decades, but positively of ministry in the future. Rev. Marshall Brown, associate rector of Truro Church, expressed sorrow that Truro Church had to leave the Episcopal Church, which he said has been sick and dying for decades.
"I grew up in the Episcopal Church, and I've just watched it kind of die, piece by piece," Brown said. "The whole controversy of sexuality unfortunately is just kind of the last petal to fall ...."
But of the overwhelming vote to leave the American branch of the Anglican Communion, lay leader Jim Oakes said "we have heard resoundingly from our congregation that they want to severe those ties with the Episcopal Church -- and [they] think it's important that we continue our ministry in a different way."
And Truro member Katrina Wagner put it this way to the Post. "[T]he issue is: Are we going to follow Scripture?"
Episcopal News Service reports that Virginia Bishop Peter Lee was to convene a meeting today (December 18) to discuss the situation and "to consider the full range of pastoral, canonical, and legal obligations" of ECUSA as well as the denomination's responsibilities to "those faithful Episcopalians" in Virginia who voted against the move. Among issues to discuss certainly will be church property, as both Truro and Falls Church voted not only to severe ties with the U.S. church, but also in favor of a resolution saying they should keep the property.
"As stewards of this historic trust, we fully intend to assert the church's canonical and legal rights over these properties," says Bishop Lee, who has been quoted as saying there are now "Nigerian congregations occupying Episcopal churches." He has asked that, until the property disputes can be settled, the African-affiliated congregations keep uppermost in their minds the spiritual needs of all those concerned -- "especially continuing Episcopalians," he says.
Episcopal News Service points out that, according to ECUSA's constitution and canons, congregational property is held in trust for the diocese, and the diocese holds property in trust for the wider church. Fairfax County records indicate the buildings and land at both Truro and Falls Church are valued at about $25 million.
The denominational news service notes that four other Virginia congregations announced earlier their disaffiliation with the diocese, and that two others have announced their intention to put Episcopal membership to a vote in the future. Associated Press says Episcopal researchers say that nearly 115,000 people left the denomination from 2003 to 2005. Robinson, the Episcopal Church's first openly homosexual bishop, was consecrated in August 2003.
I'd be interested in finding out which of these parishes are "Anglo-Catholic"/"high church" and which are "evangelical"/"low church."
May God help this church.
Truro is pentecostal.
Ah ok, then "low church."
Can you answer this?
First, the land, because of its location, is exceedingly valuable, but it is NOT zoned for residential or commercial development. I mean, it's not like the diocose, if it wins the legal battle, will be able to tear down the buildings and erect a mall or an office tower.
The diocese would be in a position similar to the owner of an apartment in NYC..vacant, it might be worth millions, but because it has a tenant and is rent controlled, it may be worth only 10% of its fair market value. The buildings themselves are probably on some historic registers, and can only be used for their present purposes, i.e. a church and parish activities. And their cost and upkeep, as well as the surrounding property, is considerable, and viable only because of the support of the congregation.
So I suspect that the smarter heads in the diocese will try and avoid a legal battle...and try to get the parishes to purchase the property for as much as they can extort from them..perhaps a few million. The alternative makes NO sense.
Suppose that the diocese spends millions in legal fees, and after some time, does win. It then possesses an empty building, which propably costs a fortune to run, and it will be farcial to see about 50 or so, at best worshippers in it each Sunday.
Your analysis makes sense. Adding to it, I imagine if several score parishes nationwide decide to leave, the cost of knockdown-dragout fights in each one would overwhelm the national church, as legal costs could soar into the tens of millions of dollars.
Alternately, each individual parish will only bear the legal costs for their individual fight.
I think it's likely that cooler heads will prevail, and in spite of all the saber-rattling, the national "church" is primarily angling, as you point out, for as favorable a settlement as they can get.
The alternative to all-out war is milking a million or two or three from each outgoing parish, and turning a real money-loser into a serious cash cow.
This is what will befall many churches, sadly
I regret to admit that I visited "The Limelight" twice during the early 80's. "Deconcecrated" or not, it always felt wrong to be there partying
Apostles is mix-and-match...although leaning towards the low church side. I believe that the others are similar.
Bump. If there is a real legal battle, the financial toll on both the Diocese and individual churches will be enormous.
On a side note, I talked to one of the admins at Apostles who told me this about contributions, if any are interested (somebody asked in a thread a while ago):
"Checks to any of the churches involved, with a note in the memo line designating the money to the legal defense fund, will be gratefully appreciated for the financial help but more for the support - it is a most generous impulse."
As a former ECUSA member (now Catholic), I'm not so sure that it's all smooth sailing for the TEC. The bulk of the "wealth" of the church is in property and buildings. Those need a substantial and regular income stream to maintain, especially the older Anglican Gothic buildings with their slate roofs, creaky furnaces, leaky windows, etc. (I'm pretty familiar with the cost - because a good friend of ours was Senior Warden of our old ECUSA parish and my hubby was Head Usher and helped count the money! And ours was a fairly new building, it still cost hundreds of thousands of dollars YEARLY for utilities, routine maintenance, and repairs!)
If TEC fights for real property, first it's going to have to spend a buncha bucks on legal fees. Whether it winds depends on state law, and even in states that defer to "hierarchical" churches, the disapproval from Canterbury is going to throw a monkey wrench into the whole issue of exactly WHO is the hierarchy - 815, or Canterbury?
ASSUMING TEC wins, it's going to find itself in possession of a lot of creaky old buildings that will cost a fortune to maintain. And with the denomination bleeding membership, that money is going to have to come from dipping into principal and trust funds. And that can only go on for a short period of time. They'll be able to sell some properties that have commercial value -- for example, our former bishop is salivating over the property of the only remaining "High Church" parish -- it's the last major piece of commercially zoned property in a very hot area. But most church properties are not that saleable, and TEC is going to have to balance selling the really visible properties against the public relations hit they would take.
So it's not going to be exactly EASY . . .
BTW, make sure to click the link in my #12 above..
PBS' Newshour had a piece on this last night, with a Religious News Service guy calling Akinola "the ringleader of the conservatives", and saying to watch the courts and assets.
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