A Savannah Morning News Article on the Georgia Supreme Court Decision

“While we were forced to take action when the breakaway congregation deprived the thriving congregation of Christ Church Episcopal of the property we hold in trust for them on Johnson Square, we know that both groups share faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of the world,” [Bishop Scott] Benhase said.

The continuing Christ Church congregation has been worshiping at another location for four years pending a final outcome of the case.

In a statement released Monday, the Rev. Michael White, rector of Christ Church, said the congregation plans to continue to worship at St. Michael and All Angel’s Episcopal Church on Washington Avenue each Sunday at 5 p.m. while it concludes administrative matters necessary in the transition back to the Johnson Square site.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, Episcopal Church (TEC), Law & Legal Issues, TEC Bishops, TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: Georgia, TEC Departing Parishes

14 comments on “A Savannah Morning News Article on the Georgia Supreme Court Decision

  1. flaanglican says:

    Not one mention of the 1979 Dennis Canon. Without that, the entire article is misleading, as if TEC was minding its own business when the meanie Anglicans snatched it right out of their hands.

  2. Ralph says:

    Has anyone from the Diocese of Georgia said anything negative or derogatory about the ACNA group?

  3. Milton says:

    I wonder how Christ Church Episcopal will look and sound in a few years with a dome on top, front doors painted green, and Muslim calls to prayer blasting out from loudspeakers when the “thriving” “continuing” congregation can no longer afford to keep the doors open and the building is sold as a large, oddly-shaped mosque?

  4. AnglicanFirst says:

    Congregations in parishes of dioceses that permit a parish to make its own decision to ‘give’ or not ‘give’ to ECUSA each year should withhold all such giving to the national church until the national church ceases its punitive, vindictive, assertive and aggressive lawsuits against Chrisitians within ECUSA.

  5. wmresearchtrianglenc says:

    In this newspaper article, the statement of the bishop involved referring to the congregation of the parish as having been “deprived” is something I find odd and am having difficulty understanding. I.e., IN THE SAME SENTENCE this bishop refers to a “breakaway” congregation and a “thriving’ congregation (presumably he is referring to two different congregations). I’m confused because my impression was that AN OVERWHELMING majority of this old parish made it very clear in a vote that they no longer wished to be affiliated with TEC. It’s also my understanding that the SAME congregation continued to be a “thriving” congregation, and I’ve never understood that this SAME congregation engaged in any negative action(s) with regard to any member(s) of the congregation who wished to remain a worshipper in the parish, including those in that very small minority who voted to remain affiliated with TEC. I’d appreciate some clarification from someone locally as to the accuracy of this bishop’s statement.

  6. Ralph says:

    I pray that the back story on the Christ Church situation will never emerge fully, in public. There’s just no point in that.

    The question of whether the Christ Church Episcopal congregation will thrive or descend into darkness will be answered soon enough.

  7. sophy0075 says:

    The “thriving congregation of CCE”? HA! Maybe there were 12 people.

  8. NoVA Scout says:

    No. 5: I can’t address the details of this particular parish, but the Bishop’s comments are consistent with the fact pattern in number of these departing situations wherein a majority of the voting parishioners decided to leave the Episcopal Church (and/or their Diocese), but, rather than physically leave, stayed on to the exclusion of continuing Episcopal worship by those who chose not to depart. The parishioners who did not choose to leave found themselves without a place to worship if they wished to continue as Episcopalians (in other words, no Episcopal services were permitted on the premises now occupied by the seceding group). Hence the reference to being “deprived”. Those who stayed in TEC have usually found other temporary quarters, often by the gracious acts of churches of other denominations while the legal process has ground on to eventually restore access for the people who chose not to leave. These exile parishes, of course, do not stand still, and some have prospered (the ones I know of) and others no doubt have not. The issue is not that the occupiers would not permit a continuing Episcopalian to worship like any other visitor to a different denomination (i.e., I don’t think anyone has ever been barred from entry or worship into occupied premises on the basis that he is a continuing Episcopalian) but that Episcopal Clergy and rites are not permitted. The “overwhelming majority” issue is a nuanced one in most cases. The voting process was, in every case with which I am familiar, organized by factions who wanted to leave and simultaneously retain the property. In most cases the voter rolls were culled fairly thoroughly to weed out under age voters, casual attendees, and, frankly to lower the denominator by which one determined what a majority would be. In Virginia, parishioners were told (because of a state law that the departing groups were attempting to employ, but which was later ruled inapplicable by the Supreme Court of that state) that a non-vote was the same as a no vote. Many people did not bother to vote in those situations. I do not know whether that happened at Christ Church in Savannah. While I do not doubt, given the processes and rhetoric that preceded departure in many of these parishes, that an arithmetic majority of eligible parishioners did indeed vote to leave, I do think these numbers that are bandied about (like 95%/5%) are misleading in that they do not reflect that the departure process was controlled exclusively by partisans of departure and that non-votes were most likely no votes.

    As to Ralph’s point, I’m sure there are intemperate continuing Episcopalians reflective of the same human frailties that afflict non-episcopalians, but I’ve never heard any thing even vaguely approaching the vilification and unfair comments about Episcopalians and their motives that crop up with great regularity even on fairly well-monitored sites such as Dr. Harmon’s emanating from within Episcopal parishes against people who chose to re-affiliate with new groups based on the Anglican liturgy and tradition. I think there is a definite imbalance in the level of verbal abuse and disparagement. Hence, I am not surprised in any way that the Episcopal Bishop’s comments were as calm, fair and charitable as they were.

  9. Sarah says:

    RE: “I pray that the back story on the Christ Church situation will never emerge fully, in public.”

    Yeh — the “back story” was already chattered about back when the parish first voted, and everybody understood what it was about then too. People who’d not darkened the door of the parish nor given in years and years, but outraged that they were not considered “members in good standing” under the bylaws.

    That’s actually the “back story” on every single parish or diocesan departure from TEC too, not just Christ Church, Savannah.

    Further, of course, the bishop of GA doesn’t need to say something “derogatory” about the ACNA congregation — [i]after all he’s suing them to legally steal their property from them[/i]. Hopefully this will all go to the Supreme Court.

    And you have to laugh at the so-called “charity” of the bishop with the clergy handbook revisions he swiftly instituted: [blockquote]Groups not part of TEC
    These groups undermine the geographical authority of the bishop as defined in the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church and observed in historical Anglican practice. Therefore, no clergyperson from these groups may participate in any service of worship, and no joint services may be held with any congregation of the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. Episcopal clergy of the Diocese of Georgia may not participate in any service held in or by these congregations except with written permission from the Bishop.[/blockquote]
    Yeh . . . [i]thoroughly charitable[/i] is Bishop Benhase.

    We should all be so lucky as to have someone so “charitable” in our lives.

  10. wmresearchtrianglenc says:

    NoVA Scout: I thank you for your comments to my post. The information surrounding the voting aspect of a parish’s decision not to remain affiliated with TEC obviously involves an issue that seems unavoidably certain to carry with it a strong possibility of injured feelings on the part of some individuals who wouldn’t actually be qualified to vote on the question of remaining affiliated with TEC under the procedures/rules pertaining to the election, and some of those individuals may have had a strong personal identification with the parish involved. Of course, if erroneous or even misleading information as to the result of failure to vote occurred, that’s clearly wrongful and should not have occurred.

    However, assuming a majority of individuals eligible to vote in a TEC parish re the question of whether the parish should continue to be affiliated with TEC voted against continuing that affiliation, this actually does beg the question as to what are the canonical responsibilities of the parish towards those who voted to continue the TEC affiliation. I’m not a canon lawyer, however, it isn’t my understanding that there is a strict canonical requirement that a particular rite or usage is required in a TEC parish, although I believe that it would be permissible for a bishop to proscribe services conducted entirely in Latin, for example. Otherwise, I’m uncertain as to what an “Episcopal” service actually is, since I don’t believe it would be restricted to a service from the current BCP, e.g. This reminds me of something that has occurred in England but which I haven’t heard of in the U.S.: the “Rolling Worship” program in some parishes which has been around for some time and which appears to have invigorated parishes. “Rolling Worship” involves the parish offering something of an expanded variety of worship activities for individuals and families on Sunday, especially during the traditional “key” hours for traditional services. E.g., in one area of the parish at 9:00 a.m., an individual or family may choose to join a group having a hymn sing, or instead at 9:00, the individual or family might want to attend the breakfast offered in the parish hall, with, perhaps, a talk by someone in the parish; at 9:15, there may be a service of Morning Prayer; at 10:00 there might be a study on Acts and at the same time there might be a shorter “family” service of Holy Communion, at 11:00, a study on the workplace and Christian theology, and at 11:15 there might be a longer Holy Communion service, followed by a lunch at 12:30. I’m sure there hasn’t been “barring” of attending services by anyone wishing to attend a service, however, the basic question would seem: What are the canonical requirements in TEC pertaining to religious services?

  11. NoVA Scout says:

    No. 10 – just to provide and anecdotal example: I had worshipped in my parish for nearly twenty years. My vote in the plebescite on departure was placed in a “challenged” category, and, to this day, I don’t know whether it was actually counted in the total. Others reported similar experiences. I don’t represent that rectification of these kinds of things would have changed the ultimate result. The vote was nearly 60/40 in favour of departure. I do believe, however, that great pains were taken to define the electorate in a way that at least coincidentally increased the likelihood (or the proportion) of the YES votes on the secession issue.

    If our continuing Episcopal parish wished to worship in the quarters now occupied by the departees, we would have to accept clergy who have either voluntarily departed the Church, involuntarily been deposed by our bishop, or who have never been ordained as Episcopalian clergy. Of course, the rites and liturgy would be familiar to us, but we would, essentially, be visitors in our church buildings and the clergy, vestry and offices would be held by people who departed. We, instead, found temporary quarters donated to us by generous, charitable Presbyterians, where the parish continues as it has for more than 200 years. We have learned a great deal about our faith from the experience of exile and loss. We know each other better and more intimately than we did when we worshipped in a larger setting with more impressive and comfortable physical surroundings. We understand our rites and liturgy more deeply now that a higher proportion of us have to be directly involved in making worship happen each Sunday. We are better Christians, I think, for the experience. The Bible speaks more directly to me (and I suspect many others in our church) because we were knocked out of our comfort zone in a large, prosperous Church into a more Pauline, early church environment. The process has been a blessing and one that will mark us for the better even if we do soon return to our home.

  12. Mitchell says:

    In the CC case were these the historical bylaws, are were they changed shortly before the vote to eliminate the vote of some who could have voted but for the bylaw changes?

  13. wmresearchtrianglenc says:

    No. 11- I appreciate the sharing in your post which I consider helpful in the process of communication. However, whether or not one agrees with the decision of the considerable number of former TEC parishes that have elected to end their affiliation with TEC, there are very important issues involving the derogation of rights of these congregations that I believe may well be (and should be) decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. The so-called “Dennis Canon” has been applied to many disputes involving some of these parishes (and as one who lived in Northern Virginia for 20 years, I’m also aware of the Virginia statute dealing with ownership of church property).

    Regardless of “Dennis”, it’s my opinion that even if a court finds that TEC if a “hierarchial church” as a matter of law, when a court examines how TEC is structured, the conclusion would correctly determine that the individual dioceses within TEC are actually the most important element in determining powers to be executed by the national church; i.e., individual dioceses do not exist as mere subdivisions of the national body known asl TEC. The issues pertaining to litigation that in pending issues involving a number of TEC dioceses, (e.g., the Diocese of Virginia, the Diocese of Georgia, and the Diocese of Fort Worth), are likely, in my opinion, to be decided by the Supreme Court unfavorably to positions taken by the national church and some dioceses. The principal reason for this view is that the so-called “Dennis Canon” will fail to accomplish what the national church and some dioceses would like for it to accomplish–serve as a carte blanche vehicle for a diocese of TEC to do whatever it wishes with regard to church property of a congregation that has elected not to remain affiliated with TEC. I would be surprised if the facts in some of the cases involving litigation within TEC were such that disclosed that the dioceses involved (or the national church) had been willing to NEGOTIATE IN GOOD FAITH with the former TEC congregation with regard to purchase of the church property. My impression is that former TEC congregations such as The Falls Church, Truro Church, and Christ Church, Savannah, to name a few examples, would be WILLING AND ABLE to enter in to good faith negotiations for the purchase of church property that was now being claimed under a religious canon was basically overkill with regard to what might be the rights of a trustee in a state.

  14. NoVA Scout says:

    No. 13 – I had not revisited this thread until today and I apologize for not responding more promptly. I agree that the Diocesan structure is important in these property disputes. Several points, however, strike me as worthy of airing a counterbalancing viewpoint: First, there really is no situation that I’m aware of under which “a parish” can “leave” the church and that certainly did not happen in Virginia or Georgia. Some people decided to leave, but the parish remains (as would a diocese) as an administrative unit in the Church. You seem to take it for granted that this has happened. I know of nothing in the governing documents of the parishes, dioceses, or the national church that provides for such property-enriching departures. These purports of “parishes” or “dioceses” leaving the church are all extra-canonical and are constructs used by departing groups to lay claim to physical property and accounts. People can leave any time they want and do so without let or hindrance. However, they can’t create a property right by so doing.

    Second, a diocesan bishop can’t really negotiate “in good faith” with a parishioner or group or parishioners over seized property. There have been some successful negotiations around the country, but in most of these cases, the departing people were not in occupation of the premises and did not openly question the Bishop’s authority to decide how the property is used. For a bishop to “negotiate” with the people who are occupying the Falls Church, to use one of your examples, while they are holding the property to the exclusion of those who chose not to leave, would be a violation of the Bishop’s stewardship commitments, I would think, and, at a minimum, a reckless policy that might likely encourage more seizures by other groups.

    Third, the Dennis Canon is an element in these disputes, but it is not as central, in my opinion, as you seem to believe. The courts will also look to the deeds, other property-related documentation and history of relationships between the parishioners and the Diocese. These vary from situation to situation, but, in the Virginia cases of which I am aware, most of these documents indicate that the property is held in the name of or for the benefit of “Episcopal” units, not newly formed denominations created by departing parishioners. Although I am speculating a bit, and cannot speak from direct personal knowledge, I think the reason the departing factions in Pittsburgh and Fort Worth clung so tenaciously to the moniker “Episcopal” after they departed, despite their intense distaste for The Episcopal Church, is to create ambiguity over which group, the stayers or the leavers, was really the entity referred to in property documents. While the Dennis Canon may swing some of these decisions, I am very much of the view that, even without its application, there is no legal device by which a departing parishioner of group of parishioners can take property either from a Diocese or from parishioners who choose not to leave.

    Finally, I’m not sure that the Supreme Court of the United States will sort out all these disputes with one fell swoop. They are all very different factually, and some may be resolved without implicating federal constitutional principles. The Virginia Supreme Court ruling against the seceding groups on the application of the Virginia Division Statute struck me as a complete end of the road for that argument, as it raised no federal issues. Some of these cases may eventually go up on the question of whether “neutral principles” were properly applied. But a resolution of one such case at the federal level may not take care of disputes in a different jurisdiction.