Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Parish May Buy Its Independence -- but at What Cost?

First, let me quote the press release issued by Archbishop Duncan's office, which is all there was, at first (H/T: Transfigurations; bold emphasis added):
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.

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."
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.

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.]


  1. Why doesn't this surprise me? I don't put anything past Shori and her regime. Now, I can't help but wonder if this is their plan for Ft. Worth as well.

  2. What's with the five year moratorium anyway? Why five and not two, or ten, or an eternity?

  3. If St. Philip's accepts this agreement, how will Confirmations be administered and from where will they draw new clergy for that five-year interval?

    They can't get them from ACNA and how can they receive them from TEC, if they're not in Communion with TEC? It sounds like a recipe for disaster.

    It may also give some indication - if it's approved - of the weight accorded by parishes like St. Philip's and St. Stephen's to ACNA's ecclesial structures. Of course, by setting itself up so that parishes are sovereign in the area of property, ACNA has rather invited this sort of resolution.

  4. The dying TEC is jealous of a living breathing growing church or human family. These are the people who call women and men who are married with children 'breeders'. The kingdom of death cannot bear life, is afraid of life and wants to hurt and destroy the Kingdom of Life.

    They could choose to repent and come to Jesus and follow Him, but they have chosen their own way.

  5. These breathtaking demands are even more unfathomable after the reading from 1 Corinthians for 3 Epiphany. Obviously, "appreciation of irony" isn't covered in the bar exam.

    "Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.

    "For it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters.

    "What I mean is that each of you says, 'I belong to Paul,' or 'I belong to Apollos,' or 'I belong to Cephas,' or 'I belong to Christ.'

    "Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"

  6. @Jeremy Bonner - The clergy of St. Philip's will remain canonically resident in the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, even if St. Philip's is no longer a parish of the diocese. As far as Confirmations are concerned, I have no wisdom to share on that subject.

  7. This isn't meant as a criticism of this parish if it goes along with this proposal (there may be factors involved that we're unaware of), but I hope that if a similar proposal were made to our parish, we would say no.

  8. Jeremy

    Confirmations and new clergy are not a problem. They can bring in a bishop from Africa, Asia or the Southern Cone for that matter. And American Clergy can get transfered and new clergy ordained in many of ACNA allied dioceses in the Global South

  9. "Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?

    "Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.

    "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.

    "Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.

    "Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."

    —Matthew 7:15-20 (KJV)

    Rather says it all concerning TEC, I think. While I, as a Catholic, view many individuals in that body as my Christian brothers and sisters, the body itself is looking less and less like a part of the Body of our Lord.

    Pax et bonum,
    Keith Töpfer

  10. 5 year contractural hiatus from re-starting a business is fairly common when a business is purchased from a single owner in order to keep that person from starting up a "new" and immediately competitive business with established customers loyal to the seller.
    This is a "don't be in competition with us" clause. It just doesn't make that much sense here since the parish has already been apart (and competitive in regard to existing parishioners) from TECUSA for a couple of years, and thus enough time for known quantities to settle in. At this point, it is not a matter of existing parishioners, but of bringing in the un-harvested. If anything, the 5 years could have been reduced by the time since the diocesan convention where things split; 5 years at first glance seems cold and mean-spirited. Maybe there was some other circumstance, though, enough for the rector to concede.

  11. Five years strikes me as a long time for a non-compete, but I don't know what the standard is in Pennsylvania. In any case, who besides St. Phillip's would have standing to challenge it?

  12. Jeremy, I'm presuming that St. Philips will function much as Christ Church, Grove Farm does currently and has since its inception well before "the split." I don't suspect sacramental confirmation is a show-stopper for St.Philip's polity. (Please read that with a tone of affectionate humor, though I admit to other less benevolent feelings with regard to the agreement.)
    Thanks to our beloved Crumudgeon for this excellent commentary.

  13. I am not surprised at TEC's role in this current situation at St. Philip’s in Moon Township. TEC’s plan, since the split, has been to take down the Anglican diocese in North America and in particular Arch Bishop Duncan. What is sad is that they found willing participants at St. Philip’s. TEC found a weak link and exploited it as best they could to further their goal. I would be more empathetic toward The Rev. Taylor and his vestry if they had been up front about what they were contemplating. I would not (and do not) agree with them, but at least I would have respected the fact they remained up front about their plans. These are people who sat at meetings and dined with Arch Bishop Duncan and other clergy and other church members as we made plans to stick together and fight TECs tyranny. Back room secret dealings are the breeding ground for bad decisions. We can rationalize almost any actions we take, especially if we discuss them with others who will confirm our actions regardless of the purity of those actions. In my opinion, to state you cannot serve people and spread the gospel without a particular building shows a striking lack of faith. Buildings don’t serve, people serve. I believe that things were not proceeding as The Rev. Eric Taylor and his vestry thought they should so they struck a deal and furthered TECs vindictive plan. What saddens me even more is that we may lose others in this manner also; I pray they will be up front with their choices. I am reminded of what the Ugandan bishop said and did in 2003 (?). I was on the vestry of my church and remember the strain of TECs decision. The then Presiding Bishop and governing body of TEC gave thousands of dollars to the Ugandan Episcopal Church for their work in Uganda. This is no small sum when you realize that $200.00/year is the average income in Uganda. But the bishop of Uganda refused the donation and told the bishop and TEC, “Salvation is not for sale.” We would do well to remember this.

  14. Was this settlement a unilateral move on St. Philip's part? How does that work?

    i confess I am puzzled.

    Veriword: mingthe

  15. Trying to come up with a public rationale for the TEC diocese's non-association clause, this is all that I could find:

    "Additionally, St. Philip's agrees not to support any litigation brought by another against the Diocese involving property."

    The rest can be found here:

    It is just assurance that St. Phillips KNOWS that they're still in TEC's pocket. Probably not legal, definitely not ethical.