Monday, September 19, 2011

TEC recognizes that churches will close

It's not clear to me why TEC continues to pursue litigation rather than robust settlement for church properties when they are facing the overwhelming necessity to close and sell churches in all parts of the United States. Perhaps cooler heads will prevail as the numbers show a disturbing trend. And by the way, before ACNA or AMiA folks say it won't happen here - oh yes it will. It all ready is happening. Something is happening here, but do we know what it is?

Here Rod Webster, VP and General Manager of the Church Insurance Companies lays it all out for the Episcopal Church Building Fund:

I do pray that this reality might bring those now engaged in litigation back to the negotiating table, if only just to stop and smell the roses.  Certainly the public witness of all the parties working together for a non-litigious solution will be a better way forward for everyone.


Andy said...

Mary, it almost seems as though the church has chosen the course palliative care over renewal and restoration.

Ian Montgomery said...

They cannot stand "rivals" and are jealous of what is by their thinking a "monopoly" right to the term Anglican. Besides they want to punish. From what I can see TEC has a corner on vindictiveness.

nita jones said...

I returned to the church of my baby christening (Cof E) from a S. Baptist that had been in the throes of heartbreaking confusion and mess - I found a wonderful home at Truro, being fed the word as well as participating; remembering as we went thru the liturgy that we were one with folks all over the world. My heart breaks to think that this is happening .... almost makes one wonder what 'christian' really means.

Anonymous said...

The negotiation environment is pretty unfavorable for either side when the departing groups are occupying the premises. I think that had those people done the correct thing and simply left to other quarters, the Diocese would have no doubt been in a position to assess objectively whether some of the properties could sustain the remaining parishes and might have offered some kind of lease or even sale arrangements. Truro and TFC would probably have been regarded as historic parishes that could not be let go, but, in those two exceptional circumstances, there might have been some sort of temporary lease arrangement possible that accommodated the remaining Episcopalian group. But it would be a very bad precedent to encourage departees to assert property rights by seizure or occupation and then negotiate to give them what they've taken. Hard to see a happy ending to that policy.


Unknown said...

Scout, do appreciate you posting and your thoughts but again, it's important I think to recognize that if we use provocative language we will inflame the situation rather than find solutions. Words like "seizure" and "occupation" are probably not the most helpful words to use here when trying to make one's point. We want to try to rebuild bridges rather than blow them up again. Does this make sense?


John said...

Two Catholic teachings come to mind: the end does not justify the means: it is ones duty to form a right conscience.
I do not know if this happened in Virginia but here in Georgia overnight, locks were changed, new signs installed, monies transferred and the Bishop of Atlanta barred from the property. A religious coup d'etat.
When one takes for ones self, property that they do not own, one is liable to be called all manner of names.

Fr. Howard Giles said...

I don't understand your comment about ACNA folks. What won't happen to us?

Fr. Howard Giles

Patrick said...

You wrote, "It's not clear to me why TEC continues to pursue litigation rather than robust settlement for church properties when they are facing the overwhelming necessity to close and sell churches in all parts of the United States." I hesitate to comment because I've only been studying this issue for a short time, while you've clearly lived it. But it seems to me that TEC has three motives.

(1) They want to raise the price of leaving TEC in order to discourage fence-sitters. They can't stop you from leaving TEC, but they can make you do it St. Francis style.

(2) They want to destroy ACNA. It's no accident that, where they have allowed congregations to keep property, they have inserted clauses requiring said congregations to sever ties with ACNA.

(3) They're honestly convinced that the departing congregations are driven by homophobia and bigotry. Viewed in that light, legal action becomes not just moral, but morally required.

Am I missing something?

With those three motives, I think that there's no real opportunity for negotiation. So far as TEC is concerned, not only is their survival on the line, but they are fighting a great moral evil and heresy besides. This doesn't really leave room for compromise.

Unknown said...

It is not hard to want to poke at TEC for only now recognizing that the clock is ticking for some kind of huge overhaul in the organizational system of the church. Some in leadership now seem to recognize that if they were a business things aren't looking so good. They are rich in properties but like a company in a similar position, Sears/Kmart, the "customers" are just not providing enough investment in the products to keep those properties salvable.

The warning to ACNA is somewhat different in that we must deal with a historic legacy of so-called "continuing" churches that leave TEC and never grow. Those organizations turn inward and basically become separatists.

To say we do not have that stream running through the ACNA is naive. I am grateful beyond words for those in leadership who recognize this legacy in division and are working hard to build bridges not only within the ACNA and AMiA itself (especially but not limited to the laity), but also and most especially with other Christian denominations and in our local communities. It might behoove some of old style "denominations" to reorganize not in separatist entities or as giant conglomerates, but rather as teams within a local community.

We see this happening all ready, where "teams" of Christians in a local community affiliate together to do everything from opening up Daytime Homeless Centers to providing health care services to low income families (there are some extraordinary examples of this now underway in Fairfax, Virginia). In addition, these "teams" engage in mission outreach overseas and encourage one another in worship and teaching conferences at home. These all go way beyond our old denominational borders which seem to be less and less how people identify themselves - and frankly, that may not be such a bad thing after all.


Steven in Falls Church said...

If I am not mistaken, wasn't last Sunday the first service at the new All Saints Dale City facility? Is anyone aware of what the Diocese plans to do with the old facility, now that the keys are being turned over?

Unknown said...

As I recall, the agreement on separation between All Saints and the Diocese of Virginia is that once the new church facility was completed, the original All Saints property returns to the Diocese.

I think it's extremely likely the diocese will then sell the original property.


Dale Matson said...

"but like a company in a similar position, Sears/Kmart, the 'customers' are just not providing enough investment in the products to keep those properties salvable."
That is because the company is trying to pass off skittles for the M&M's it once sold.

John said...

O ye, of little faith.
When the ACC, AAC or ACNA, or whatever letters of the alphabet they use now, left the property a huff in 2007 they too predicted our demise. Well we had 107 in the pews on Sunday with eight or nine children attending Children's Chapel. I am not sure how the "Anglcan's " are doing, well I hope. We would be financially better of if they had stayed but not spiritually. There was too much acrimony and mistrust. We still miss our friends.

Anonymous said...

bb - help me with synonyms and I will gladly use them. I dropped the use of "secede" and "secession" at your request.

My continuing point, however, is that, normally, when people leave a church for another denomination, they don't take things. I see this as a situation in which people felt they should not stay at a given church because they were uncomfortable with its direction and decided to go to a different denomination. But I can't find any justification for the idea that they get to take prayer books, kneelers, communion gear, bank accounts or buildings when they do this. They're still sitting in the church buildings where they sat before they decided to leave. The people who didn't feel compelled to leave can't worship in those buildings (at least not until a court rules) with their clergy. That looks to me like an "occupation" or a "seizure." I don't think those words are particularly inflammatory, but I can switch to something else if it conveys the meaning that this is a fairly radical idea of property rights that is quite foreign to conservatives like me.


Patrick said...


(1) By your logic wouldn't at least some of the churches in question ultimately belong to the Bishop of London? Just sayin'

(2) This isn't "people leav[ing] a church for another denomination." This is congregations leaving the denomination to found a new denomination (or something like that.) That is an entirely different matter, because the congregation, as a body, paid for the property in question. The denomination didn't pay for it, the congregation did. Moreover, the congregation holds title on it. In fact, the denomination's only claim to it is the Dennis Canon -- which so far as I know the congregation never actually agreed to.

(3) In fact, the Dennis Canon is immoral. It is much like the case of an abusive husband who holds the title of the house and cars in his name so that the wife has to put up with his abuse rather than leave. It is deliberately constructed for the purpose of imposing a denominational connection on those who no longer desire it.

(4) Nor is it true that a congregation would necessarily lose their property if they left the denomination. For example, hundreds of Southern Baptist churches left the SBC over the rightward shift in SBC policies from 1989-2003 or so, and none of them lost their property. (I know. I was there. I was one of the "liberals" in that schism.)

(5) I sympathize with your point about the plight of those who did not choose to leave TEC -- who feel like their congregation has left them by leaving the denomination. However, at the end of the day vast majorities of these congregations chose to leave TEC. These were not close votes. Are you suggesting that, in the case of Truro Church, the 93% who wanted to leave TEC should have left Truro for greener pastors, along with the entire pastoral staff, leaving behind 7% of the congregation and no pastoral staff? Would such a congregation even have been viable?

Anonymous said...

Does anyone really care about this anymore?

Anonymous said...

Patrick, under the governing instruments of the Church, there is no provision for a group within the parish denominating itself "the Congregation" and thus becoming the repository of possessory rights. Indeed, there could not be, because these groups will shift depending on the hot issue of the moment, and title would jump around over time. There are some church structures in the US (perhaps the Baptists you mention are among them) where the governing instruments are very congregational in their design and provisions are made for majorities of the moment to take title. The Episcopal Church is not organized that way and sits far more toward the Roman Catholic end of the spectrum than it does the more congregational based churches.

I don't know how one determines "who paid for it", even with large blocs voting to leave. In our parish some very substantial donors chose to stay. In any event, particularly in the older churches people who stayed presently not only "paid for it" along with people who left, but generations of people with no position on the current issue "paid for it" as well. In any event, I suggest that that would be a lousy way to determine who has title to a particular church building, even it one only did it on a current snapshot basis.

Viability following departures might be a problem indeed, but that was my original point. If folks who were determined to depart had simply departed, the Diocesan Bishop would have had to make some hard choices about use of the buildings in the subsequent months. If the remaining parishes could not sustain the buildings, the climate for negotiation with the departees would have been much improved over the situation where the departees just stayed in place and effectively ejected those who chose not to depart. There have been some (all too few, alas) examples around the country where the Episcopal Diocese did agree to sell the property to departees. The one that immediately comes to mind was in New Jersey. There, however, they departing group made no claim "to own" the property on departure. They did the correct thing by making no claim on the property and simply entered into discussions with the Bishop.

Finally, I think the reason it was so important for the departing groups to keep the properties was that the vote itself was influenced by perceptions of which faction would keep the properties. There are indeed many people who felt strongly about the necessity of departure and who would have left under any circumstances. But there were also many who would found comfort in their routine of worshipping at a particular place and who really "went with the building."

BTW, I like the phrase, "greener pastors".


Anonymous said...

PS: I forgot to address the point about claims of British authorities to the properties. I don't think that is an apt analogy, the claims of the Crown having been extinguished by force of arms with the surrender of His Majesty's forces under Charles, Lord Cornwallis and subsequent diplomacy as memorialized in the Treaty of Paris. Here there were intra-parish disputes over policy and doctrine. A different kettle of fish, I think.


Allen said...

"...they're not efficient, effective, and using their capital wisely..." he says about those small churches struggling to survive. He seems to deride people being faced with church demise by saying that theirs is not a rational response. Duh...

This guy reminds me of a cold analyst such as was played by Walter Matthau in Fail Safe. When the nation's military and political leaders were contemplating the results of an atomic war, the cold analyst rattled off figures and equated people to statistics, and then stated that while millions would be killed or wounded, the immediate concern should be to search for the gold reserves and important records. This movie character is eerily close to our good insurance analyst here.

Need we know more? This is why TEC is been strangled to death by its own leaders. People = efficient statistics or ineffecient statistics.

Allen said...

....oh, and then there is also the talk of reallocation of assets of small/shrinking churches, a diocese spending more energy than is deserved on such churches, how the assets seem to belong to a larger entity, and the last point...

...about closing and moving assets around...he says,


Cold. Just mechanical, and hardly the voice of a Christian.

Patrick said...


From the actual YouTube video:

"Rod Webster is the Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Church Insurance Companies, which are all wholly owned subsidiaries of the pension fund of the Episcopal Church. Church Insurance is a family of several companies used to provide Episcopal Church institutions with riskmanagement services and insurance products."

He's an accountant, not a pastor, counselor, bishop, nor even a deacon. He's telling the Episcopal leadership some hard truths that they probably didn't want to hear (why they chose to post this on YouTube is a whole 'nother question.) But, regarding Mr. Webster, I think that "one body, many parts" applies. This is a form of the gift of administration -- it may sound cold and analytical, but sometimes that's what the truth has to be.

I'm not an accountant, but I am an engineer, so I get the whole "numbers" thing. Way back in the day, I had the unfortunate duty of gently explaining to the leaders of a church that their church bookstore was a drain on their resources, had cost them tens of thousands of dollars that they could ill afford, and that there was no reasonable hope for it to ever turn a profit or even break even. In doing so, I hurt the feelings of a dear friend, because I focused on the "numbers." That doesn't mean that I wasn't aware of the human impact that closing that bookstore would have (primarily on the manager) but I couldn't afford to soften my case when telling the leaders of the church news that they didn't want to hear about a ministry that they were attached to.

We need to honor the accountants among us, because without them and their advice, the visionaries and the empaths would spend us all into the ground. They shouldn't be driving -- that's not their gift -- but they should be listened to and honored.


Allen said...

Yep, honor them as they tell us the truth. But he's just plain cold and buys into the whole idea that assets belong to a larger entity and not to congregations who are struggling to survive.

And that he wants the Church to get "good at this", meaning seizing and reallocation isn't just an accountant talking.

Anonymous said...

Talk of how it might have been different if the departing congregations had just waited for the TEC bishop to offer the buildings are laughable.

The "new sheriff in town" killed negotiations that were showing promise. She remains the obstacle to a solution that would reflect well on both sides.


Always hobbits said...

And it is so hard, after years of reading Scout, to understand why it is that he doesn't "get" the point of RalphM's last comment.

Isn't there any shame at all here. Isn't there any moral sorrow in knowing that TEC's very honored Peter Lee submitted to "the new sheriff"? Those are his words, and at least for some, they are haunting. He could have done the much more honorable thing, and simply kept his word-- and told her "no."

No, Mrs. Schori, we do it differently in Virginia. This is not the academy, and it is not Nevada. We do not stab people in the back here. Our word is our bond. No, Mrs. Schori, our history requires something different from us.

If only he had.

Anonymous said...

Re the last couple of comments. I happen to think that the offer should come from the Diocesan Bishop, not the national Church. I remain uncomfortable as to the proper governance role that the national church plays in these situations. I feel fairly secure, however, about what can and cannot happen at the Diocesan level.

Even if the protocols had been accepted, I doubt that the departing groups would have been willing to pay the required monetary price for the properties, at least not Truro, Epiphany and The Falls Church. It was never an element of discussion that people who chose to find a new church home could simply have the properties without paying fair value for them or exclude parishioners who did not choose to reaffiliate. Whatever the result of the continuing court litigation, I do not understand that an option available to the judge would be to turn over the properties to the people who left without fair market compensation to the Diocese.


Always hobbits said...

Reading and reading over years now, I guess it is true that for Scout-- representing as he does others --it is finally about THE MONEY. No theological arguments ever matter, no historical or ecclesiastical commitments matter-- the only thing that matters is money. Mammon. Perhaps you will "get" your wish and have your properties back. I am afraid, given the reality of the article we are all responding to here, that the money, or mammon as it is, will come back to haunt you. The TEC is dying, and people are walking away; the average age is in the mid-60s. Who wants to be part of something that isn't alive, that isn't true? Overwhelmingly, all over the world, people who can make choices choose to leave TEC, and the Archbishop of Canterbury's imploding church. At least in the calculus of the kingdom, that matters too.

Anonymous said...

To reach that conclusion about my views, AH, one would either have to wilfully distort my position or have very poor reading skills. In fact, my position has been that it is not about the money, and I have opposed the idea that property should pass to large groups who leave the church "because they paid for it." In fact, I think I took that position as recently as this thread.

I have no problem with people leaving. You may be quite right that the demographic outlook for traditional churches is bleak. I also accept that churches can stray. History is well-marked with such unfortunate detours.

What I am saying, however, in the context of this property dispute, is that property can't transfer because a parishioner or group of parishioners, no matter their numbers, say that they have correct doctrine. The church would become a rather anarchic place if that is the test of title. The remedy is for the dissenters to leave. That has been the traditional remedy for these situations and it makes good ethical, moral, and legal sense. I find the idea that I can leave but gain possession of accounts and buildings a very radical, somewhat vaguely Trotsky-ite notion that has no place in an orderly and disciplined church (or even TEC, anticipating the Peanut Gallery response that my choice of words will inevitably excite).


Anonymous said...


You know what... I think you're right. The right way to do this is to work through the governance policies of the Episcopal Church.

So... I'm going to start a campaign to get all my fundamentalist friends to join their neighborhood Episcopal Church. I figure within 3 years or so we'll be able to take over the vestries. It will take a little longer to take over the House of Bishops, but since we'll control the vestries we'll have mired the GC in controversy long before then. In 10-15 years, we'll control the office of the Presiding Bishop and be able to accomplish our true goal: to convert the National Cathedral into a center for reparative therapy! The national headquarters we will convert into a center for the study of the End Times. New feast days will be established for Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson (who will probably be with The Lord by then, but if not we'll do it anyway), and Ronald Reagan. Oh happy day!

But the best part? You. Can't. Leave. Or, well, you can leave. But, if you leave, you leave broke, without a hymnal, or a prayer book, or a building, or grandma's grave in the cemetery. Since we control the vestries, we can even excommunicate you and ban you from the premises. But we would probably never do that, since, after all, we want you to hear The Word. We Love You.

Of course, if you don't like it, you can stick around and get your grandkids confirmed by a bishop who thinks that God's inclusive love for gay people includes burning them at the stake. In fact, that will be the sermon on the first Sunday of every month, which is also how often we'll be celebrating the sacra... ahem, the "ordinance" of the "Lord's Supper." On second thought, maybe you can have the prayer books, along with the liberal Bibles and the kneelers, because we won't be needing them. But we can't for the life of us figure out where to put a Baptistry in this cotton-pickin' place! What's a good Ba... New Episcopalian to do?

The day might come when you find yourself wishing that you had a way to leave TEC, but you established precedents now that made it impossible.

Anonymous said...

What an extraordinarily strange comment, Anon 1423!

If you've read any of my comments, you know that I am a strong advocate of people leaving for better church fits, whatever the reason. It could be better music, it could be better children's programs, it could be better geography, it could be more acceptable theology. But if you're feeling sorry for me that if I leave (and I have left a couple of churches) because I can't cart off property when I take off, please don't . I don't look at parish membership as an investment in material goods.

As to your hypothetical, vestries cannot excommunicate parishioners. Getting excommunicated by a vestry is not high on my list of worries.

Leaving any church is as easy as pie. Just leave.