Around the country, congregations who wish to leave the Episcopal Church are being turfed out of their church buildings — and they aren’t even being allowed to buy them from TEC, even if they’ve already paid for them once. Excerpt from World magazine’s report:
A scorched earth policy. That’s how Anglicans who have left The Episcopal Church (TEC) and its endorsement of unbiblical beliefs and actions often describe TEC’s response. From depressed Binghamton, N.Y., to affluent Newport Beach, Calif., TEC leaders have fought dozens of court battles to force congregations leaving the denomination to forfeit the buildings they, their parents, and their grandparents paid for.
Here’s one example: Church of the Good Shepherd stood for nearly 130 years on a main road through Binghamton, a former manufacturing hub that now has a high unemployment rate. Members were long concerned about theological drift, and the consecration of a homosexual bishop in 2003 by TEC’s General Convention was the last straw.
Binghamton rector Matt Kennedy began a conversation with the bishop of central New York, telling him the church would likely leave TEC to seek oversight of an Anglican bishop in another province. Kennedy says the initial meetings were productive, and the congregation offered to buy its building from the diocese for $150,000—but TEC hierarchs rejected the offer. After the congregation disaffiliated from TEC in 2007, the diocese filed suit for the building.
Kennedy says the congregation considered walking away, but would have had no resources to continue. Plus, the rector said: “We thought it would be good for outsiders to see that those who claim to be about tolerance and inclusivity really aren’t about those things. It’s really more a kind of tyranny.” In 2009, though, a judge ruled against the congregation, which had to leave immediately.
Kennedy remembers “one of our more stoic men standing in front of a plaque bearing his father’s name, tracing the inscription with his finger.” The plaque would have to stay. In 2010 the diocese sold the church to local Muslims for $50,000, according to Virtue Online, three times less than what the departing Christians had offered. The Muslims used a crane to remove the cross. A sign on the building now reads, “Islamic Awareness Center.”
Think about that. The congregation’s ancestors had already paid for the building, and the congregation was offering to pay for it again. But the spiteful diocese refused, and was willing to sell it to a non-Christian congregation for a third of what they could have gotten from the departing congregation, who would have kept it as a house of Christian worship, as it always had been.
President Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is the enforcer of the hard line:
The campaign has peaked under Katharine Jefferts Schori, who became in 2006 the first female presiding bishop within the Anglican Communion. Before her consecration, some departing churches offered payments to their dioceses for the properties they had built and maintained, but Jefferts Schori intervened and said TEC would not sell to congregations that intended to remain Anglican. TEC has sold buildings to Baptists, Methodists, Jews, and—in at least two cases—Muslims.
Eleven churches in northern Virginia were among the victims of the new policy. They were negotiating buyouts with Virginia bishop Peter Lee, who said he was ready to accept the offers—but with Jefferts Schori’s hard line cratering negotiations, the diocese of Virginia sued the parishes and won the properties (see “A great divorce,” June 16, 2012). The AAC reports TEC leadership has initiated at least 78 lawsuits against parishes and departing dioceses. (Five dioceses have left TEC.) Some lawsuits include multiple parishes.
A TEC spokeswoman said Jefferts Schori wasn’t available for an interview for this story. Allan Haley, an attorney representing two of the departing dioceses, estimates TEC has spent nearly $26 million on litigation: “It’s a policy of wearing people down by outspending them.” Many of the lawsuits include individual rectors and vestry members by name. Some seek punitive damages. Most suits demand church property and everything inside, as well as money in parish bank accounts.
The story goes on to report good things some congregations have learned and experienced from having lost their beautiful buildings. Read the whole thing.
I understand why TEC would want to fight hard to keep these parishes from leaving. But at a certain point, these tactics are purely spiteful. When a diocesan bishop and the church’s Presiding Bishop would rather sell a church building at a big loss to a non-Christian congregation than accept payment from a departing congregation, and when it spends millions defending its property rights over the spiritual and moral health of the congregation, you’ve got to wonder just which Lord these people serve.
UPDATE: I should say that I would rather than building be used by a Muslim congregation than turned to secular use. At least it’s still being used to worship God.