Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Division Widens

From the Savannah Morning News:

CHATHAM COUNTY tax documents show the Protestant Episcopal Church owns six local properties. Christ Church is not one of them.

Both the Bull Street church building itself, and the nearby structure that holds the parish house, offices and children's school are owned by the Christ Church wardens and vestry.

That's an important bit of information, considering the local congregation's recent announcement that it intends to separate from the Episcopal Church of the United States.

Christ Church, the 274-year-old "Mother Church of Georgia," has had a long-running dispute with church leaders over scriptural issues.

Nationally, much press has been given to arguments over the ordination of women, the blessing of same-sex marriages and the ordination of practicing homosexuals into the ministry.

However, Christ Church pastor Rev. Marc Robertson said those issues are not central to the local church's concerns.

Instead, they focus on the greater Episcopal Church's unwillingness to unequivocally back such basic tenets as the authority of scripture, the divinity of Christ and the availability of salvation through Christ's sacrifice.

American Episcopal leaders have been fairly heavy-handed in addressing those concerns.

But Christ Church's local ownership means church bishops may hit a snag in their typical method of bringing local churches to heel. Other congregations that disagree with the doctrinal direction of the greater Episcopal Church have been quieted by eviction notices.

Those who disagree with the church leaders in America, and hope to affiliate with more conservative bishops overseas - say, from Uganda - are told the church wishes them well, but they will have to leave the Anglican communion, and give up all church property.

The greater Episcopal Church claims that all local congregations are in fact mere portions of - and owned by - the diocese which oversees them.

Christ Church came first

That argument gets tenuous when one learns that Christ Church existed before the Episcopal Church was organized as a denomination in America. The church, established in 1733, has for the past 274 years been owned by the local congregation. When the church burned down in 1898, it was the local church members who rebuilt it.

Today, when the church's current century-old structure needs upkeep, local church dollars cover the expense.

So the deed is in the local church's name, the local church is billed for taxes, and local church members fund the upkeep on the $3 million structure.

Sounds like they own the building, doesn't it?

Not if you're the Right Reverend Henry I. Louttit, Ninth Bishop of Georgia.

"Should some individuals in a parish decide they can no longer be Episcopalians, that in no way changes the fact that Christ Church is and will remain a parish of the Episcopal Church in this diocese and will continue to occupy its present facilities," the Reverend said in a written response.

History and hypocrisy

But considering the legal ownership of the property, and the history of local investment in the church building, that stance doesn't stand up.

It's also a bit hypocritical in that it requires local churches to accept the American bishops' more and more liberal reading of the law of the Bible, while maintaining a constantly strict reading of church authority.

Read the whole thing here.


ettu said...

A question - if I were a warden or vestyperson of the above church and my relatives were elected to the remaining positions then would we not own the church and be able to converrt ot to our own personal use? This scenario could be arranged in some churh or another. No, I believe the remainder of the church and the courts would tell me and my family that we did NOT own the church but were to be reponsble trustees for others. Is this not the crux of the legal (not the moral) issue here? I am not a lawyer but I believe it is not rocket science to understand outright ownership from trusteeship. Comments on the LEGAL points would be appreciated. ettu

BabyBlue said...

Real Estate law is State/Commonwealth Law. In Virginia, it's the Trustees that hold title to the property (i.e., ownership). There are some properties that the Bishop of Virginia is the trustee - those are listed every year in the Diocesan Council Annual Report. But he does not hold title (i.e., he is not a trustee) of other properties. That's Commonwealth law where he is not a trustee. There are no implied trusts in Virginia. Your name is on the deed or it is not.

It would be interesting to know what the State of Georgia law is in this matter. It appears that the local parish holds title to the property. Oops.


ettu said...

"But he does not hold title (i.e., he is not a trustee)" --- I just do not believe that holding title is precisely the same as being a trustee. It will be interesting to see what the courts decide.

ettu said...

To clarify, one who is a titleholder may or may not also be a trustee. The legal burden is different. The legal rights - e.g. to dispose of the property - are quite different. I fear you may not be discerning the difference and the implications.

BabyBlue said...

Virginia does not have implied trusts. The Bishop of Virginia does not hold the title to the properties (it lists the ones the ones the Bishop does hold title to in the Annual Report) nor is he a trustee. 815 is trying to assert that even though their names are not on the deeds nor are they the trustees for the properties, nor have they invested their own capital in the purchase or maintenance of the properties, they are still the "owner" of the properties - like absent ghetto landlords, exploiting the attachment for their own benefit, but investing nothing - by trying to convince the court that in fact, Episcopalians are just like Roman Catholics in their structure (except of course when clergy transfer to other provinces, then it reverts back to being a non-Roman Catholic organization). But even the Roman Catholic bishops and dioceses have their names on the deeds - not so with these properties. So right now the Episcopal Church is trying to pretend it's just like the Roman Catholic Church. Ironic, isn't it? Who would ever have thought it, especially in Virginia of all places. Someone get Patrick Henry on the phone.


ettu said...

You had better hope the courts agree with your interpretaion of ownership versus stewardship/trusteeship - as stated I will watch and learn from the prolonged legal process - I feel deeply for the real pain it causes some but I wonder whether some of it is self inflicted but everyone deserves their day in court.

BabyBlue said...

Or at the beach.


ettu said...

Preferably after 5 PM -- sunscreen is only a filter and often inadequate -- plus you can burned both at the beach and in court.

BabyBlue said...

...and in love.


ettu said...

obviously but without risk there is only boredom bye bye