R.A. Livingston: The Episcopal Church in 2009 – A Primer for Those in the Pews

The problem, in a nutshell, is this: beginning in late 2004, the Episcopal Church began to intervene and participate in lawsuits brought by dioceses against departing churches. The object of each of these lawsuits has been to enforce through the courts a trust which the Church maintains exists on the property of every single one of its 7,000+ parishes. Under the terms of the trust, first expressed in an amendment (known as the “Dennis Canon”) to the Church canons (bylaws) in 1979, every Episcopal parish and mission holds its real and personal property””everything from the land, buildings and endowments down to the hymnbooks and altar furnishings””in trust for the diocese of which it is a member, and for the Episcopal Church as a whole.

The parish itself is allowed to be the trustee of the trust, and to use the property for its purposes, for as long as it remains in the Episcopal Church. Should it ever vote to leave its diocese, however, the Church and the diocese then become the co-beneficiaries of the trust, which would give them the right to enforce it, and assert that the property must go to them. These are the terms of the so-called “Dennis Canon”, enacted by General Convention in 1979, which lay dormant for more than twenty years before it first came into play against a parish that tried to leave.

With billions of dollars’ worth of tax-exempt religious property in the name of its parishes, the Episcopal Church committed itself to enforcing the Dennis Canon in the courts when parishes tried to retain their property after voting to leave. Most trusts are created by the person who has title to the property that is placed in trust. The Dennis Canon, however, is different. It is a trust created by the national Church, without needing the signatures of each parish vestry or rector to be effective””or so the Church claims. The lawsuits brought by the Church have each been filed with the purpose of obtaining rulings from the various State courts which uphold and enforce individual Dennis Canon trusts on parish property.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Episcopal Church (TEC), Law & Legal Issues, Parish Ministry, Stewardship

5 comments on “R.A. Livingston: The Episcopal Church in 2009 – A Primer for Those in the Pews

  1. mhmac13 says:

    This is well worth the read. It is an excellent description of what has happened to the church that I grew up in and loved. It is hard to disagree either with his interpretation or his conclusions. It should be very helpful for those folks in the pews who feel helpless to effect change from their parish viewpoint. Thanks for the referral.

  2. robroy says:

    Our good Curmudgeon has made a version that can be printed and distributed in the church missives. I made a tinyurl so that it can be referenced easily:


    Send to all your friends! (and you can send the AAC report at http://tinyurl.com/AACreport ).

  3. Bart Hall (Kansas, USA) says:

    Indeed, it is a comprehensive, albeit rather discouraging overview, to which I would a one additional point in his section on the Boomers:

    Back in the mid- to late-’60s the absolute top-of-the-line, gold plated, very [b]best draft deferment was to be a [i]seminary[/i] student[/b]. Seminaries of the old-line protestant churches were chock full of young liberal activists who chose that course of study as a highly convenient pathway for developping and implementing their political and social views.

    Nearly all current leaders in the episcopal church arose from that pool of liberal activists or have been very closely associated with them.

  4. Cole says:

    #3 Makes an interesting point that explains what I would have originally thought to be counterintuitive. That is about the general politics of Episcopalians. I think that the predominant political leanings of the posters on this blog are for them to be more geopolitically and socially conservative. They also seem to be more sympathetic to realignment. That, along with the theological divide, explains the big difference in the American Province with those who have won the power, but have not won the hearts and souls of the orthodox. Thank you #3 for bringing this to my attention. I am a Boomer, a Vietnam Vet and realigned. I personally know orthodox bishops who are much more liberal politically (for other reasons) than I am. Maybe their earlier inhibition to take on the draft dodgers (as #3 implies about TEC) theologically has hastened the demise of Christianity in this country. Now we have to play damage control to the Faith instead of the institution.

  5. chips says:

    I am not sure that TEC ever won the hearts and minds of the rank and file – much less the truly orthodox. Most non-loony left Episcopalians of the 60’s and 70′ vintage have either died, are living in a nursing home, voted with their feet (myself in this group), or are still in TEC but unaware of how really horrible the people in control are (I previoulsy thought that TEC had become bad – my experiences from reading this blog now has me convinced that it is truly malignant with +KJS being perhaps the most unpleasant member of the clergy since the inquisition). Perhaps never in the course of human events has so much been lost by so many to so few.