CENTRAL NEW YORK: Parishioners who left Episcopal Church cannot keep Binghamton building[Episcopal News Service] A New York state Supreme Court justice has ruled that members of Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton who left the Episcopal Church cannot keep the parish's building and other property.
Justice Ferris D. Lebous, in part reiterating a recent New York Court of Appeals ruling in a similar case in the Diocese of Rochester, said the Good Shepherd's property had been held in trust for the Diocese of Central New York and the entire Episcopal Church.
As did the earlier Court of Appeals ruling, Lebous refused to consider the parish's argument about the validity of the Episcopal Church's so-called "Dennis Canon" (Canon 1.7.4). "It is well-settled that this or any court cannot intervene in 'purely ecclesiastical or religious concerns such as church governance or polity'," Lebous wrote, quoting from an earlier court ruling involving another denomination. "Suffice it to say, if Good Shepherd has an objection to the validity of the Dennis Canon, the remedy is not with the courts, but rather with the General Convention of the Episcopal Church."
The judge ruled January 8 that the Syracuse-based diocese was entitled to immediate possession of the property and an accounting for all the real and personal property of the parish.
The office of the Presiding Bishop released a statement January 12 saying that "this was another in an increasingly long line of favorable decisions regarding parish property issues. The bishop and diocese of Central New York are to be commended for their able, dignified and prompt handling of this case. It is particularly encouraging that the courts appear to have put to rest any argument that the church’s 1979 trust [Dennis] canon is not fully effective and applicable to our parishes."
In a sermon January 11 titled "Leaving Home," the Rev. Matthew Kennedy, rector of the breakaway congregation, took the members through a series of Bible passages that deal with the theme of leaving.
Kennedy, who is also involved in the website Stand Firm in Faith, told the congregation that January 11 was its last Sunday in the building and that services would be held January 18 in the gymnasium of the nearby Conklin Avenue Baptist Church.
"We must say good-bye to this place that we've loved. God is breaking our hearts," he said. "This is the place where my children have been raised and yours maybe, but Jesus has called us to drop our nets and follow him into the land and place that he is going to show us."
In a January 9 letter to the congregation, Kennedy and the vestry said they did not know the exact date on which they fully will vacate the building.
Diocese of Central New York Canon to the Ordinary Karen Lewis told ENS January 12 that a document had been sent to Good Shepherd's attorney January 9 asking for the full property accounting the judge called for by January 16. The diocese also offered to let the members worship in the building until February 22 and to let the Kennedy family remain in the rectory until April 20. The letter added that the diocese would expect to be paid rent during that time, Lewis said.
There has been no reply to that letter, she said, adding that William Murdoch, a former Episcopal priest who is now a Kenyan bishop and listed as a "cooperating bishop" of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes, had contacted her January 12 to say that the Good Shepherd members would be moving out immediately.
"We certainly pray for the people of Good Shepherd that they can continue in their ministry," Lewis said.
This nonsense about the Dennis Canon not being properly enacted is just plain weird. It is right up there with the rest of the conspiracy theories that don't have any base in fact and won't die. For a discussion of this odd theory look here.
None of the courts are having it. The rightly see this as an internal fight and the fact that everyone in the church for 30 years have treated the Dennis Canon as settled law of the church is enough for them and should be enough for anyone.