Sunday, December 17, 2006

High Church, Low Church, Bye Church, No Church? :: Inactivist Blog

Inactivist rarely blogs on the Episcopal Church. Today he has.

Some extracts:

The point of this little history lesson is that the Episcopal Church in the U.S. has from its very beginnings been both “conservative” and “liberal.” Ironically, it is unique among all other Protestant denominations in the U.S. in that there was no schism within the Episcopal Church resulting from the Civil War. By long standing custom, tradition and temperament, it has managed to finesse its internal differences over everything from liturgics to politics. In the last fifty years the Church has weathered a number of crises from the infamous “reparations” General Convention in the 1960s through a major revision to the Book of Common Prayer and the ordination of women in the 1970s. Many conservatives and traditionalists have argued that these upheavals were responsible for the continuing, steep decline in membership in the last half century, but they have for the most part nonetheless themselves remained within the denomination. Until now.
. . .
the decision by an increasing number of parish churches within the U.S. to disassociate from the Episcopal Church, on the one hand, while creating some sort of new Anglican presence in America, on the other, is likely to result in a number of fascinating court battles. Generally speaking, the real property of parish churches – the land and buildings – are legally “owned” by the diocesan bishops, but only in trust for the membership. It is settled law that if a single parish congregation chooses to leave its diocese it will typically lose the land and buildings to the diocese regardless of the fact that the congregation bought and paid for it. It is far less settled law (and property law varies significantly from state to state) what will happen if a mass exodus constituting a schism within the denomination occurs and even less clear what happens if an entire diocese chooses to disassociate from the national denomination.

Like most mainline Protestant denominations, the Episcopal Church is land rich and cash poor. In its traditionally ham-handed manner, the national church organization in New York, controlled for decades now by the progressive, politically activist element of the denomination, has established a “war chest” to help pay litigation costs of diocesan bishops who seek to confiscate the real property from departing congregations. Ironically, even if they win this battle, they will lose the war. . . .
Has the Episcopal Church established a war chest? In what sense is a war chest a war chest? Are funds earmarked? Are commitments to use the war chest made, and are they binding? You build and use a war chest if you want to maintain a reputation for upholding the property ownership precedents.

Some canons are meant to be broken of course. Witness the ordination of Bishop Robinson.

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