Christ Church, The Mother Church of Georgia in Savannah, has asked the Georgia Supreme Court to review a recent ruling of the Court of Appeals upholding Judge Michael Karpf’s October, 2009 decision that Christ Church holds its property in trust for the Diocese of Georgia and The Episcopal Church. The decision is based on a 1979 national church “canon”, or bylaw, which Christ Church claims (i.) cannot override its legal title to the property, and (ii) was improperly adopted. Should the ruling stand after all appeals are exhausted, then the congregation will be forced to move to other facilities. Georgia churches in similar situations could be in danger of losing their property as well.The Rector, the Rev'd Marc Robertson, writes:
A little background will explain our position: In 1758 an act of the (British) Royal Council granted Christ Church (already in existence twenty-two years) ownership of its church building and cemetery. After the Revolution, the Georgia legislature granted a charter of incorporation to Christ Church and confirmed its ownership of all its property. Thus, since 1789 Christ Church has been a legal entity, a corporation defined, bound and protected by Georgia law whose assets cannot be unilaterally expropriated by any other group or entity (or so we thought). Christ Church has never conveyed title to its property to any other party, has never agreed to hold its property in trust for any other party, and has never received any financial help from The Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Georgia, or any other church agency.
Over the last several years The Episcopal Church moved further and further away from the doctrines it traditionally shared with other Christian denominations. This has been well documented by the media, including Time Magazine, National Public Radio, New York Times, Atlanta Journal and Constitution and many others. More importantly, the actions of The Episcopal Church have fractured the 77 million member Worldwide Anglican Communion of which it is a member and elicited rebukes from other mainline denominations. Christ Church repeatedly presented its theological concerns to the leadership of our Diocese. The response given was focused primarily of the Diocese’ concern about the real estate. Diocesan leaders did not discuss with us our spiritual concerns or our desire to affirm God’s truth in the midst of the tumultuous issues before us.
Christ Church disaffiliated from The Episcopal Church on September 30, 2007 by a unanimous vote of its vestry (governing board). Two weeks later this vote was affirmed by an 87% vote of the congregation. We continue to believe that we must stand firm for the Gospel and oppose the anti-biblical claims of The Episcopal Church.
It is important to emphasize that this disagreement is not about real estate. It is about the basic tenets of the historic faith, proclaiming Jesus as the way, the truth and the life. Also, it is about freedom: freedom of religion, freedom to practice our religion as and where we have for over 275 years, freedom to choose to follow the Jesus of Holy Scripture and not a culturally-manufactured Jesus.
We are grieved that as a result of continuing to proclaim the historic faith, Christ Church, along with over 55 churches and 4 dioceses, is being sued by a well-funded, national organization, The Episcopal Church. This organization is trying to seize the assets and church buildings in order to preach a false gospel, a way that does not proclaim Jesus as The Way, The Truth, and The Life. Instead, it twists the creeds to conform to personal needs and culls elements of Holy Scripture in support of cultural shifts that have moved far away from the true faith.
Denominational churches that for any reason come into disagreement or otherwise fall out of favor with their national church organizations should be concerned about whether they can keep title to their property if this decision is allowed to stand as Georgia law. Christ Church petitioned the state Supreme Court to protect itself and stand firm against heresy. Also, we hope to alert other congregations to these issues.
Again, Christ Church’s struggle with The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Georgia has never been primarily about the property. If we had wanted to preserve the property above all else, we would have simply capitulated to the “new gospel” offered by The Episcopal Church. If we had remained quiet there would have been no threat to our building, and there would have been no media coverage, no strife, and no stress.
The building that houses Christ Church is a beautiful structure and an historic icon, but it is far more than that to our congregation. It is the site where, before the founding of The Episcopal Church or the Diocese of Georgia, our forefathers proclaimed the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Today it continues as a community where the broken and lost find their hope in God, where Christians are loved, nurtured, and developed into faithful disciples, and where the Kingdom of God, His forgiveness and redemption are extended to Savannah, the southeast and the world.
We have placed our feet in the path the Lord set before us, and we have the privilege of walking together as brothers and sisters in Christ Church, trusting the Lord to work out His plan for us.