Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Dog in the Manger

In praesepi faeni pleno decumbebat Canis. Venit Bos ut comedat faenum, cum Canis, confestim sese erigens, tota voce elatravit. Cui Bos: “Dii te, cum ista tua invidia, perdant (inquit): nec enim faeno ipse vesceris, nec me vesci sines.”
[In a manger full of hay a dog was lying. There entered an ox to eat the hay, when the dog at once rose up and barked as loudly as he could. Said the ox to the dog: "May the gods destroy you and that envy of yours, for you yourself do not eat the hay, and you do not let me eat it."]

THE MORAL. Envy pretends to no other Happiness than what it derives from the Misery of other People, and will rather eat nothing itself than not to starve those that would.

Church of St. James the Less, Philadelphia

(shuttered by the Diocese of Pennsylvania since 2006 -
after winning a court case to take the property from its congregation)

(From the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision [Madam Justice Newman's concurring opinion is also worth reading]:)

Appellants contend that application of the Dennis Canon to them violates their constitutional rights because it "takes St. James' property on the basis of a religious canon alone." However, as explained above, we hold that St. James is bound by the Dennis Canon under neutral principles of law as well as the fact that St. James had already agreed to place its property in trust for the Diocese prior to the enactment of the Dennis Canon. Accordingly, contrary to St. James' contention, we are not simply deferring to a religious canon "to override the rights of parties under civil law." Appellants' Bf., at 49.

Thus, we agree with the Commonwealth Court decision insofar as it found that St. James' property was subject to a trust interest in favor of the Diocese. As explained above, however, the trial court's order, which the Commonwealth Court affirmed outright, declared the Diocesan Bishop and Standing Committee the legal title holders and trustees of St. James' property. This declaration is plain error because, as even Appellees acknowledge, St. James' property was deeded solely to St. James and St. James' retained ownership of its property. See Exhs. P-20, P-11 - P-15. Accordingly, we reverse the Commonwealth Court's order to the extent that it affirmed the trial court's order declaring the Diocesan Bishop and Standing Committee the legal title holders and trustees of St. James' property and instead order that St. James retains legal title to its property and that St. James' members and vestry, rather than the Bishop, are required to act as the trustees of St. James' property and thereby, use the property for the benefit of the Diocese.30

30 Notably, the trial court ordered the Diocesan Bishop and Standing Committee to appoint a new vestry "to continue the daily managerial duties of the parish." In re: St. James the Less, 2003 WL 22053337, at *21. Thus, this new vestry must act as the trustees of St. James' property.

The Dennis Canon provides in part (emphasis added):

All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation is located. . . .

Question 1: Who are the current trustees of the St. James church property?

The answer is to be found here. This past week, after more than three years of being closed to any form of use, there was a Vacation Bible School held each morning at St. James. The prospects for its further use, however, remain unclear. Prayers and thanks are owed to the parishioners of St. Mark's who have taken on the task of rebuilding a congregation for the church, and to Peter Loftus, who in the interim cares for the buildings and grounds, including the beautiful and historic cemetery, in which are buried some of those who founded and built the church upon a great trust and hope (see below).

Question 2: How does turning the St. James property over to another church fulfill the mandate of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that "St. James' members and vestry, rather than the Bishop, are required to act as the trustees of St. James' property and thereby, use the property for the benefit of the Diocese"?

Answer: apparently nobody minds. The Court seems to have believed (mistakenly) that there remained a congregation from St. James which would be sufficient to elect a vestry and to continue to occupy and maintain the property --- there was not. Thus are court mandates pronounced in a vacuum, and as a result frequently bear no relation to the reality that engendered the litigation between the parties.

* * * * *

The website of the former congregation, now called the Church of St. Michael the Archangel, is here. From it you may download issues of the parish newsletter. The current one (June 2009) carries this message from the Rector:

It will be our godly suffering of whatever ills may come our way which will give credibility and power to our witness to the faith. It is this in our character which will suggest to unbelievers that we might know something they do not - and which will open them to hearing the Gospel. Everyone suffers something: our suffering must be distinctively Christian.

This means that St Michael's has a particular advantage in proclaiming the Gospel and inviting others to believe. We lost much that we held dear when we left St. James. While in many ways we have left that behind, I suspect that there are still times when the loss tears at our hearts. Love always carries vulnerability. In God's providence, this is our cross to bear. We must seek the grace to bear it as Christ bore His. We must seek the spirit of the martyrs, which includes joy.
The message is thus not that of the fable ("nec enim faeno ipse vesceris, nec me vesci sines"), but a Christian message of love and forgiveness, as the faithful pass on to greater tasks, not heeding their losses, but toiling for the glory of God.

* * * * *

The church of St. James the Less is a National Historic Landmark; you may view the official survey, with all of the historic photos and drawings, at this site. From the Philly History blog, where there is much more:
In 1846, several prominent members of the Philadelphia Episcopal Church met at the country estate of Robert Ralston in the village of Falls of Schuylkill. They were merchants, manufacturers, and other men of property, but they had not gathered to raise capital to build another factory or lay more miles of railroad track. Instead the meeting at "Mount Peace" produced the following goal: "To build a church which should be a country house of worship, as similar as possible to the best type of such a church that England could furnish, a veritable home of retirement and meditation, a quiet house of prayer." . . .

As is common with cases of spiritual and aesthetic nostalgia, Ralston and his coterie planned St. James-the-Less in reaction to what was seen as a soulless, materialistic present. . .
Rejecting the trend toward the secular ideal of classical Greek revival architecture, the Philadelphia businessmen chose a medieval English Gothic church as their model, in order to take a stand in favor of the values they worshipped:

By advocating English Gothic as the only acceptable style for Anglican churches, the Philadelphia followers of the Cambridge Camden Society wanted to take a stand against trends they felt were very unattractive in the boisterous new nation: a dangerous secularism built upon the unfettered worship of commerce, technology and the power of reason. . . .

In keeping with the Cambridge Camden Society's mission for authenticity, no architect per se was hired to design St. James-the-Less. John E. Carver, the general contractor, worked from measured drawings of St. Michael's, Long Station in Cambridgeshire, which had been built c. 1230 [footnote omitted]. The project's sponsors saw this model as the purest example of a modestly-sized but exquisitely crafted British parish church, one that was designed and built by local craftsmen out of local materials. Rather than being delicate, lofty, and grandiose, St. James-the-Less is compact, rugged, and muscular. The nave windows are small, creating a very dark, mysterious nave compared to the open, light-filled ones of neoclassical Philadelphia churches.

The chancel, where the priest performs the sacrifice of the mass, is recessed and partially screened from the congregation, a liturgical statement meant to convey the mystery of the sacrament. The masonry walls are rough-hewn and composed of stones of irregular shapes. The gable peaks are capped by stone crosses, while the doors are painted a bright red and are ornamented with wrought iron hinges and handles. Unlike large Gothic cathedrals, which used flying buttresses to augment the load bearing capacity of their walls, St. James-the-Less relies only on its thick masonry piers and walls to support its roof. . . .

This was to be a church for the working class as well as for the wealthy who built it. It was situated intentionally so as to overlook the homes of, and offer a Sunday place of refuge to, those whose weekdays were devoted to ten- to twelve-hour shifts in the mills and factories:

(click image to enlarge)

. . . Since factories and dense residential development were slowly creeping northward, the vestry of St. James-the-Less hoped that their new church would be used not just by the wealthy, but also by the working class employed in the mills and factories. The church and its grounds would be a spiritual and physical oasis for families who lived in dense row house districts with little green space and few aesthetic charms. To borrow two images from William Blake's famous poem "Jerusalem," St. James-the-Less was to be nestled in a land of "pleasant pastures green," a world away from the "dark, satanic mills" of the smoke-belching metropolis.

The Philadelphia group succeeded beyond their fondest hopes:

The impact of tiny St. James-the-Less on American architecture was immense. Parishioners were stunned at the proportions and craftsmanship of the building while visitors left the church determined to build their own country Gothic churches to the same exacting standards. Within the next few decades, English Gothic churches sprang up throughout the Philadelphia region and beyond. According to architectural historian Phoebe Stanton: "Many of the Protestant Episcopal churches that followed in the United States were informed with its [St. James-the-Less] feeling for materials and for simple but delicate articulation of ornament and scale … Whether or not one approves the appropriation of a medieval plan for nineteenth century use and the introduction of a deep chancel as a part of church plans and liturgical practice, one must be grateful for the accident which brought to America a building that demonstrated the aesthetic truths medieval buildings had to offer the nineteenth century architect and patron."

Today, St. James-the-Less - a seminal piece of American architectural heritage, a pastoral respite from the blighted neighborhoods of Hunting Park Avenue, and a National Historic Landmark - sits shuttered and dark. Still wholly intact inside and out, St. James the Less sits perched on its hill above the Schuylkill River waiting for a new life. [See more images here.]
From 1846 to 2006 is 160 years, or about five generations. I mean no slight upon the good people of St. Mark's, and wish them all the best, but they have been left on their own by "this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish . . . is located" --- who by canon made themselves responsible for the property once the congregation chose to depart, and who by final court decree were ordered to ensure for its care. In just over five generations, the trust which the founders of St. James placed in the leadership of their Church, at both the diocesan and the national level, has been most tragically betrayed.

Question 3: What is the good of declaring yourself the beneficiary of a trust for which you have no use?

Answer: Only if you want to be like the dog in the manger --- my new name for the Dennis Canon:

The Dog in the Manger scores one again for TEC - Tithers for Egregious Champerty . . . no, that's not it ---

TEC, the Trustees of Everlasting Concern . . . let's try again ---

ah, yes, that's it: TEC, which stands for "Temporalities Eternally Cocooned."

("The Church that cares . . . about you and your property.")

[First of a planned series. I welcome submissions for future posts.]


  1. Glad to see you having some fun for a change!

  2. The diocese "saved" a church [building] but lost a congregation. In my experience, the congregations that were similarly driven from their property are actually stronger for the bond of things shared and things endured.

    St. James the Less had a problem because of its founding documents which could be read to support the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision. As Justice Newman pointed out, when a congregation joins a denomination, it is bound by all amendments to the denomination's constitution (such as the Denis Canon), even if they disagree with it, so long as the amendment is constitutionally adopted. Except: an amendment cannot unilaterally change property interests which were vested before the amendment. So it was the original documents from the 19th Century, not the Denis Canon, that cost the congregation their property. That and the vindictiveness of the diocese and TEC.

  3. I was ordained in that diocese and remember that lovely edifice and that small but vital parish, now no more. I served at All Hallows, Wyncote which was also a compact, beautifully scaled Gothic structure. I think All Hallows was influenced by St. James the Less.