I have a feeling that storefront churches won't be just for Pentecostals anymore.
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (RNS)
A conservative breakaway congregation in Binghamton, N.Y., that split with the Episcopal Church cannot keep its church building, a state Supreme Court judge has ruled.
The decision about the Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton finalizes the third property dispute in the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York after traditionalists seceded over disagreements about homosexuality and biblical authority.
"Legal title to all real and personal property of Good Shepherd including the church building and rectory rests with the diocese," said state Supreme Court Judge Ferris D. Lebous on Thursday (Jan. 8).
The Rev. Karen C. Lewis, speaking for the diocese, said church leaders are "pleased with the judge's decision regarding our claim and his upholding the canons" (church rules).
"Now our prayers are that Good Shepherd folks are able to move forward with their ministry as well as we in the diocese are able to move forward in our ministry," she said.
The court ruling upholds the denomination's rules that a parish's property is held in trust for the diocese and the denomination. The legal ruling says the diocese is "entitled to immediate possession" of the disputed church and rectory.
The decision also seems to parallel legal decisions elsewhere. The California Supreme Court recently upheld a lower court decision that buildings and property do not belong to breakaway congregations but to dioceses and the wider Episcopal Church.
Raymond Dague, a Syracuse lawyer who represents Good Shepherd, was unavailable for comment. He previously said the diocese declined two purchase offers from the congregation and was unwilling to negotiate.
Good Shepherd withdrew from the diocese in November 2007. Good Shepherd and two other congregations -- St. Andrew's in Syracuse and St. Andrew's in Vestal -- have affiliated with Anglican groups that consider homosexuality incompatible with Scripture.
"We realize that there's a family that has to seek new living arrangements," Lewis said. "We're having discussions about what is fair and reasonable."