Monday, January 5, 2009

Victory for the Episcopal Church

The Supreme Court of California has just issued its opinion, granting ownership of disputed church property to the Episcopal Church. The court's opinion can be found here - scroll down to the lower half of the page to find the opinion.

California Supreme Court Opinions

This is a major victory for those of us who believe that you can't build a church for years under the name "Episcopal Church", using the Episcopal Church's prayer book, hymnal, doctrines, canons, constitution, leadership, Diocesan services and history, and then decide to keep the building and assets when you don't like a decision that the church has made. If I own a McDonald's franchise, and the corporation makes a decision I don't like, I don't get to just change my sign to read "McDonald's West", continue to serve the same food, wear the same uniforms, keep the building and the assets, and discontinue payments to the corporation. The restaurant would not have been able to build its business without that franchise identification. They can't reap the benefits of that identification while disowning the identity itself.

But that's my reasoning, not the court's. The court's decision is simpler: the church's property is held in trust by the Diocese and the national Episcopal Church; that is established in both national and diocesan canons. There's just no way around that ownership.

This will have enormous consequences for our neighbors in Petaluma. A few years ago, St. John's Episcopal Church in Petaluma voted to leave the Episcopal Diocese of Northern California and join a conservative Anglican diocese in a distant country. They renamed themselves "St. John's Anglican Church" and kept control of the property, forcing the Diocese to sue to keep the building and its assets. Those who did not agree with this decision and maintained their identity as Episcopalians had to worship elsewhere - first in a gymnasium, and then in rented space at a friendly local Lutheran church. Now they can return home to their beloved church building. Presumably this will happen very soon, and the litigation will be over.

3 cheers for the Supreme Court and the rule of law!


Anonymous said...

I have been making my tithe (remotely, as I do not live in the area) to the Anglican church in Petaluma. Does this mean that the funds in that account will now belong to TEC? If I request that my tithe, which was very intentionally sent to the Anglican congregation instead of the Episcopal congregation, will TEC transfer the money to the Anglican congregation, honoring my intent?


The Rector said...

Hi, and sorry, it's unseemly of me to gloat. I do feel for your loss - I'm sure your tithe comes from a deep and honorable place.

I am not a lawyer but I would suspect that your funds, having been designated for the Anglican church, are safe there. If the church had an endowment prior to their leaving the Diocese, I think that would be counted as part of the assets belonging to the Episcopal Church. But I doubt that would apply to funds that were given explicitly to the Anglican church. But like I said, that's just my guess... ML+

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your comment. I was baptised under Bishop Schofield and confirmed under Bishop Lamb - bringing the gap however you see it! :) Hopefully TEC will treat the accounts as you mention, and if not I will write a letter and request my portion of contributions be transferred. Thanks for your response, and I can understand a bit of gloating; I would have been equally excited had the rulings gone the other direction.

The Rev. James Richardson said...

Hi Matt,
Thanks for your comments. The anonymous commentator on your blog put the same comment on my blog. Have a look:

Blessings to you in the new year, hope to see you soon!
-- Jim

AnglicanAlone said...

Anonymous only because I had difficulty figuring out how to switch from my usual Google account into my blog account. I also posted the same question on the Anglican Curmudgeon blog. It's been helpful to see the answers from all three of you, so I'm grateful for the responses.