The Division Widens

From the Savannah Morning News:

CHATHAM COUNTY tax documents show the Protestant Episcopal Church owns six local properties. Christ Church is not one of them.

Both the Bull Street church building itself, and the nearby structure that holds the parish house, offices and children’s school are owned by the Christ Church wardens and vestry.

That’s an important bit of information, considering the local congregation’s recent announcement that it intends to separate from the Episcopal Church of the United States.

Christ Church, the 274-year-old “Mother Church of Georgia,” has had a long-running dispute with church leaders over scriptural issues.

Nationally, much press has been given to arguments over the ordination of women, the blessing of same-sex marriages and the ordination of practicing homosexuals into the ministry.

However, Christ Church pastor Rev. Marc Robertson said those issues are not central to the local church’s concerns.

Instead, they focus on the greater Episcopal Church’s unwillingness to unequivocally back such basic tenets as the authority of scripture, the divinity of Christ and the availability of salvation through Christ’s sacrifice.

American Episcopal leaders have been fairly heavy-handed in addressing those concerns.

But Christ Church’s local ownership means church bishops may hit a snag in their typical method of bringing local churches to heel. Other congregations that disagree with the doctrinal direction of the greater Episcopal Church have been quieted by eviction notices.

Those who disagree with the church leaders in America, and hope to affiliate with more conservative bishops overseas – say, from Uganda – are told the church wishes them well, but they will have to leave the Anglican communion, and give up all church property.

The greater Episcopal Church claims that all local congregations are in fact mere portions of – and owned by – the diocese which oversees them.

Christ Church came first

That argument gets tenuous when one learns that Christ Church existed before the Episcopal Church was organized as a denomination in America. The church, established in 1733, has for the past 274 years been owned by the local congregation. When the church burned down in 1898, it was the local church members who rebuilt it.

Today, when the church’s current century-old structure needs upkeep, local church dollars cover the expense.

So the deed is in the local church’s name, the local church is billed for taxes, and local church members fund the upkeep on the $3 million structure.

Sounds like they own the building, doesn’t it?

Not if you’re the Right Reverend Henry I. Louttit, Ninth Bishop of Georgia.

“Should some individuals in a parish decide they can no longer be Episcopalians, that in no way changes the fact that Christ Church is and will remain a parish of the Episcopal Church in this diocese and will continue to occupy its present facilities,” the Reverend said in a written response.

History and hypocrisy

But considering the legal ownership of the property, and the history of local investment in the church building, that stance doesn’t stand up.

It’s also a bit hypocritical in that it requires local churches to accept the American bishops’ more and more liberal reading of the law of the Bible, while maintaining a constantly strict reading of church authority.

Read the whole thing here.