February 1, 2011

A Fair Settlement?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran a story today describing the first agreement the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has made with a congregation that left the diocese for what has become the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh. According to the Post-Gazette, parishioners of St. Philip’s in Moon Township will be voting tonight whether to accept the offer that has been agreed to by the Episcopal diocese and the parish’s rector, the Rev. Eric Taylor. In fact, that meeting should be going on even as I write this.

If, as expected, the agreement is approved, the diocese, which holds the deed to the St. Philip’s property, will sell that property to the congregation for a price that has not been disclosed. The church will then disaffiliate from the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) and remain independent for at least five years.

Negotiating this settlement has, apparently, taken a long time. It is, I think, a reasonable one, but a settlement made under very special circumstances. First, the deed to the property is held by the Board of Trustees of the Episcopal Diocese. Presumably, the diocese could have insisted that the building be used by an Episcopal congregation. Getting to such an outcome might have been difficult, as Common Pleas Court judge Joseph James has insisted that no congregation be evicted without his permission. (It is not clear on what legal basis the judge’s ruling rests, but he is the judge.)

The nature of St. Philip’s makes the disaffiliation requirement seem not unreasonable. The Presiding Bishop has made it clear that she does not want to sell property to breakaway parishes in ACNA or similar “Anglican” churches. Insisting that St. Philip’s be independent honors that goal. Moreover, independence is likely to be an easy sell to the congregation.

A friend and I visited St. Philip’s out of sheer curiosity one Sunday not long before the October 2008 split in the diocese. Ostensibly, the church was an Episcopal church, but, to us, it seemed far removed not only from the Episcopal mainstream but even from the Episcopal fringe. No hymnals or prayer books were used; there was a band; everything was projected on a screen; and people were even slain in the spirit. This church would be an outlier even in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, which, I predict, the congregation will not miss.

I understand, by the way, that Archbishop Duncan was supposed to make his episcopal visit to St. Philip’s next Sunday. Now, that apparently won’t happen. There may never be another episcopal visit to this church. The deposed Bishop of Pittsburgh is, it seems, an unhappy puppy. Consider these paragraphs from the news story:
The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, which released a broad outline of the proposed settlement yesterday, argued that the requirement to break ties was a violation of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion. The settlement must be approved by the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

“Sadly, the separation mandate seems to be specifically designed to hurt both the local diocese and the North American province [the Anglican Church in North America],” Archbishop Duncan said. “If the settlement is approved by St. Philip’s, we urge the court to strike any provisions of the settlement that abridge First Amendment rights.”
Surely this man can’t be serious. He really should read the First Amendment again. Does he really think the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is the government?

When I heard about the St. Philip’s agreement, I asked myself how it related to the stipulation agreed to in the Calvary lawsuit, since the procedures being followed do not seem to be those of paragraph 2. Because the property involved is already owned by the Episcopal diocese, however, I suspect that paragraph 1 applies. If I’m wrong on this, feel free to correct me.

6 comments:

  1. Forgive my naivete' and/or ignorance(or don't; it doesn't matter), but what does "slain in the spirit" mean? Just curious.

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  2. I can’t make this stuff up. Check out Wikipedia on the subject.

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  3. Well, ok. So you're saying members of St. Philip's fell to the floor(or something similar to it) during your visit there? That's interesting. I can understand why St. Philip's might want to become independent.

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  4. Lionel,

    I was wondering what your take on the settlement would be, but I'm surprised that you regard the stipulation as appropriate or charitable.

    If the parish buildings are determined to be the property of the Episcopal Diocese and that body does not wish to "reward" secession - as I'm sure you don't - then by all means sell them to somebody else (I imagine, for example, that the Roman Catholic Church would refrain from selling its property to a dissident Catholic group). I find it difficult, however, to regard the affiliation provision as anything other than vindictive.

    The dissidents are gone and the courts have ruled in favor of the TEC Diocese (and having drafted the 2005 stipulation the way that it did, ACNA only has itself to blame). ACNA will now either prove itself or folow the Continuing Churches into oblivion; it's not for TEC to pass judgment on whether or not it will succeed.

    If this is simply a business transaction, then treat it as such; if it's not, then don't get into negotiations, just request the congregation to vacate.

    Ultimately, the responsibility for going along with this rests with St. Philip's, but I would have hoped that the the TEC negotiators would have had the grace not to put them in this position.

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  5. Jeremy,

    I haven’t offered an opinion about the stipulation; I was just wondering what role it played in the negotiations.

    Since neither of us was party to the negotiations, we do not know how the matter of removing the parish from the Anglican diocese came up. I would not be surprised to learn that St. Philip’s suggested it as a way of skirting the very problem you acknowledge, that of selling to a breakaway church.

    I find the agreement—both sides have agreed, remember—more pastoral and generous than your suggestion of simply evicting the congregation.

    As you say, time will be the test of ACNA.

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  6. You know Lionel, if you're right and St. Philip's proposed this - it's a possibility I hadn't actually contemplated - then that would be extremely unfortunate (though certainly not TEC's fault).

    I hope you're wrong.

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