Tuesday, February 02, 2010

There must be another way than this ...

This will be the Presiding Bishop's legacy. I hope she gets some sage advice soon.

Read it all here.

UPDATE: Thinking Anglicans has attempted to post a short answer to the report here. A rebuttal is now posted here.

35 comments:

Steven in Falls Church said...

A good read--sounds a bit like what the French nobility did to itself in the decades leading up to 1789. Interesting that TEC is the defendant in only a handful of cases, and in none of the Virginia cases, where the CANA parishes along with hundreds of volunteer vestry were sued.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Steven, you know better than that. Those petitions were lawsuits and the Diocese and TEC intervened as defendants in those BEFORE the Diocese and TEC filed suit. In fact, the case under review by the Supreme Court of Virginia is the litigation filed by the CANA congregations, not the suits of TEC and the Diocese. Those lay waiting until the Supreme Court decides the appeal.

Must you keep up the Big Lie?

BabyBlue said...

Oh dear, here we go again.

Please read the Standstill Agreement drawn up by Bishop Lee and the Diocese of Virginia following the filing of the petitions that stipulated quite clearly that the actions taken by the thousands - thousands - of church members was NOT considered a hostile act. The second action, the actual petition to transfer the property, was NOT taken. Repeat - NOT TAKEN since we thought we were headed to Bishop Lee's Property Committee. Only the VOTES were filed with the court.

No one - REPEAT - NO ONE was sued.

To read more about it, click here:

http://babybluecafe.blogspot.com/search?q=Standstill+Agreement

It was the Diocese, under extreme pressure of 815, who abruptly cancelled the Standstill Agreement (which was to be in place during the Property Committee process) and sue nearly 200 lay volunteers and their rectors.

Let's just be clear about that.

bb

Anonymous said...

As one of the volunteer leadership who was sued, I remind myself that this is a minor inconvenience compared to what Christians suffer daily in this world. I'm retired, have no real need for significant credit and my security clearance has been inactive for 20 years or more.

Having said that, I think it would be interesting to see suits filed against TEC and DioVA by those who have suffered financial injury as a result of the malicious behavior of the PB and her minions.

Anonymous said...

I have avoided comment on the Presiding Bishop and the National Church's deposition of certain Bishops and Priests. These are fine points of canon law with which I am insufficiently familiar to advance the discussion one way or the other. The only comment I can offer is that it is my impression that most of the persons affected by these actions are persons who have expressed, either verbally or by their actions or both, a desire NOT to be a part of the continuing Episcopal Church and I can't imagine that they are at all upset to find that their wish has been matched with an administrative reality.

RE the litigation, I'm not sure why this is such a tough point to get across, but there is absolutely no litigation (as far as I can figure out) that is not a reaction to people leaving the Church and trying to take property with them. Many of these people actually went to local courts to get secular legal support for their efforts to seize property that had, prior to their decision to leave the Church or Diocese, been controlled by the Church or Diocese. Once folks decide to walk out and then lay claim to assets, it seems absolutely unavoidable that there will be litigation, either because the seceders invoke court process (as happened in Virginia) or because they continue to occupy the premises that they were using before they left and make it extremely difficult or impossible for Episcopalian clergy and parishioners to worship in those facilities.

If it is a problem that there is this litigation (and I personally regard it as huge problem because of its waste of assets that end up in lawyers' hands instead of in God's missions) there is an instantaneous and easy solution. If people can't stand worshipping in a particular denomination and want to leave, then leave.

Scout

Anonymous said...

Scout--

Thoughtful you are, but historically and morally you have not paid attention. Bishop Lee made an agreement with a diocesan committee of his choosing to develop protocols for a peaceful leaving of TEC. It was his idea! Not until TEC brought "a new sheriff" into town-- his own language to describe the pressure from 815 --did he change his opinion, and sued. Yes, that is the word, because that was the reality. Had he kept his promise, and told TEC that a deal had already been agreed upon, none of this would have happened. It is a great sorrow, and it could have been avoided.

Anonymous said...

My point is something different than yours, anon 2253. I think Bishop Lee handled the situation badly (lovely fellow that he is) and was not nearly clear enough. There was a lot of pussy-footing going on in the 2005-2006 period that hurt both sides. But there never was agreement that people who left could take things with them. All Saints was able to negotiate something, but that is the exception that proves the rule. So, if litigation is a bad thing, it all disappears overnight when people stop trying to take things with them on the way out the door.

Scout

BabyBlue said...

No Scout, All Saints was the test case. Remember, Russ Palmore, the chair of the Bishop's Special Committee which wrote the protocol for departing congregations also served on the Executive Committee of The Episcopal Church. All Saints Dale City was the model on which the rest of us would follow.

What changed was that Bishop Schori departed from Bishop Griswold's understanding that 815 should not intervene in what he considered diocesan matters. She was installed in November 2006 with the majority of church votes scheduled the following month in December when the 40 Days of Discernment would conclude, a time of very public discernment that included the bishop and the standing committee of the Diocese of Virginia.

As Bishop Lee said to John Yates, rector of the Falls Church, a new sheriff was in town and what has happened since, sadly, will be her legacy.

bb

Anonymous said...

BB, there is no way the Bishop of the Diocese or the Presiding Bishop could ever responsibly allow people just to grab properties when they left the Church. It's not rational to think otherwise, now or then. Sure, there seemed to be a hope on both sides at some point that there might be a way to negotiate a deal. However, there were no illusions (at least in my church) that All Saints was the template for every parish. The large historic parishes clearly presented different issues and there had been no commitments from the diocese as to ultimate disposition of those properties at the time of "discernment" (which, by the way, at least in our parish, was anything but an objective, multi-sided process) or at the time of the vote. In any event, I have no idea why it matters. It was poor judgment at best to try to retain those properties and all subsequent costs and events were predictable. It would have only been surprising had the Diocese NOT resisted the grab.

Scout

SometimesWise said...

Scout, if we were discussing a Rotary Club chapter instead of a parish church, you might be on the other side of this argument. Say this Rotary Club chapter had properties and assets that they had accumulated and maintained over many years. Then say that a super-plus majority of that Rotary Club chapter decided to dis-affiliate with the national organization, and assumed that their assets were theirs to keep. Would you say that the national organization had a right to sue for the club-house and the bank accounts that they hadn't accumulated or maintained? The national organization can just march in and say, "Oh, by the way, that's ours! We passed a rule that said its our stuff, so just hand it over...". Somehow, I don't think that would fly.

The Episcopal Church spends a lot of time talking about how they can change polity and policy and rules and regulations and canons etc. by a majority vote, but when a parish or diocese vote doesn't go their way, suddenly the votes don't count. Great plan for an organization so interested in "justice and peace" and democracy.

Anonymous said...

SW: To be perfectly candid with you, I've never been entirely comfortable with the role of the national church in the various suits around the country. But, at least in Virginia (and arguably, but less starkly, in the Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas situations), the Diocese is the primary actor and I have not the slightest doubt that the Diocese of Virginia has every right to protect property from departing parishioners who seek to take and to exclude those who remain from its use. Your rotary club analogy is a useful discussion point, but it isn't quite the same thing. I have conceded the point (in previous discussions) that, if there are churches in which all the members were founding members, no founders are deceased, no money or support was ever provided by the Diocese or the national church, no commitments were ever made to the diocese or the national church, and every single member decides to leave, I would, if I were Bishop in that Diocese, strongly support the idea that the secessionists be allowed to take over the property. A Bishop's responsibility changes radically when there is no unanimity, where the churches were built and sustained by generations of Episcopalians, very few of whom had any notion of or opinion on the issues that caused the division, and where those who wish to remain with the Church are displaced by those who leave and seek to take over the property. I think this responsibility is heightened when the process of the departure is demonstrably one-sided and led from within by clergy and vestry who have an obligation of loyalty to the Bishop and the Church. The only ethically correct way I can see these things playing out is for clergy and vestry who are unhappy in their current church to resign and depart and then, through the force of their doctrinal arguments, attract whomever they can to join them. If those who remain ultimately cannot support the Episcopal property, at that point, it would be an acceptable response for the Diocese to enter negotiations to sell the assets to the departing group or some other church. Any other model strikes me as morally tainted and, at a bare minimum, reckless.

Scout

BabyBlue said...

As I recall, there was no "grabbing" involved. We were following the bishop's protocol - a protocol the bishop elected - or was forced - to abandon after thousands of church members voted to separate.

bb

Anam Cara said...

I was pretty astonished to find Alice Linsley's name as one who was uncannonically removed since she renounced her orders having come to the belief that women should not be priests.

I have sent her an e-mail to verify what I have just said, but I am certain she left, not was removed. If I am wrong, I will come back here and post a retraction. However, as you see her story below, I believe you will see that I am correct.

read her story here

http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2009/08/telling-my-story.html

here

http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2009/08/telling-my-story-joyful-penitent.html

here

http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2009/09/telling-my-story-part-iii.html

and here

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-religion/1593180/posts

Allen said...

Hey, all you 815 ethusiasts and defenders of the Status Quo:

Why no concern about the REASONS that thousands of people who were once praised for their vitality can no longer stomach the Church of Schori, Bruno, Chane, and Susan Russell. MAYBE, just maybe, if you had been as concerned with the giveaway of the faith to idle chatterers like them, you wouldn't see the demise that is widening every month today. TEC's own polling reports show that something is very wrong with the policies and liberal rush of this Church and that at least 47% of parishes see significant conflict over the New Thing.
Your fitful rationalizations are the reason that our Church has become a joke to so many throughout the world.
The property doesn't matter if you can't inspire the people...which you haven't and aren't. Ask John Chane.

ettu said...

Oh, what a lot of complaining - and all over spilt milk --- I also doubt that Christ took much heed of popularity polls but rather followed His course flying right in the teeth of disapproval by the traditionalists in His society- at least recognize that TEC may be correct in its stance regarding the position of interpretation of Scripture - at the end of the day we all are interpreting Scripture - "traditionalists" of today would undoubtedly have been burned at the stake a few centuries ago for divorce, birth control, remarriage and any number of other transgressions that are the norm today. Really, do you think you can rebuild society solely in your own image? How dangerous - and boring - that would be!

Jeff H said...

A nonlegal analysis, since we're talking about what's "right" and "fair":

Scout, your assertions beg the question by assuming that it's TEC's property to begin with. You say "there is absolutely no litigation (as far as I can figure out) that is not a reaction to people leaving the Church and trying to take property with them. Many of these people actually went to local courts to get secular legal support for their efforts to seize property that had, prior to their decision to leave the Church or Diocese, been controlled by the Church or Diocese." From the perspective of the departing parishes, there's no "taking" or "seizing" going on at all. And I'm not at all sure what you mean by "had . . . been controlled by the Church or Diocese." Maybe you're not talking about parish property?

I know you marshal arguments based on preceding generations that had no problem being in the Episcopal Church. The counter-argument is that today's TEC isn't the same church it was throughout all those generations. Really, it's just an argument about what Grandma would have done; I tend to come down on the other side, given what I think even the most ardent TEC supporters would agree have been major changes in the institution of TEC over the last half-century, but Grandma's not exactly around to ask.

So then we go to more recent times, and ask who's paid for property, construction, upkeep, etc., and the answer there is pretty obvious, at least for most parishes.

The bigger point is that ownership is disputed. That's why there's a fight, and resulting lawsuits. That's why there was a settlement with All Saint's Dale City: both sides looked at the legal arguments supporting their respective ownership of the property and what it would cost to go to court to make those arguments, and arrived at a compromise amount. No doubt it was less than what the Diocese thought the property was worth, and far more than what the parish thought it should have to pay (presumably nothing). It was a compromise in an area of legal uncertainty.

The compromise option was taken off the table (blame whoever for that--another fight for another day), and now one side will have total victory and the other total defeat, at great cost to both.

Anam Cara said...

Alice Linsley has left a response on her blog:
http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, February 3, 2010
416 Clergy on TEC "Hit List"

Anonymous said...

Jeff: I don't mention past generations because I presume to know what they think about all this. I mention them to remind us of the fact that support of some of these older churches is a matter of two or more centuries and that any number of people who contributed generously to the church had absolutely no awareness or opinion of the issues that have caused division. It's not really and issue except that sometimes defenders of the takeover by departing parishioners sometimes cite financial contribution as a justification. That leads to my previously expressed analogy that when a person leaves a church, even a very generous parishoner, he/she has not right to start removing things to get back his contribution. I don't think this analysis shifts when there are large numbers of departees. The other problem I see in your approach is that there are parishioners in virtually all these parishes who have similarly contributed to maintenance, construction and upkeep who either were silent at the time of the vote or who voted no. On what basis is their contribution devalued? In any event, I've offered a perfectly litigation free approach to departure that I have trouble finding fault with: Clergy and vestry members who are no longer willing to stay with the denomination resign and leave. They invite others of like mind to join them. In some cases these new churches will thrive. No harm is done to those who elect to stay. No litigation. No lawyers' bills sucking the financial life out of either faction. I can't see any downside to that scenario. Had it been followed, I might have left myself.

Scout

Steven said...

"In any event, I've offered a perfectly litigation free approach to departure that I have trouble finding fault with: Clergy and vestry members who are no longer willing to stay with the denomination resign and leave. They invite others of like mind to join them. In some cases these new churches will thrive. No harm is done to those who elect to stay. No litigation. No lawyers' bills sucking the financial life out of either faction. I can't see any downside to that scenario. Had it been followed, I might have left myself."

Scout, you are steadfast on this, even if I think you are steadfastly wrong. There are deeper questions here that you ignore, i.e. what is the church? and who is the church? TEC has become a Hinduism with an Enlightenment face. Listen to your leaders, and place them within the mainstream of historic Christianity, "mere christianity"-- it just doesn't work. People like Schiori, Chane, Spong, Bruno, all make explicit statements in doctrinal dissonance with what Christians have believed as central through the centuries. Yes, it is more Hinduism than Christianity, but with a decidedly Enlightenment face. Years ago I heard the C of E church historian/evangelist/pastor Michael Green put it this way: if you took the hubcaps off a car, would it still be a car? how about the bumpers? how about the headlights? how about the tires? and finally how about the engine? He told the story in a longer form, but perhaps you can understand its meaning? At a certain point, it is no longer a car. And at a certain point, TEC is no longer the Church of Jesus Christ, with a faith received over the centuries. What was the "organization" you offer to us in your perfectly litigation-free approach? Doesn't sound like the church to me? Yes, maybe more a Rotary Club. Or perhaps even a Hindu temple. But not people who heart and soul believe in mere christianity, in the gospel of the kingdom. Schiori, Chane, Spong, Bruno et al have publicly separated from those beliefs. So what "organization" do they represent?

No longer anonymous... Always a Hobbit

Anonymous said...

I was addressing the property issue, Steven. The organization I offer you is whatever organization you want to form after you leave the church for a venue you feel better reflects your theological beliefs.

Prior to the division in Virginia, I never found that Spong's views (just to take an example from your list) ever impacted my ability to worship or hold fast to my sense of doctrinally correct beliefs. I can see from your comment that you have a different view and I think that is fine. So, it seems obvious to me that you leave the church. I stay. Maybe some day I'll leave. Maybe some day you'll come back. All the Episcopalians I worship with are Christians worshipping according to the received faith of centuries.

Scout

Steven said...

Scout-

I won't do this forever, as this forum is not the best for the kind of conversation which we all really want and need. So I will only say that the issue can never be mostly property, if we are indeed talking about the church, as the church is never primarily a place or a building. How can it be? So for you to make "property" the issue, as TEC has done, and not take up the deeper, longer ecclesiastical and doctrinal dynamics of faith, distorts the discussion. TEC as a formal body or organization no longer believes in historic Christianity. If you worship with people who still do believe, then "Thanks be to God." Your experience is a minority experience, and is waning as the days pass. But you must acknowledge that the organization as organization is no longer recognizable as the church. Just as a car wouldn't be a car when the engine is removed. So, who is "leaving" what and where? Do you really want to talk about the relationship of TEC to the global Anglican communion, and to a meaningful fidelity to the creeds? to mere christianity? to the 39 Articles? If so, let me know, and perhaps we can find a way to have a conversation. I am not one who is interested in talking for talking's sake, or writing for writing's sake. The truth matters too much, for all of us.

Always a Hobbit

Anonymous said...

Property isn't "the" issue for me. But it is "an" issue. The reason I discuss it here is the content of the original post. I was reacting to that. I took a pass on the depositions, because I do not consider myself adequately versed in canon law to add value to that discussion.

I think you paint with too broad a brush when you say that The Episcopal Church "no longer believes in historic Christianity." Aside from the sub-optimal 1979 BCP, I think we worship pretty much as Episcopalians did a century or two ago did, and believe in the same core beliefs. I'm sure you're right that there are some folks within TEC who don't see it that way, but, as noted above, I think they are eccentrics and are so regarded in the rank and file of the Church.

I find it encouraging that no one appears to disagree with my prescription for litigation-free departure from the Church.

Scout

Jeff H said...

"I find it encouraging that no one appears to disagree with my prescription for litigation-free departure from the Church."

Well Scout, at least not until this morning.

Here's your solution, in your words:

"Clergy and vestry members who are no longer willing to stay with the denomination resign and leave. They invite others of like mind to join them. In some cases these new churches will thrive. No harm is done to those who elect to stay. No litigation. No lawyers' bills sucking the financial life out of either faction. I can't see any downside to that scenario. Had it been followed, I might have left myself."

The problem with this approach, as I suspect you know, is that anyone opting for this path is conceding that parish property rightfully belongs to TEC. It takes as a given TEC's oft-repeated assertion that individuals may leave TEC, but parishes may not. This is an assertion that's hotly contended, though I know from the language you use and the arguments you make that you accept it. Parishes do sometimes act as parishes, and there are bylaws and other means for them to do so, often by majority vote. I suspect it’s only when the outcome is one you dislike (i.e., disaffiliating as a parish from TEC, as opposed to, say, electing new vestry members) that the concern for those in the minority within a parish come to the fore.

The parishes hold record title to the property, and make the argument (which I know you disagree with) that at least recent contributions were made with the primary intent of supporting St. Bill’s (or whatever), and only incidentally to support TEC. As to previous generations, I agree that it’s impossible to know because these issues weren’t exactly on the front burner in ages past. As I said, I think it’s probably a reasonable surmise to guess that Grandma wouldn’t have been down with all these innovations, but who can say for sure? I don’t think it’s the strongest argument that either the parish or TEC has the stronger equitable claim to the property.

I say again that when you have contested claims to ownership, the only way to avoid litigation is a negotiated settlement. (I say "contested" because there have been some departing parishes that have chosen not to press claims to property, not because they agree with TEC’s view of ownership, but because they believe other factors outweigh the importance of property.)

(cont. in next comment)

Jeff H said...

Oh, one more thing, on your proposed “litigation-free departure” option. You say it would result in “No lawyers' bills sucking the financial life out of either faction.” I know the following argument is stronger as to some (old, large, centrally-located) parishes than others, but take Truro and The Falls Church as examples. A “conservative” valuation of both parishes’ land and buildings is $25 million (from here). Both are centrally located in major D.C. suburbs.

To “resign and leave” (without property) as you suggest would mean starting from the ground up, in a new location and with zero physical resources. (As I noted before, some departees have decided this is worth it.) The cost of buying new land and building equivalent facilities would be enormous, even in this down real estate market. (Another caveat: yes, I know, the church is not the building, it’s the people. I’m not suggesting otherwise. But the people do gather, and many established ministries in these and other parishes are facility-dependent.)

In light of these enormous costs, the relatively small expense of paying attorneys to litigate what these parishes believe to be valid claims—I’m guessing here, but let’s aim way high and say $5 million—looks a little less debilitating. Of course, if they lose then it’s money down the drain and they have to leave the property, but you have to believe that’s a risk the parishes analyzed and decided to take.

Go one step further. What if the parishes and the Diocese had been allowed to negotiate a settlement? If $25 million is accurate and the parties decided that under current law their odds were each about 50/50, you’re looking at $12.5 million paid by the two churches. It’s still a major blow, but less than the cost of rebuilding from the ground up.

So the “lawyers’ bills sucking the financial life out of either faction” thing only gets me so far, because it ignores the costs that would come with capitulation as to ownership. The negative “witness” of litigation is another matter, but again, that’s another matter for another day.

Anonymous said...

I have no idea why starting from the ground up is a bad thing if you are building something that is theologically sound. It has happened many times in Christian history and it strikes me as somewhat in the natural order of things. It IS inconvenient, as you note, but I'm not sure that gets us anywhere in assessing the ethics and morality of the situation. The costs are high, but the numbers are large also. I strongly suspect the lawyers fees for Truro and The Falls Church (CANA) are of sufficient magnitude that they would have served well as a down payment on new facilities. Conversely, when people decide to leave for any reason, the idea that if it's really costly and inconvenient to do so entitles them to displace those who wish to stay doesn't sit well with me.

Your comment suggests to me that litigation isn't a bad thing if the potential gain or loss is high in dollar terms. That's rational enough, particularly in commercial contexts (I make that judgement all the time in my day job) but it doesn't explain the large ration of abuse the Diocese of Virginia and the national Church get from around here for contesting such claims. Under your analysis, litigation is a means to sort out uncertain property rights. Sometimes the tone here appears to be that there is no problem with secessionist parishioners asserting such claims, but there is evil afoot if non-secessionist elements oppose them.

Another problem inherent in your position is that it implicitly puts ownership on the side of larger numbers. It may be that we will find that that is exactly what the government of Virginia dictates be the case for churches (I would consider that a constitutionally frightening prospect, but we'll see in due course). The implications of that notion are that churches become political conventions riven with factions, factions that vie for majority status whenever the doctrinal going gets tough. I don't like that prospect even in the abstract, and I certainly don't like it in Virginia when it is the ukase of the state legislature. This time it's whether we support ordination of a non-celibate homosexual Bishop of New Hampshire, next time it could be something else.

And you do not address the option of clergy and secessionist vestry resigning and THEN advocating for starting a new church. I see no problem with that and would have a great deal of respect for any who had followed that course.

Jeff H said...

Though unsigned, I’m assuming Anon at 0941 is you, Scout.

Some further thoughts. You said:

“when people decide to leave for any reason, the idea that if it's really costly and inconvenient to do so entitles them to displace those who wish to stay doesn't sit well with me.”

And when a parish decides to leave for any reason, the idea that loyalty to a remote denomination entitles the minority to displace the majority doesn’t sit well with me. So we’re just back to our individuals-vs.-parish dispute.

You said:

“The implications of that notion are that churches become political conventions riven with factions, factions that vie for majority status whenever the doctrinal going gets tough. I don't like that prospect even in the abstract, and I certainly don't like it in Virginia when it is the ukase of the state legislature.”

Then you must really hate Baptist churches, and Evangelical Free churches, and Assemblies of God churches, and . . . well, you get my point. I think now we’re getting into another layer of disagreement, which has to do with ecclesiology. This all comes back to TEC’s assertion that it can act like a purely hierarchical church when it’s advantageous to do so (e.g., when asserting a trust over property of a disaffiliating parish) and take the opposite approach when that suits its ends (e.g., keeping record title in the parish to avoid being on the hook for parish-level liability).

Maybe I’m just cynical about the visible church (by which I mean the local manifestations of the Church Universal, which by definition have to deal with things like buildings, and civil law, and corporate bylaws). I’m sure my Roman Catholic brethren would say so, and most of my Episcopalian and Anglican friends, at least those with a high view of the office of bishop. I think that inasmuch as parish leadership are to be stewards of the tangible things with which they've been entrusted, they may be required to make these kinds of decisions, and not starting over from the ground up might be (not "is always," notice) the most stewardly option.

But the alternative to majority rule on the congregational level, at least as to some matters, is to give definitive, dispositive power to the church hierarchy (which in these matters has supported what is usually a minority in the parishes at issue), and to cloak that power in the authority of civil law. At that, as you know, is the constitutional counter-argument to your worries about the constitutionality of majority rule.

You said I “do not address the option of clergy and secessionist vestry resigning and THEN advocating for starting a new church.” That would basically be conceding the argument, though, wouldn’t it? It would mean agreeing that parishes as parishes can’t disaffiliate, and acquiescing that the only way to do it would be for a parish to disband, leave as individuals, then rejoin and start over, sans any resources. It’s capitulation.

As far as “the large ration of abuse the Diocese of Virginia and the national Church get from around here for contesting such claims,” I’d attribute that to the prevailing view “around here” that the Diocese acted in bad faith in going back on the Protocol and that the legal positions taken by the Diocese and TEC are flat-out wrong, more than to a disagreement about what litigation is for. And again, I think litigation is a less preferable alternative to a negotiated settlement, but I don’t think there’s any serious dispute that option was taken off the table by TEC.

Anonymous said...

Jeff - sorry for the lack of sign-off on that last one. I am such a klutz technologically that I have not figured out how to put up a comment here without doing it anonymously and then appending my identifier at the end. Because I dash these things off on the run, sometimes I forget to add a signature line.

Frankly, I don't think a "parish" can leave the Diocese. There may be permutations I haven't thought of, but it seems to me that what we have is a bunch of people deciding to go to or to create another church. In any event, even if there were some way a parish could depart, I would think it would have to be absolutely unanimous and could not be in a parish with any deceased members. That hypothetical hasn't occurred in Virginia.

As for clergy and vestry leaving, I don't think it has anything at all to do with whether or not a parish can depart. To me it's simply a matter of personal honor. If I were disgusted with an organization, secular or religious, I would have no qualms about leaving and, by clear doctrine, good preaching, or aura of leadership, inviting others to join me. However, I could not, in good conscience, spend months or years within that organization using my position of spiritual authority and leadership to entice members to join me in a plan to take control of properties and to displace those who do not wish to depart.

A closer call is whether, as in California, a Diocese can depart. I, like many others in the "reasserter" camp, view the Diocese, not the parish, as the essential organizational element of the Episcopal Church. This, of course, is not the Virginia situation, but something close to it has occurred in California, Texas, and Pittsburgh. My thinking is still in its formative phase on this, but my best present analysis is that, even if there is a substantial Diocese-wide defection, the structure of the Diocese remains and those who left simply left. This seems to be where the California and Pennsylvania courts have come out on this issue. Texas is in too early a stage of process to know how they will come out.

Scout

Jeff H said...

Scout,

Thanks for continuing the conversation. I agree with you that the case of "entity action" by a diocese is easier than by a parish, but I think we still fundamentally disagree about what a parish can do as a parish.

Let me ask you this: can a parish do anything as a parish, acting by vote of the vestry or a majority of members? What about leasing property, calling a rector, defending against a lawsuit by a disgruntled employee, or even depositing checks? If there are some things a parish can do as a parish and others that it can't (such as, say, vote to disaffiliate from TEC), then where would you draw the line between the two?

One further thought on this: some dioceses have canons requiring that before any parish acts with regard to property, the diocese must sign off on the proposed action. If the parish can't do anything on its own, as you suggest, then why isn't diocesan approval required as a matter of course for every parish action? In that case, why isn't the respective diocese the party to the contract, lease, or whatever, rather than the parish?

Anonymous said...

Jeff: interesting point. I'll hazard an opinion, but preface it by recognizing that there may be Canon law that would give us a clear answer. My response is just my opinion. I do not pretend to be an authority. Maybe we can attract someone more knowledgeable (or at least more knowledgeable than I) to set us (or me)straight.

I think the answer lies somewhere in this neighborhood: Parishes elect vestries that have authority to act for the Parish in terms of committing the parish to secular legal obligations and to act with regard to budgets, purchases, salaries for clergy etc. That the vestry has this kind of authority doesn't, at least not to me, get us anywhere as to whether the vestry can simply take the parish right out of the Diocese or the Church. My guess is that there are Diocesan or national canons that define what a vestry can or cannot do, and that extinguishing the parish it serves is not one of those functions. Suppose you have a parish of 100 persons. 65 leave. 35 stay. Has the parish left? Or did 65 parishioners leave? Is the answer different if the 65, knowing that they have the numbers, force a vote? To use my parish as an example, it has been around since before the Revolution and its numbers have gone up and down over the centuries. If a majority of the members leave (whether by vote or by simply not showing up any longer and switching attendance to another denomination) did the Episcopal parish suddenly disappear? The answer surely must be No. It just lost membership (perhaps even dramatically). The parish pre-existed the current members and probably survives them. The Diocese can terminate a parish (posit an elderly parish where the members die out and are not being replaced by younger generations), but I don't think it can extinguish itself.

When I was a Vestryman, I recall (dimly) affirming loyalty to either the Church or the Diocese. I would think the minute I concluded that I could not, in good conscience, stay in the Episcopal Church, I was required (if not by the oath, whose particulars are vague in my memory at this point, by rudimentary principles of honor and ethics) to resign as a member of the Vestry. In several of these departing parishes, the vestry and clergy plotted diligently and actively to persuade parishioners to leave and to organize the affairs of the church to fit within the Virginia division statute. I have not the slightest idea how that can be squared with the obligations of their positions or personal sense of honor. However, it would certainly be correct for those people (assuming they've prayerfully examined the issue and concluded that no other course is acceptable) to resign their positions, leave, and invite other like-minded persons to join them.

Scout

Anonymous said...

Jeff - our prayers have been answered. Someone who knows what they're talking about on this subject has become accessible to us. Dr. Harmon at the TitusOneNine site has a post with a link to an affidavit from Dr. Bruce Mullins in which he explains the differences between "congregations" and "parishes" within the Episcopal Church and their relationships to their Dioceses and to the national church. It is very good reading on this subject and, I think, supports my muddled instinct that a parish within the Episcopal Church cannot extinguish itself under the polity of the Church. I had no firm basis on which to take that position - it was more of a feeling. Dr. Mullins offers an annotated and coherent statement of the position if you go over to Dr. Harmon's site.

Scout

Fr. Daniel Weir said...

While I am not a canon lawyer it seems to me that the "Denis Canon" may well be interpreted as prohibiting a Bishop from allowing conregations to violate the trust that was understood to exist even before that canon was enacted. It is one thing to negotiate fair settlements, but quite another thing for a Bishop to allow a congregation to violate that trust.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Wier: part of the problem may be with the word "trust". The confusion (if there is any) may arise from the juxtaposition of that term as a legal term of art with concepts of fealty and hierarchical discipline. There are some excellent, scholarly commentators who have pointed out the oddity of imposing a unilateral property "trust" on an uncooperating entity. However, if, as the "point paper" seems to have taken great care to say, the Dennis Canon is an internal canon that memorializes or codifies a pre-existing assumption about the nature of church ownership, we are not really talking about a grantor of a trust acting on properties that are not his (or its) to grant or in any other way alienate.


Scout

BabyBlue said...

As I recall, Bishop Stanton negotiated with Christ Church Plano for them to leave the Episcopal Church with all their property. I don't believe Bishop Stanton has been reprimanded or inhibited for carrying out what was understood by the former Presiding Bishop to be a diocesan matter.

bb

Jeff H said...

Scout, I haven't had a chance to digest Dr. Mullins paper yet, but I'll try to get to it soon.

In the ongoing conversation, you said:

"Fr. Wier: part of the problem may be with the word "trust". The confusion (if there is any) may arise from the juxtaposition of that term as a legal term of art with concepts of fealty and hierarchical discipline. There are some excellent, scholarly commentators who have pointed out the oddity of imposing a unilateral property "trust" on an uncooperating entity. However, if, as the "point paper" seems to have taken great care to say, the Dennis Canon is an internal canon that memorializes or codifies a pre-existing assumption about the nature of church ownership, we are not really talking about a grantor of a trust acting on properties that are not his (or its) to grant or in any other way alienate."

I think (and this is steering us toward a legal discussion we've avoided heretofore) the objection is that TEC is again trying to have it both ways: they've asserted that under the "neutral principles of law" approach, regardless of how it's interpreted, the Dennis Canon trumps. There's no differentiation in TEC's arguments between "normal trust law" and "internal canons that memorialize or codify a pre-existing assumption about the nature of church ownership." I think that's why so many of the scholarly commentators have such a problem with TEC's legal arguments in favor of a trust under the Dennis Canon: it just doesn't look like any other trust they've ever seen.

Now some courts appear to be okay with that, based on TEC's religious nature and the courts' hesitancy to interfere in any way with religious bodies. But a lot of us wish TEC would admit that it's really arguing for a religious exception to regular trust law, and not just seeking a uniform application of the law.

Anonymous said...

Jeff H: I share some of your concerns about whether the Dennis Canon can be held to impose a unilateral trust under secular law. If I were arguing the case, I wouldn't make that my last line of defense. I do think, however, it may have some substantial validity as a canon that governs how the church is organized internally. I am uncomfortable with secular courts sorting that out, but we are where we are.

BB; I have never questioned that there might be instances where a well-advised Diocesan Bishop could, in good conscience, decide to sell a property to another group. I don't feel strongly that the All Saints settlement in Northern Virginia was a bad idea. If there are situations where the interests of the non-departing parishioners can be protected, historic properties maintained in the Church, and stewardship obligations fulfilled, there might be cases in which the Plano model makes sense. I don't think we have those conditions in the large historic Virginia parishes where there have been significant departures. And I certainly don't have the foggiest idea why departing parishioners and clergy would not want to start fresh without in any way acting against the interests of those who have stayed. If things are bad enough to go, then go.

Scout