The Anglican Church in North America expressed sadness over a proposed church property settlement involving St. Philip’s Church in Moon Township, Pa. In addition to paying a substantial fee to the local Episcopal Church diocese to remain in their worship space, the proposed settlement requires St. Philip’s to sever ties for at least five years with the Anglican Church in North America, the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and Archbishop Robert Duncan.
In addition, the Episcopal Church diocese has insisted that St. Philip’s agree that if it starts any new churches over the next five years they cannot be Anglican. The congregation is scheduled to vote on the settlement this evening, Tuesday, February 1. The settlement will then go before the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas.
“It is heartbreaking that even if they agree to pay a substantial settlement fee to keep their buildings, members of St. Philip’s are also being forced to separate from their Anglican family as a condition of the property settlement. Freedom of religion is at the heart of this matter and no congregation should have to stipulate that it will separate from its current body as part of a monetary property settlement,” said the Most Rev. Robert Duncan, Archbishop and Primate of the Anglican Church in North America and Bishop of Pittsburgh.
“Sadly, the separation mandate seems to be specifically designed to hurt both the local diocese and the North American province. 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.
“We support the people and clergy of St. Philip’s as they face into this painful decision. It is our sincere hope that The Episcopal Church will stop these abusive and unconstitutional practices so that St. Philip’s can move forward with its mission and ministry. The desire of the Anglican Church in North America is simply to hold fast to the teachings of Scripture, reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus Christ, and serve those in need,” Archbishop Duncan concluded.
At Anglicans United, Cheryl Wetzel adds a few tantalizing details:
Apparently this has gone through arbitration and now it is up to St. Philip's people to decide how essential/valuable this building really is to them.
And we get a lot more from this article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which promises "more details tomorrow" (again, I have added the emphasis):
Members of St. Philip's Church in Moon will vote tonight on a proposed settlement with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh that would allow them to keep their property but would also require them to cut ties with the rival Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh for at least five years.There is more about the 3D Ministries and their program at this site. The article is correct that you will find nothing on St. Philip's website which identifies it as either Episcopalian or Anglican.
The Rev. Eric Taylor, rector of St. Philip's, said the proposal was the best option for his parish. Since the 2008 split in the original Episcopal diocese, the property of dozens of parishes that voted to leave the denomination and follow Archbishop Robert Duncan into the new Anglican Church in North America has been tied up in litigation. The settlement would leave St. Philip's independent.
"I'm happy for the opportunity to negotiate an agreement, given the current climate. What's gone on [between the dioceses] has been mostly beyond my control. I am in favor of the proposed agreement," Rev. Taylor said.
The building was designed to accommodate the evangelical church's outreach to children and youth in the Moon area, he said. But he noted that now-Archbishop Duncan had been instrumental in helping the parish develop its ministry prior to the split.
"Our commitment is to the people in Moon Township. Our commitment is to the kids and families we care about, to tell them about Jesus. That's my first concern. I think it's my first responsibility, be it Anglican or Episcopal or independent," Rev. Taylor said.
The proposal also includes a financial settlement, but none of the parties would name the amount. St. Philip's website doesn't identify the parish as either Episcopal or Anglican, but stresses its involvement in 3D Ministries, an interdenominational alliance of evangelical congregations for mission and spiritual growth. About 400 people attended services last weekend, Rev. Taylor said.
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."
Rich Creehan, communications director for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, said that future settlements with other parishes would not necessarily require separation from the Anglican diocese and Anglican Church in North America.
If other parishes of the Anglican diocese want to negotiate, "there is no template of what's needed to reach an agreement," he said. "This was an amicably reached agreement . . . It was a voluntary negotiation, carefully conducted over the course of a year."
Archbishop Duncan is right to be concerned about the First Amendment implications of this proposed settlement. The conditions being imposed appear to violate the right of St. Philip's to exercise its religion freely, as the First Amendment guarantees. But do not necessarily count on the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas to appreciate that point. After all, it made a ruling that the attorneys for an entire diocese could stipulate, on its behalf, to a requirement that it remain part of the Episcopal Church (USA) as a condition of its keeping title to all its property. (It is that ruling, still on appeal, which led to the current uncertainties in Pittsburgh.)
However, any such violation simply means that no federal or State court would enforce the agreement if the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh were to take St. Philip's to court to keep it from affiliating with ACNA, or from planting an "Anglican" church. (In light of what is pointed out in this post, I wonder how the agreement can have an airtight definition of the word "Anglican." I don't see how the concept can be pinned down just now. Maybe that realization, however, is in part the reason for the dissatisfaction with all the ongoing church quarrels which I read between the lines of the story. St. Philip's appears to be saying: "Enough of your fighting -- let's just get on with our call to bring the ministry of Christ to the people who hunger for Him.")
That the agreement may be unenforceable under the First Amendment does not mean that the parishioners of St. Philip's may not enter into it if that is what they decide is their best (or only) option. The sad thing is that things have come to such a pass that such an option is all that remains to them, or may be, at any rate, the best alternative.
The question which all these considerations bring foremost to mind, in my view, is this: why would any Christians, anywhere, insist on binding their fellow worshippers to such an agreement? In the answer to that question lies the essence of St. Paul's message about why Christians should never go to court against each other.
[UPDATE 02/02/2011: The vote by the parish on Feb. 1 was to accept the settlement offered them, including an acceptance of its onerous conditions for the next five years. To have to kowtow to such unenforceable requirements must demonstrate the degree to which ECUSA's unrelenting tactics in Pittsburgh to date have borne fruit. Peace at such a price must be dear; only those who must actually pay it, however, are qualified to say by how much. The shame of those who would exact the price is noted in sadness, in the hope that any more such attempts to exploit the situation might be fruitless.]