From the November, 2007 Central Florida Episcopalian [emphasis as in the original]. An excerpt:
How we move forward will necessarily differ from one case to another. If an overwhelming majority of the members of a given congregation were to decide to leave, we might face a situation in which disposal of the property would eventually have to be considered.
I have shared the following proposed protocol with the clergy at our annual Clergy Conference at Canterbury, and it will be presented to the Diocesan Board and Standing Committee later this month. It has not yet been adopted, but I believe that it ”“ or something very like it ”“ must ensure that the spiritual needs of all the members of the Diocese will be protected. (This is more detail than most of you will want, but for everyone concerned we need to be as clear as possible.)
Vestry Vote and Special Meeting of the Members
The vote of a Rector (or Church Planter) and Vestry cannot control whether or not a congregation disaffiliates. This will only be considered after a vote of the members of the congregation. However, if the Rector and Vestry determine to disaffiliate from the Diocese by at least a 75% majority vote they shall immediately notify the Bishop of that fact. They are to furnish to the Bishop a plan outlining how they intend to provide for the ongoing nurture of all people, whether they are disaffiliating or not, and whether they will seek to negotiate for the real and personal property of the Parish. A copy of the plan submitted to the Bishop shall be given to every member of the congregation and the Rector and Vestry shall certify to the Bishop that this has been done.
The Bishop will call a Special Meeting of the congregation giving at least 15 days notice of that meeting and he or his designee will preside at that meeting. The Bishop and the Parish will provide a joint notice of this meeting. The Bishop may require the Parish to hold informational meetings for the congregation prior to the Special Meeting where a pastoral team appointed by the Bishop may participate and answer questions concerning disaffiliation.
Prior to the meeting the Bishop will appoint a committee of three members of the congregation who will make a recommendation to the Bishop as to the eligibility of any member to vote should a challenge arise, the Bishop being the final arbiter. This decision shall be based upon the canonical definition of a member in good standing, eligible to vote.
At the Special Meeting of the Congregation, after a suitable time for discussion as determined by the Bishop or his designee, the question shall be put before the meeting: “Do you wish to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church or not?” The vote tally shall be reported by the Bishop or his designee and the Bishop shall render within 7 days, on a case by case basis whether in his opinion a viable Episcopal congregation remains.
The Bishop will call a meeting of those members desiring to maintain their affiliation with The Episcopal Church in order to elect a new Vestry. The Bishop, or his designee, will preside at that meeting. Until a new Vestry is elected, the Bishop will appoint at least three of the members desiring to remain in The Episcopal Church as the Vestry and an interim Warden who shall take charge of the Parish and establish a plan for the future operation of the Parish.
Possible Sale of Real and Personal Property
If, in the judgment of the Bishop with the concurrence of the Diocesan Board and Standing Committee (if consecrated property is involved), the Parish and the Diocese are willing to sell the real and personal property held by the Parish, and the members desiring to disaffiliate with The Episcopal Church have formed a non-profit corporation, the Diocese will enter into negotiations with the new corporation to consider the purchase or lease of the property. A decision to sell parochial property is one that must be made by the continuing members of a congregation, not by those who have voted to leave it. The Diocese and the new corporation will select a qualified property appraiser to determine the fair market value of the real property. The cost of the property appraisal will be borne by the new corporation. The Diocese may require an audit of the financial affairs of the Parish by an independent accountant for the current year and the prior two years.
Upon receipt of the audit reports and the property appraisal, the Bishop, with the consent of the Diocesan Board and Standing Committee, shall be empowered to sell the real and personal property on behalf of the Parish on terms agreeable to the Bishop and the Board. These terms may include a mortgage amortized over a 30 year period with low (not to exceed prime) or no interest. The starting point for any such discussion will be the fair market value of the property for use as a church.
This is a very painful time for many of us. I feel a great sense of personal loss in contemplating these departures, but I want to reassure you that the Diocese of Central Florida remains steadfastly committed to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the authority and trustworthiness of God’s word written, and the anointing and empowering of the Holy Spirit. As your Bishop I am committed to proclaiming the Gospel, to strengthening existing churches and planting new ones, and to raising up the next generation as faithful followers of Christ. The painful loss of some of our brothers and sisters in Christ will not divert us from any of these commitments.
I have said repeatedly that it is my desire to remain both an Episcopalian and an Anglican. In that regard, let me share something with you that the Archbishop of Canterbury has written to me just this past month: “Any Diocese compliant with Windsor remains clearly in communion with Canterbury and the mainstream of the Communion, whatever may be the longer-term result for others in The Episcopal Church. The organ of union with the wider Church is the Bishop and the Diocese rather than the Provincial structure as such”¦. I should feel a great deal happier, I must say, if those who are most eloquent for a traditionalist view in the United States showed a fuller understanding of the need to regard the Bishop and the Diocese as the primary locus of ecclesial identity rather than the abstract reality of the ”˜National Church.’”
We have a great and faithful Diocese, and with the help of the Lord himself, I am committed to making it even better. During this time of transition, I urge all of us to treat each other with great care and compassion. I ask your prayers for wisdom for all who will be involved in these discussions.
With warmest regards in our Lord,
+ John W. Howe, Bishop