Thursday, September 08, 2011

Property dispute with Episcopal Church over Christ Church, Savannah parish--is before Georgia Supreme Court
by Peter Menkin

Christ Church, Savannah. Poster circa 1920

Worldwide, Anglicans who were upper class women of England mostly–100 years ago–are today on average an African Black woman of about 21, poor, with one child. It is a very different world for Anglicans than 100 years ago. (A Facebook posting.)

The Episcopal Church is a mainline Anglican Christian church found mainly in the United States, but also in Honduras, Taiwan, Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, the British Virgin Islands and parts of Europe. The Episcopal Church is the Province of the Anglican Communion in the United States and most other territories where it has a presence (excluding Europe). The Episcopal Church describes itself as being “Protestant, Yet Catholic”. In 2009, the Episcopal Church had a baptized membership of 2,175,616 both inside and outside the U.S. In the United States, it had a baptized membership of 2,006,343, making it the nation’s fifteenth largest denomination. (Episcopal Church Facebook.)

The Anglican Church in North America unites some 100,000 Anglicans in nearly 1,000 congregations across the United States and Canada. The Anglican Church is a Province-in-formation in the global Anglican Communion committed to reaching North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ. The Most Rev. Robert Duncan is the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America and Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. (Anglican Church in North America Facebook.)

In this article-interview that covers the property dispute between the Episcopal Church and Christ Church, Savannah regarding the breakaway Christ Church leaving that Communion and joining the Anglican Church in North America, this writer had the privilege of talking with a number of key people. Included in this group of people with whom the writer spoke was The Reverend Jim Elliott, an attorney who is Chancellor of the Diocese of Georgia (Episcopal Church). Reverend Jim is the lead attorney in the case before the State of Georgia Supreme Court asking for the Episcopal Church Communion’s property back. The breakaway Communion and the two Christ Church, Savannah claimants have a conflict of belief, so Christ Church, Savannah who holds the property says.

This email was sent to Reverend Jim Elliott in the course of our conversation by phone and conversation by email:

Dear Reverend Chancellor:

Here from my notes of a conversation with Archbishop Duncan are a few of the theological arguments for Christ Church, Savannah leaving the Episcopal Church Communion. I spoke with him while he was in London just this week for about 15 minutes. During this appointment by phone, when he arrived in his office after a trip from another place in the city by underground, the conversation focused on theological matters. Because he had a meeting with the Primate of the Southeast Asia part of the Anglican Communion, we were unable to get to the property issue questions involved in the Georgia Supreme Court case. That was too bad, for it meets my needs and purposes for the article. Perhaps to your mind the last attribution to him in this list of notes and quotes is relevant to property issues.

Archbishop Robert Duncan, Anglican Communion in North America, called, "his Grace."

The theological issues in brief:


If you wanted to understand at the very root the theological issues are, they all surround the English reformation that the Holy Scriptures were the ultimate of the faith. The Bible is determinative of what the faith says, or what the order of the Church Christian morality would say. Everything really hangs on that affirmation of the Reformation. That was reiterated in the Chicago Quadrilateral.

From notes, not a quote:

The Episcopal Church has in the areas of Christology: Jesus is what he says he is. Is Jesus the Son of God? Is there any other way to go? The answer is no. The Episcopal Church has increasingly answered those questions in a different way. Towards universalism or … a multifaith way towards salvation. That is at the heart of the Christological issue.

Again, a paraphrase from notes:

The morality issues of marriage, chasteness, same sex (marriages)– The Episcopal Church is giving different answers (from us). You can see how this has all tied back to the scripture as understanding.

Notes on a statement by the Archbishop re Property Rights and Issues:

In that case, it’s true for Pittsburgh, San Joaquin, [both Episcopal Diocese that left the Episcopal Church] we didn’t leave anything [that is, these Dioceses did not leave the Episcopl Church, but the Episcopal Church left the Dioceses]. The Episcopal Church is claiming when the Church changes the parishes or diocese have to change. The Saints did not change. We would claim you can’t change from the faith once delivered. We’re thankful for their courage.

Your comment to these individually or as a group is welcomed and hoped for, and if you want to frame it as a Property Issue, do so—even in the negative to say these are not relevant to the case before the Georgia Supreme Court, or that they do not bear witness to the dispute at hand either in a legal or any other sense. I encouraged this so I will have a clear statement for the published piece regarding the position of the Episcopal Church as seen both by you as attorney in the case and for The Diocese of Georgia.

With thanks for your consideration, and early response,

I am yours sincerely,


Peter Menkin

In a lengthy and complete reply, The Reverend Jim Elliott wrote an almost 900 word statement regarding the Diocese of Georgia arguments and position about the property dispute. In so doing, he reveals some of the attitudes and some of the bitterness in this legal fight for property. He does not believe that theology has much if anything to do with the issue of who owns the property, and who is the legitimate historic Christ Church of Savannah, Georgia.

The Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop said “No,” to making a remark or statement on this case of dispute through her spokeswoman. The Diocese of Georgia’s Bishop chose to make no remark or statement regarding the issue, so its spokesman said. They did make available a written commentary on the case, some of which is quoted in this article. It is expected that the Georgia Supreme Court will rule on the matter by the end of 2011. An inquiry to the Court indicated there was no statement on the case available at this time.

The New York Times reports in November, 2010, in an article titled, “A Church is Divided, and Headed for Court,” by Ellen Goodman, December 5, 2007:

In November, the Diocese of Georgia filed a lawsuit to keep control of Christ Church’s assets, which include a $3 million historic building and an endowment estimated at $2 million to $3 million.

Its claim is based on a church law, adopted in the 1970s, called the Dennis Canon, which says that all parishes hold their property in trust for the diocese. But Christ Church, which was established in 1733, asserts that it has firm legal footing to keep control of its building and property because it existed before the Episcopal denomination, which was established in the United States in 1789.

“That would make the case a pure property case rather than a religious liberty case,” Mr. Witte said. “They will have to argue that their church is closer to the values of the late 18th century” than the Episcopal Church is today.

And that, he added, is “an argument that hasn’t been tested in federal courts.”

Churches of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia

A video showing the 70 churches, 3 chapels and convent in the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, which encompasses the lower two-thirds of the state.

Here is The Reverend Jim Elliott’s statement in its full text:

  • I am a Priest in The Episcopal Church and a practicing lawyer. I have practiced law in Georgia for twenty-six years and have been the Chancellor of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia since 2004. In our Diocese, the Chancellor is appointed by the Bishop and confirmed by our annual Diocesan Convention, which is the elected governing body of the Diocese.
  • I am counsel to the Diocese and Christ Church Episcopal in their suit against the former rector and former members of the vestry (the local church’s governing board) who left The Episcopal Church and who remain in possession of my clients’ property.
  • Christ Church Episcopal is the Mother Church of Georgia. Christ Church Episcopal remains a faithful Parish in The Episcopal Church and we want them restored to their rightful church home.
  • The suit that we filed on behalf of the Parish and the Diocese is to recover the property. The suit is not and indeed cannot be about theological disagreements. The United States Constitution prohibits our courts from adjudicating theological disagreements.

  • The group currently in possession of The Episcopal Church’s historic church building in Savannah is no longer part of The Episcopal Church. That group of individuals left The Episcopal Church and joined another church which is not nor has it ever been a part of The Episcopal Church. They have since apparently affiliated themselves with a different group which is not nor has it ever been a part of The Episcopal Church. They are not Episcopalians.
  • That group left The Episcopal Church and joined the Church of Uganda, taking our property with them in violation of the rules of the Church and Georgia law.
  • Their clergy and members of the church’s governing board all took an oath promising to uphold and follow the rules of The Episcopal Church but they have refused to do so.
  • We have had to resort to the courts to regain the property in which faithful Episcopalians have worshiped for generations.
  • The Chatham County Superior Court and the Georgia Court of Appeals have upheld longstanding legal precedent in our state and have confirmed that Christ Church Episcopal and the Diocese of Georgia are entitled to possession of the property that the departing group of individuals took with them when they decided to join a different church.

  • The law in Georgia has held for over 200 years that churches such as ours and many other non-congregational churches hold their property subject to the rules and mode of government of the church. That was the law when Christ Church became a parish in the Diocese of Georgia in 1823 and it is still the law today.

  • Churches such as The Episcopal Church (which has an elected representative form of government) and many other denominations require that the church’s property be held for the benefit of those who remain part of the denomination. Georgia law and the rules of such churches do not permit removal of property to another church or denomination.
  • The Georgia Court of Appeals’ ruling upholds the longstanding rule that churches such as ours have a Constitutional right to govern themselves as they choose without fear that their property will be taken away from those who wish to remain part of the church.
  • Congregational churches govern themselves differently and have local control over their property by virtue of the way they choose to govern themselves. The Court of Appeals’ ruling in our case does not change that.
  • However, the Court of Appeals has said that all of our property should be returned to us and that the group that left the Church has no right to it. The decision of the Georgia Court of Appeals has been appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court.
  • The individuals in possession of the Church’s property argue that our Supreme Court should cast aside longstanding Georgia law purportedly in the name of “religious liberty”. They ask the Court to ignore generations-old rules of the Church and the promises made by church members and clergy to uphold and follow those rules. They ask the Court to tell churches that they are no longer free to govern themselves as they choose. They ask the Court to rule that a group of local church members can deprive faithful Episcopalians and the Episcopal Church of their property. They ask the Court to deprive Christ Church Episcopal of its religious liberty because a group of people decided they wanted to join another church.
  • The individuals that left The Episcopal Church are certainly free leave and join another church but they may not take with them a church which was built as a Parish of The Episcopal Church and consecrated and set aside for divine worship in The Episcopal Church. They may not deprive faithful Episcopalians of property which may only be used for the mission and ministry of The Episcopal Church.
  • The Supreme Court of Georgia heard oral argument in May and we expect a decision before the end of 2011. Regardless of the outcome, we will remain what we as Episcopalians have always been. We will remain faithful witnesses in word and in deed to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The Diocese of Georgia says this is its theological premise:

Our Beliefs
We believe first and foremost that we can best come to know God, our creator, through a relationship with his son, Jesus Christ. The clearest statements of what we believe are to be found in
The Apostle’s Creed and The Nicene Creed. These 2,000-year-old creeds (short statements of faith) are held to be true by billions of people around the world today. Beyond that, the best place to learn what Episcopalians believe is the Bible, which is the source of our theology, and the Book of Common Prayer (BCP). The BCP is not only the guide to our conduct of worship, but it is also articulates our theology.

Life of the breakaway Parish continues its appeal to friends and Parishioners to come to the aid of their cause, give money to the defense of their position as owners of the historic property. This YouTube shows their Rector Marc Robertson in that appeal.

Christ Church Savannah: Gospel Defense Fund


In its websites remarks of welcome, the Parish statement reads: Christ Church, the Mother Church of Georgia, has been an Anglican house of worship since 1733. We seek to know Christ by being a Bible-based congregation, we seek to grow in Christ by being a family-focused community of faith, and we seek to go in the name of Christ by being a mission-minded parish.
In a world of confusion and unbelief, Christ Church stands for the historic Christian faith. It is our joy and privilege to join God in His mission to expand His kingdom and raise up faithful servant-leaders to minister to the last, the least, and the lost of this world. We invite you to join us in this profound mission. If you live in Savannah, you are welcomed to be a part of this Christian family. If you are planning to visit Savannah, please join us for worship – we look forward to seeing you. – Marc Robertson, Rector
The Church website reports of the Rector:

Marc was born in Gadsden, Alabama, where he grew up in the Episcopal Church. He received his B.A. degree from the College of William and Mary, with theological studies at St. Mary’s Divinity School in St. Andrews, Scotland. He holds masters degrees from Westminster Theological Seminary and St. Luke’s School of Theology (Sewanee, TN), and a doctorate (D. Min.) from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA. Marc has been rector at Christ Church since January of 1992. He and his wife Alice, and their two sons, Jon and Matt, live with a number of animals (mainly dogs) at his home south of the parish.

Email, or call (912) 232-4131 x 102

The Reverend Marc Robertson (left)

This interview held by phone has been both transcribed from that conversation between this writer, and The Reverend Marc Robertson. As well, Reverend Marc has made some written comments as additions. Some paraphrase to help with clarity was done by this writer. Made by phone to the Rector’s office at his Church in Savannah, this writer spoke from his home office north of San Francisco. No tape recording was done of the phone conversation. The date of the interview is August 22, 2011.

  1. 1. Please tell us something of the historic nature of Christ Church, Savannah and in what ways (the how, if you will) that this move from the Episcopal Church to the Anglican Church in North America is a theological statement of historic kind? Will you also say something of the theological areas that are of positive value you’ve found outside the Episcopal Church with the Anglican Church in North America?

The interesting thing historically of our move from the Episcopal Church was [it was] the Episcopal Church that moved, not Christ Church that moved. It was the Episcopal Church that failed to follow traditional values. They introduced a new understanding of marriage, and they introduced a new understanding of what it means to be a Bishop. In our view, we just wanted to remain where we were. We were not prepared to go with the Episcopal Church with its innovations. Having said that, we had to take deliberate actions to disaffiliate ourselves from the Episcopal Church.

Our decision was to stay; the decision of The Episcopal Church (TEC) was to move, to embrace innovations that went beyond the historic identity of Christian Faith and Practice. The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) affirms Jesus as “the way, the truth, and the life” and “no one comes to the Father except through Him” (John 14:6) in its opening Theological Statement.

In the ensuring seven affirmations, the ACNA clearly affirms its belief in the authority of Holy Scripture, the two “gospel sacraments” of Baptism and Eucharist, the historic creeds and Ecumenical Councils, the Book of Common Prayer (the 1662 Book being the standard), and the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion. All of these affirmations are clear and unwavering, and are either abandoned or significantly weakened in formal affirmations of TEC. (See

Of course, some of those actions included several years of study, engagement both with our members of our congregation, and with the Bishop and staff members of the Diocese. The issues for us had to do with the Episcopal Church’s move away from … Biblical creedal Christianity. One example for me is … the book, “Dirt, greed, and Sex,” by William Countryman.

As a paraphrase, one of the footnotes refers … [to] … the Church not having any concern with such things as bestiality…

… “Dirt, Greed, and Sex,” was published in the early 80s. It was copyright 1988. If you stop and think about that it was over 20 years. It’s been a generation of seminary students who have been engaged with this kind of ethical thinking.

Countryman’s work has served as an ethics textbook in several seminaries. I think matters of like this go quietly underneath the radar. I would be glad to have a charitable debate on this. But seminarians will take this at face value without any opportunities for critical analysis or comparison with traditional Christian ethics. That’s just one example, but rather pointed.

  1. 2. The Christ Church, Savannah congregation has been on a journey of change and prayerful decision making in its relationship with the Episcopal Church. In a phone conversation with you, some of your remarks went: They [the Vestry and congregation] did not want to drag the church and the congregation into unnecessary and serious considerations [of leaving the Episcopal Church]; [and they] very seriously weighed out all the possibilities to avoid the dynamics of walking out. [In the Parish’s decision to leave], there is an historic statement that is made, a weight of history of elements of their identity that few congregations …have [had] to weigh. Our obligations as stewards of the Gospel [were] to take this move. We’re obligated to be stewards of the mother church of Georgia in this area and in the world. We’re the home of the first hymnal in the US language, the oldest continuous running orphanage. We have also a member who was a founder of the Girl Scouts. We have a strong history of an identity that influences the Church well beyond our walls… Talk for a minute or more about this journey, (1) its difficulties, and (2) how it weighed on the congregation, and, (3) finally some of the theological concerns that led to the decision to leave the Episcopal Church?

The difficulties: I want to talk personally of the impact it had one me. I’ve been an Episcopalian all my life. I was baptized in the Episcopal Church in 1954. I’m like many people in today’s denomination. I remained faithful to the Episcopal Church my entire life…until the Episcopal Church began to express an expression of Christianity I could not recognize. In terms of our congregation, we were founded in 1733, which means we [not only] predate the founding of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, but the foundation of the Episcopal Church in the colonies. From my understanding our participation in the first meeting of the Episcopal Church was negligible. But in the early 1800s, we were one of the founding Churches of the Diocese. For some of us, the fifth and sixth generational members here, this [split and property dispute] is incredibly disruptive.

Clarification: It is my understanding that the Christ Church sent a representative to the General Convention, but that he was more or less a “bystander,” and did not take the lead in any matter of Convention. It is quite possible the representative did not stay for the entirety of the Convention (something not unusual in that day), but I cannot say that for certain. The point of this ambivalence is that Christ Church considered itself an independent parish from the founding of the Episcopal Church. It did not acquiesce to the formal structure and governance of The Episcopal Church right away, and has carried with it a sense of historic “independence” in many ways throughout.

The Reverend Marc Robertson was interviewed. He Rector of breakaway Christ Church, Savannah.

We have worshiping with us three generations or more of the same family: parents, grandchildren and children. That same family is buried [here], their parents and grandparents before them, [also]. So the prospects of being forcibly evicted from the building are enormous. Another aspect is a lot of folks are good friends with those locked up in the legal problem. That is just what happens.

I have parishioners who have college buddies they no longer have relationships with. We have married couples who are divided between husband and wife. They do everything to maintain their marriage, but it becomes very painful in their life.

At this time the words that Jesus said become alive: Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law… (Matthew 10:34-35). But this is just one verse in the Bible among scores of verses which were hypothetical for us, but now they’ve become very tangible.

I’m very well aware that distress falls on both sides here. We’re not the only ones who distress falls upon… Some of the other burdens of our journey are the embarrassing misrepresentations of us. We’ve been called prejudiced against homosexual persons, as bigots, or just plain stupid. I would be the first to say we fall short. We are sinners. But that doesn’t make it any less painful when we are misrepresented over the television or in the newspapers.

What I’m trying to say here is that I acknowledge the pain on both sides of this issue. There are those who feel they have been “dispossessed” by Christ Church, “run out” of their home congregation and forced to worship in a building not their own.

My reply would be: You are always welcomed at Christ Church. It was your decision to leave us. You may disagree with the duly-elected leadership and the direction taken by the church, but leaving and then turning around and bringing legal action against us is a bit like killing your parents and then pleading for mercy because you are an orphan.

With regards to misrepresentation in the press: This is a complex matter, and theological differences [between us] do not sell papers. Thus, it is understandable when I am interviewed that media representatives are looking for something “juicy,” “sensational,” or rife with conflict. It is my responsibility, however, to bring to the discussion the theological underpinnings of this decision. I have no desire to ridicule my opponents; I do, however, wish to refute their arguments with charity as well as clarity.

While the courts cannot legally give attention to such matters, I can do so in and through the media, when they allow me. There is some resemblance to Paul’s appeal to Caesar in the book of Acts. Paul waded through the secular law courts of Rome, and while he was being tried as a seditionist and a threat to the Roman state, his message was constantly about the bodily resurrection of Jesus and its implications for humanity.

  1. 3. The Times-Herald reporter writes on July 11, 2011 about one significant issue of theological kind that divides Christ Church, Savannah from The Episcopal Church and may have been one key reason the Church chose to leave the Communion and join the Anglican Church in North America. He says, The “Mother Church” of Episcopalianism in Georgia has sharp divisions that reflect national trends in that denomination — and have led to a protracted lawsuit.

The Times Herald Reporter talks about issues… among important theological ones…the ordaining of gay clergy… That they may not be married and that their relationships are blessed. That becomes the exotic issue that moves the press along. That is the tip of the iceberg. In order to get to that point where one can get to gay marriage or support the ordination of non-celibate persons, be they homosexual or heterosexual, they have to bypass or undermine five tenants of Christian faith: 1. Authority of Scripture; 2. Nature of marriage; 3. Our understanding of human nature itself as complimentary to the sexes; 4. The nature of Epistemology (the understanding of truth); 5. The historic Christian assertion that we live in a moral universe.

  1. 4. In what ways does the Anglican Church in North America welcome the Parish, Christ Church, and will you tell us something of how it speaks to your parish in ways important in liturgy, communion, and faith? You’re quoted as saying, 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. And 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 Christ of Holy Scripture and not a culturally-manufactured Jesus.

First of all, and I would speak … personally… the leadership of ACNA has been very warm, cordial and receptive to me and to Christ Church. It has been refreshing for me to be a part of a community of faithful, dedicated individuals who seek to come together as a living Church with a common mission. Not that we are all cut out of the same cloth. By no means. Some of us are Anglo-Catholics, some are Evangelicals, and some are Charismatics. And there are other expressions of diversity in our ranks. But we are one in our affirmation in Christ, his Lord, of a Biblical and creedal Christianity, and of the classic Anglican tradition.

The ACNA …affirms the authority of scripture, the divinity of Jesus Christ, the historic creeds, and other similar professions of historic Christianity. Now the ACNA has also stated in its constitution in writing (as well as our Diocese here in the South East), there is no interest in congregational property in any way, unless it is clearly stated by the congregation in a legally, recognized form. [This is different from the claim of the Episcopal Church.]

Also the ACNA affirms the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as the liturgical standard for us along with the majority of the Anglican Communion. In our two Sunday morning services here at Christ Church, one is the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, the other at the main service (10:30 o’clock) is the modern form of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Both are affirmed by the ACNA.

Archbishop Robert Duncan, Anglican Communion in North America

I think it is interesting to add that … Archbishop, Bob Duncan, has given me his personal cell phone number. My first bishop in ACNA, John Guernsey, called me on Christmas Eve (!) and prayed with me over the phone… that my sermons would be powerful and my pastoral ministry effective on that important day. I have known my current bishop, Neil Lebhar, for twenty-five years, and we are part of a support group that meets annually to review our ministries and encourage one another. I never had such offers of support, friendship, and mutual partnership in ministry in my 25 years as a priest in The Episcopal Church.

Thank you for your willingness to do this interview. It’s been good making your acquaintance in this way. If there is something you want to add or say, will you do so here for I may have missed a good issue or question. A major part of the confusion and complexity in this matter is the use of language. The Episcopal Church continues to use religious language, with words like “resurrection,” “the Bible as the Word of God,” or “Jesus is the Son of God.” But when you explore more deeply what such words or phrases mean, they diverge in to a hodge-podge of various personal opinions that can, in the final analysis, only be described as one’s own personal taste or preference…not the historic Faith handed down from generation to generation.

The leadership of The Episcopal Church, much like the leadership of much of mainline Protestantism in the U.S., has consciously or unconsciously embraced the post-modern skepticism as it pertains to language. It is the “Humpty-Dumpty” philosophy of language, when Humpty tells Alice, “When I use a word, it means precisely what I want it to mean; no more, no less.”

Alice retorts, “The question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things.” Humpty then replies with a telling rejoinder: “The question is which is to be master – that’s all.”

In a universe where no objective Truth or Morality exists, all that is left is power and control, and words can be twisted to meet those purposes. In The Episcopal Church (and more broadly, Western society), where a universe is posited that has no objective Truth or Morality, language is a means to an end, and that “end” is reduced to who has the power or control. So we have over fifty lawsuits in The Episcopal Church, almost all of which have been initiated by TEC, in an effort to gain power and control. Our appeal to Truth and Morality seems antiquated in today’s post-modern world, but it is an appeal we believe is true to the Christian Faith.

For readers who want to dig deeper into the legal arguments between the two Communions and specifically the two Christ Church, Savannah contenders over property and identity (who is the real Christ Church, Savannah), these links lead to the oral arguments made in May, 2011 before the Georgia Supreme Court. These the oral statements in video as available on The Daily Report website. This is an earlier story from the Savannah Morning News (January 15, 2011), here. A reader can see that the property issue is no small matter either to the two Christ Church parishes in contention, or to other denominations that have a similar structure.

In a comment to the Savannah Morning News report published in January, 2011, someone who calls himself, “Old Verger,” writes:

Old Verger

The Episcopal Church is a hierarchical church. It is governed at the national level, with about 100 subordinate units called dioceses. Each diocese has subordinate units that are generally called parishes or missions. Most parishes are organized as individual corporations. But according to Church law, they must hold their property in trust for the next highest organizational unit (the diocese). And church law also prohibits “alienating” property without approval of the next highest organizational unit (the diocese). Christ Church agreed to all of this when the Diocese of Georgia was formed, which is how it was allowed to become an Episcopal Church in the first place. Christ Church is still a Parish in the Episcopal Church. Unfortunately, its congregation is being deprived of its own meeting place at the present time. What this legal matter is really about is the right of the continuing congregation of Christ Church, Episcopal, to occupy and enjoy its own property. Secular courts are required to recognize the authority of Church law in these matters, and the Georgia courts have done that. That is what the original trail court did and what the court of appeals upheld. Of course, individuals are free to leave the Episcopal Church at any time, and some do. However, they may not take the Episcopal Church’s real property, bank accounts and altar silver when they go.

The conservative editor of the news service Virtue talked with this writer by phone and made remarks about the litigation that has gone on between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion of North America about previous property disputes that went to court.

Editor David Virtue does not paint a positive picture for the outcome for the Episcopal Church if they win the Georgia Supreme Court case. He says there are, “millions of dollars” in property, and that, “The property has tremendous historic value. The Diocese will claim their history. The Parish will say we lost the building and we will take the theology of Wesley with us. The Diocese will have a pyrrhic victory. They will have to sell the building, if they can’t sustain it with the remaining of the congregation.”

He reports with opinion that his remarks reflect, “What’s happening in Virginia, Pittsburg… the bishop’s cut deals. You can have the building at cost, but you cannot join an Anglican Jurisdiction in five years.” The reason deals are being made, he explains, “It’s not just worth the litigation costs anymore.”

Editor of the online Virtue news service indicates his prophetic opinion regarding an outcome in Georgia for Episcopal Church: “Even if they win the property, they aren’t going to win the people. The judge in Diocese of Fort Worth case remarked, I don’t want to see any more empty churches. The Dioceses think they are winning, but they are losing.” To support this remark, Editor Virtue points out, “The average Episcopalian is now in his 60s and the average parish is 68.” He foresees this result for the Episcopal Church and arguing about Gay Marriage and other issues of sexual acceptance by the Episcopal Church sees, “The juncturing or merging of Diocese.” He pointedly remarks, “Sexual sin never wins; they’ll empty the Church doing so [the Episcopal Church will]. They are not winning the hearts of the people. The Episcopal Church is slowly going downhill…Those that are Gospel driven are growing.” He claims about his news service, Virtue Online, “We’re the largest orthodox Anglican news service online.”

Christ Church Episcopal, in a press statement says, with this remark by their Rector:

Father White … “We know that if the Court upholds the two previous favorable rulings, we will return to our church home on Johnson Square and maintain our abiding commitment to Christian grace, joy, humility, and forgiveness.”

“The case involves a dispute over the control of the real and personal property of Christ Church,” said Mimi Jones, the junior warden for Christ Church Episcopal. “It is not about religious faith or depriving someone from practicing their faith; however, such individuals should not do so from the Christ Church building which does not belong to them.”

Rector Michael S. White, Christ Church Episcopal, Savannah

Father White also noted, “Each day, we seek to be faithful stewards of Christ’s Word and Sacraments. We are a people grounded in the worship of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our congregation continues to be inspired by the strong support and encouragement from the Savannah community and from so many religious organizations in the U.S.”

An important question for Episcopalians is this: What of the validity of the movement, Rediscovering Christian Orthodoxy in the Anglican Tradition. The 111 page paper in PDF by George F. Woodliff III is a kind of favored work by Orthodox Christian Episcopalians. Or so I understand from the Rector of Christ Church, Georgia (ACNA) who recommends it.

A significant premise of the paper is apparent from the preface, written by The Rt. Reverend C. Fitzimons Allison:

George Woodliff’s careful work exposes the impotence of human conjecture to give rational solid ground to the very structures of civilized society. He shows, step by step, how the Episcopal Church has embraced a view of sexuality that is not scientific, biblical, or part of the historic faith. This loss of Christian heritage is not only a problem in the Episcopal Church; it is a dividing issue in virtually every denomination and tradition in the West.
The infiltration of secularism in Christian churches, and its rapid replacement of Christianity in industrial nations, has been spearheaded by the issue of homosexuality. It is conceded on all sides that same-sex behavior has gained unprecedented approval in the media, entertainment, and academic worlds in an astonishingly short time. Michel Foucault observed that “the sodomite has been a temporary aberration; the homosexual was now a species [The History of Sexuality, Volume 1, An Introduction, Tr. Robert Hurley (NY 1980), p. 43].”
Jerry Z. Muller, Professor at Notre Dame, noting the rapidity of this transition attributes it “in large part to a total lack of articulate resistance [by which] homosexual ideology has achieved an unquestioned and uncontested legitimacy in American life.” (First Things, Aug. / Sept. 1993). George Woodliff’s book is a masterful and articulate exposure of the groundless claims of recent sexual ideology.
One must ask: how was this radical change possible? Among the many factors is the contemporary epistemological naïveté that omits the role of trust in gaining knowledge (cp. St. Anselm, M. Polanyi, et al.). The exclusively skeptical hermeneutic in the study of scripture since
the 19th century has inhibited and undermined confidence in Revelation within the churches.
Another factor is the loss of the concept of sin (cf. Carl Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin?) coupled with the culture’s trivialization of God (cf. Donald W. McCullough, The Trivialization of God).

The Rt. Reverend Allison, author of the Preface, is a former Episcopal Bishop, now part of the breakaway Communion, Anglican Communion in North America.

It is clear that the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia sees the dispute as legal, not at all theologically based. They want the property returned. In May, 5 2011 in Savannah Georgia they say in a press statement:

Several Christian denominations representing a broad spectrum of religious faiths have filed with the Georgia Supreme Court “amicus curiae” or “friend-of-the-court” briefs supporting The Episcopal Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia and Christ Church Episcopal in a case involving the ownership of the historic church building located on Johnson Square and other Church properties and assets.

Those filing briefs supporting the Episcopalians include the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the United Methodist Church and the Church of God.

“These denominations have similar structures to that of the Episcopal Church, so their positions are very relevant. We are indebted to our Christian brothers and sisters for supporting our effort,” said Bishop Scott Anson Benhase. He added, “We remain steadfast and confident in our cause and are humbled and gratified by the overwhelming support we have received not only from our community but also from the world-wide Anglican Communion and a broad spectrum of other Christian denominations.”

The friend-of-the-court briefs ask the Georgia Supreme Court, which will hear the case on May 9, to affirm the Georgia Court of Appeals’ July 2010 ruling in favor of the Episcopalians. That ruling upheld Superior Court Judge Michael L. Karpf’s October 27, 2009 judgment that that the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia is entitled to legal possession of the historic Christ Church building and other Church assets for the benefit of those who remain faithful to the Diocese and The Episcopal Church.

In affirming

In the meantime, over the four or so years of dispute, life at the Parish Church of the Anglican Communion in North America continues its work and activities. If that Parish that is breakaway from the Episcopal Church feels stunned to the point of inactivity or depressed faith over the split, it doesn’t appear so in this YouTube offered below of a beautiful Compline.

Compline at Christ Church Savannah [ACNA] (The Final Préces)


There is another Communion of Anglicans in the United States, for the reader’s information. Called Convocation of Anglicans in North America, they say of themselves:

Definition of CANA:CANA is the “Convocation of Anglicans in North America” which is a missionary district sponsored by the largest and most vibrant province of the Anglican Communion, the Church of Nigeria which at c.19 million members accounts for about 25% of the membership of the entire Anglican Communion. CANA’s members, who reflect a wide scope of ethnic and racial identities, embody a healthy balance of the catholic, evangelical, and charismatic streams of Anglican Christianity.

Mission of CANA:The mission of CANA is to provide orthodox clergy and congregations in North America with (a) an episcopate based in North America that has an authentic connection to the Anglican Communion, and (b) an ecclesiastical structure with representative leadership by member clergy and congregations.

Vision of CANA:The vision of CANA is to be a building block and an incubator that works to build up the Anglican Church in North America as the provincial structure for orthodox Anglicanism in North America within the next several years.

Distinctives of CANA:

  1. CANA’s clergy and congregations are authentically in the Anglican Communion through the sponsorship of the Church of Nigeria.
  2. CANA’s clergy and congregations are full-fledged members of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), by virtue of CANA being a founder of the ACNA.
  3. CANA’s episcopate and ecclesiastical structure is based in North America.
  4. CANA’s structure maintains the Anglican tradition of the “councils of the church” with representative leadership by CANA clergy and lay delegates from CANA congregations.
  5. CANA offers a comprehensive competitively priced national healthcare insurance policy, 403b retirement fund, and other insurance plans for clergy and congregational employees.
  6. CANA’s episcopate and clergy are a blessed reflection of the diversity of the American populace, with significant numbers of immigrants and minorities.
  7. CANA is committed to modeling for American Anglicans the possibility of respecting both integrities regarding the ordination of women within one ecclesial body.
  8. CANA is a gift to American Anglicanism with no strings attached—with an American financial structure, there are no requirements to provide financial support to its founding province.
  9. CANA has built mission partnerships with Anglican provinces in the majority world based on decades-long relationships.
  10. CANA was established after TEC had rejected the Anglican Communion’s unanimous recommendations in “The Windsor Report.”
  11. CANA’s episcopate is led by Bishop Martyn Minns, with Suffragan Bishops Roger Ames, David Anderson, David Bena, Amos Fagbamiye; supported by two CANA archdeacons and Canon Missioner Julian Dobbs.
  12. CANA’s Chaplains Deanery is led by Lt. Col. Derek Jones (USAF ret.) and is an endorsing agent with the Department of Defense.


Note written during the writing process of this article-interview posted to this writer’s Facebook page:

More notes on the writing of the piece about the breakaway Christ Church, Savannah property dispute w/Episcopal Church

by Peter Menkin on Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 9:04am

Still doing some work intermittently on the piece about the breakaway Christ Church, Savannah. It occurs to me that it is still an awkward manuscript. Compiled by piecing together related material. Now at 4,408 words it needs help, including the piece that is the interview with Rector Marc Robertson. This is an important part of the article, certainly. Sometimes one reaches an impasse with this kind of process and must take a break; also one must look for more relevant material that will move the piece along and aid the reader with worthwhile material that if it doesn’t illuminate, will inform. Now I’m thinking of how to end the piece, and so far have thought of creating an Addendum. The piece is important because it is supposed to be fair and equitable, give the Christ Church, Savannah side while keeping the Episcopal Church represented well. Some people may be less interested in this dispute, as one press officer of the Episcopal Church told me, “As to the piece about a breakaway church in Georgia, I really have no interest in that as a topic. We’ve moved on.” Seems touchy, touchy, touchy in response to me. The Georgia Supreme Court rules on the property dispute at the end of the year (2011), so it is a very much a live issue. I would say others of the Episcopal Church also don’t want to hear about the subject published, as when talking to New York’s Episcopal Church national press officer, her curt and touchy, touchy, touchy response showed a similar impatience of recognizing even the existence of the breakaway Communion with one word on getting a quote or comment from the Presiding Bishop or national Church: “No.”

Bishop of the Episcopal Church Diocese of Georgia who had no current comment, either.

The Reverend Jim Elliott of Diocese of Georgia, Chancellor and attorney for the Episcopal Church Diocese gave a detailed statement for attribution.


In another property dispute with the Episcopal Church over a breakaway Parish in California, George Conger of The Church of England Newspaper, London wrote in part:

First published in The Church of England Newspaper. This version from The Reverend Canon George Conger’s blog, here.

Civil courts may not adjudicate ecclesiastical disputes, the California Court of Appeals has ruled. On Nov 18 the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Fresno overturned a lower court order that had given trusteeship of the property of the Diocese of San Joaquin to a faction loyal to the national Episcopal Church.

In its 11 page decision the Fifth Court of Appeal held that while civil courts would accept the determination of the Episcopal Church as to whom it recognized as one of its bishops or dioceses, the court would not extend that power to the disposition of property. Church property disputes in California would be governed by “neutral principals of law” where the court would look to title deeds and trusts, and not to canon law or church polity, in determining ownership.

The “First Amendment rights of individuals and corporations” along with “general California statutory and common law principles governing transfer of title by the legal title holder, the law of trusts, … and general principles of corporate governance” control the disposition of church property in California.

The court held the dispute “whether Schofield or Lamb is the incumbent Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of San Joaquin, is quintessentially ecclesiastical. Accordingly, the trial court erred in adjudicating that cause of action and, upon proper motion, must dismiss that cause of action.”

Both sides in the San Joaquin case have hailed the court’s decision as a victory. However, the ruling is likely to undercut the church’s national legal campaign. Its “strategy of claiming the property of a departing diocese because it is somehow ‘hierarchical’ today went down to defeat in Fresno,” canon lawyer Allan Haley said…

…Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori responded by deposing Bishop Schofield and calling a special meeting of synod, which elected the retired Bishop of Northern California as the diocese’s acting bishop. Bishop Lamb and the minority faction then deposed the clergy who supported the secession, and initiated a lawsuit seeking control over the diocese’s property.

On July 21, 2009 the trial court granted a motion in summary judgment on the first count of the complaint brought by Bishop Lamb, which asked for a “judicial declaration that the amendments finally adopted by the Diocese in December 2007 were illegal and void under the Constitution and Canons of ECUSA, and that as a consequence Bishop Lamb had succeeded to the position as bishop of the Diocese, incumbent of its corporation sole, and president/trustee of its associated property-holding entities.”

Bishop Schofield and the now Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin appealed the motion, which effectively gave the minority faction absolute control of the property. However, in its ruling the Court of Appeals held the trial court erred in determining who the proper bishop of San Joaquin was.

The trial court was instructed to determine who the lawful owner of the property was by way of a review of the property transfers made by Bishop Schofield and to determine if these transfers were valid under civil law.

In a statement released after the verdict, attorneys for Bishop Lamb accounted the decision as a victor. San Joaquin Chancellor Michael Glass claimed the decision means “the defendants can no longer assert in court that a Diocese has the right to unilaterally secede from The Episcopal Church, or that Bishop Lamb is somehow not the Bishop of the Diocese.”

Episcopal Church Katherine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop, shown with Bishop Jerry Lamb.


In this case regarding a property dispute, web site, Thinking Anglicans comments and reports this on their web page, quoted in part; but for the full text, look here:

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Appeals Court upholds Episcopal Church in Pittsburgh

Updated again Saturday morning

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports: Court upholds Episcopal Diocese’s claim to assets.

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court has upheld an Allegheny Common Pleas decision awarding centrally held property of the Episcopal diocese that split in 2008 to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh rather than to the rival Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

About $20 million in endowment funds and other assets is at stake. The ruling has no direct impact on ownership of parish property, other than indicating that Anglican parishes must apply to the Episcopal diocese to negotiate for their property, rather than vice versa.

The Anglican diocese has not decided whether to pursue a further appeal.

Lionel Deimel has further details of this, see Details of Commonwealth Court Ruling.

The full text of the judgment can be read from a PDF file here.

There is now a fuller story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Episcopal diocese wins a legal round.

Episcopal Bishop Kenneth Price Jr. welcomed the decision, which arrived the day his diocese reached the first settlement with an Anglican parish. It required that parish to cut ties with the Anglican diocese for five years.

“We are pleased with the court’s findings and hope this will be the final legal challenge concerning this issue,” he said…

…The Episcopal Diocese has issued this press release: Appeals Court Upholds Diocese in Assets Case


Litigation History and Background
Historical Matters
Christ Church was the first church in the Colony of Georgia, and in 1758 an act of the Royal Council granted it ownership of the church building and cemetery (now known as the “Colonial Cemetery”, on Abercorn Street). Subsequent to the Revolution the Georgia legislature granted a charter of incorporation to Christ Church, giving the corporate entity the name The Church Wardens and Vestry Men of the episcopal church in Savannah, called Christ church [sic], and confirmed the corporation’s ownership of all property then held by it or afterwards coming into its possession. (Note that the name of the corporation subsequently was changed to The Rector, Church Wardens and Vestrymen of Christ Church in Savannah, which it remains to this day.) The Rector, Church Wardens and Vestrymen of Christ Church in Savannah (herein generally called “Christ Church”) has not conveyed title to its real property to any other party, nor has it assigned any ownership interest in its personal property other than as security for the repayment of certain loans from time to time.
In 1823, three churches in Georgia, namely Christ Church, St. Paul’s, Augusta, and Christ Church, Frederica, created the Diocese of Georgia and contributed funds for its operations and mission. Christ Church has contributed to the financial support of the diocese ever since. The diocese has never given any financial support to Christ Church.
In 1918 the corporate charter of Christ Church was amended, for reasons that are somewhat unclear, to provide that Christ Church “does hereby acknowledge and accede to the doctrine, discipline and worship and the Constitution and Canons of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America [the national Episcopal organization, now called “The Episcopal Church”], and the Constitution and Canons of the same church in the Diocese of Georgia.” The Constitution and Canons of the national church and the Diocese of Georgia at that time did not include the Dennis Canon.
In 1979 the General Convention of The Episcopal Church (”TEC”) purportedly adopted Canon I.7, Sec. 4, the so-called “Dennis Canon”, (see a copy at the link below) in response to certain judicial developments arising out of controversies in the Presbyterian Church in the 1970s.
On March 30, 2006, the corporate charter of Christ Church was revised so as to repeal all amendments thereto since the original act of incorporation in 1789, and to add appropriate modern provisions required by the internal revenue code of 1986 and the Georgia Non-profit Corporation Code. One result of these revisions was the repeal of the 1918 charter amendment described above, and the addition of a provision that Christ Church “shall be in full communion with all Anglican Churches, Dioceses and Provinces that hold and maintain the Historic Faith, Doctrine, Sacraments and Discipline of the One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church as the Lord has commanded in His Holy Word and as the same are received and taught in the Apostle’s Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal of 1662, and in the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.”
On October 14, 2007, the congregation of Christ Church voted to recognize that TEC and the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia had abandoned the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer and the historic Christian Faith as received, and in so doing had abandoned the communion previously existing between themselves and Christ Church. (See a copy of the resolution at the link below.) On November 14, 2007, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, Inc., (hereinafter called the “Bishop” or the “Diocese”) filed suit in the Superior Court of Chatham County against Christ Church, Fr. Marc Robertson, and the individual members of the vestry (including the clerk) (Civil Action No. CV 07-2039KA). The lawsuit seeks a declaration from the court that all “real and personal property of Christ Church is held in trust for The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Georgia”, and a temporary and permanent injunction ordering Christ Church (i) to stop using such property except for “the mission of The Episcopal Church” and (ii) to relinquish control of such property. It also seeks a judgment against Fr. Marc for all “pecuniary benefits” (salary, etc.,) paid by Christ Church since March 30, 2006, a judgment against the individual vestry members for funds of Christ Church used for purposes other than the “mission and ministry of The Episcopal Church”, and for “such further relief as may be necessary and proper.”
On January 10, 2008, the parties met for formal mediation in an attempt to reach some resolution without litigation. In preliminary discussions prior to the mediation certain ground rules had been laid down regarding what matters were open for discussion and so forth. However, when the parties met for the mediation it became apparent immediately that the Bishop did not intend to follow the agreed protocol. Among other things, the Bishop attempted to bring to the table certain former members of Christ Church, not parties to the lawsuit, and allow them to participate equally in the mediation.
On January 11, 2008, TEC filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, that is, to be allowed to participate in the lawsuit as a plaintiff. Both Christ Church and the Bishop consented to such intervention.
On May 27, 2008, a group calling itself the “Wardens and Vestry of Christ Church Episcopal” (hereinafter called “CCE”) filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit as a party plaintiff. Christ Church opposed this motion on the bases that (i) there was no showing that CCE was a legal entity with capacity to sue, and (ii) CCE’s intervention would improperly introduce new issues into the lawsuit. A hearing was held on the matter, and CCE amended its motion to allege that it was an unincorporated association with legal capacity. The court then granted the motion and CCE joined the lawsuit as a party plaintiff on September 9, 2008.
Legal Matters
The primary basis for the claims of the Bishop, TEC, and CCE is the Dennis Canon. The Dennis Canon purports to create a trust for the benefit of TEC and for the local diocese over any property held by or for a parish. The main issues are (i) whether the Dennis Canon was effective to create a trust, and (ii) if so, what effect that has on the authority of the vestry of Christ Church to deal with the church’s assets.
Several questions have been raised as to whether the Dennis Canon was properly adopted, i.e., whether the procedures required by TEC’s own Constitution and Canons were followed. Strangely, critical portions of the official records kept at the time of the 1979 General Convention dealing with the Dennis Canon have disappeared from the custody of TEC. Even if the Dennis Canon was validly adopted in accordance with TEC’s rules, its legal effectiveness to create a trust has been called in question in several court cases and never directly decided in a final judgment. Cases presently are pending in the Supreme Court of California in which it is anticipated the court will decide whether the Dennis Canon is legally effective under California law. The court is expected to rule sometime no later than January, 2009.
Note that the legal effectiveness of the Dennis Canon to create a trust in favor of TEC and the local Bishop is a matter of state law, which governs the creation and operation of trusts. Thus, whether and to what extent a court decision from another state bears on Christ Church’s case depends on the precise rationale of the decision, the degree of similarity between the trust laws of Georgia and the other state, and related matters.
A “trust” is defined generally as a fiduciary relationship with respect to property, arising from a manifestation of intent to create that relationship, and subjecting the person who holds title to the property to certain duties to deal with it for the benefit of one or more other parties. It is useful to think of the ownership of property as consisting of two essential aspects: the right to control and manage the property, and the right to benefit from the property. Most of the time these two aspects of ownership are held by the same person, but where a trust exists they are separated. The right of control is held by one or more parties called the “trustee(s)” and the right to the benefits of the property (e.g., its income) are held by one or more other parties, each of whom is called a “beneficiary”. Where a trust exists the trustee has full control over the management of the property but must exercise this authority for the sole benefit of the beneficiary of the trust. The beneficiary generally has little or no power to control the management of the trust assets so long as the trustee is not abusing its power in some way. It is axiomatic that the person creating the trust (termed the “settler” or “grantor”) must own the property over which the trust is imposed at the time the trust is created. This is the great issue with the Dennis Canon, aside from the question of whether it was validly adopted in the first place.

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