Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Further Diocesan News

An update and addendum to my post last week regarding recent events in the wider Church.

It was announced yesterday, February 14, that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Somerset Anglican Fellowship have reached an agreement to settle issues related to the canonical concerns for that parish raised by the October, 2008 division of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

For my previous post, on the Commonwealth Court decision and the settlement with St. Philip's, Moon Township, Click Here.

For yesterday's announcements of the settlement between the Episcopal Diocese and the parish of the Somerset Anglican Fellowship, Click Here. And Click Here.

For the Post Gazette news item about the latest settlement, Click Here.

My Overview and Commentary

My good friend and colleague the Rev. Mark Zimmerman was Rector of St. Francis Church, Somerset. In 2007 or early in 2008 he and a majority of the congregation of St. Francis Church left St. Francis Episcopal Church to found the Somerset Anglican Fellowship, which was admitted as a new parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh at the October, 2008 diocesan convention. Following that convention the Somerset Anglican Fellowship functioned as a parish of the "realigned" Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in the Province of the Southern Cone, later the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Anglican Church of North America.

From the point of view of the Canons of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church, however, Somerset Anglican Fellowship, having been admitted to the diocese as a parish in 2008, has for the past two years been a "non-responding" parish of the Episcopal Diocese.

The agreement announced yesterday seems to me to follow the provisions of "Paragraph Two" of the Stipulation or Agreement that in 2005 settled the lawsuit Calvary Church had brought against the Episcopal Diocese.

It recognizes, as I read the announcement, that properties and assets held by Somerset Anglican Fellowship as it was admitted to the diocese in October, 2008, were subject to the Canons of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and of the Episcopal Church, including the so-called Dennis Canon, which states that all parish assets are held in trust for the Diocese and for the Episcopal Church and so may not be sold or otherwise removed from the Diocese without following diocesan canonical procedures requiring the approval of the Bishop as ecclesiastical authority and of the Board of Trustees.

The Somerset situation is substantially simpler than the one referenced before with St. Philip's in Moon Township, because the Somerset Anglican Fellowship had very few assets in October of 2008. Apparently these were limited to some liturgical items.

I believe the concern at Somerset was that the congregation now has plans to purchase real property--a former Presbyterian Church--and that it felt it was important to clarify that it no longer had any canonical or legal duties implied by its status as a "non-responding" parish of the Episcopal Diocese.

So the substance of the agreement is that Somerset Anglican Fellowship has acknowledged that it was admitted as a parish of the Episcopal Diocese at the October, 2008, Convention, and that the "Dennis Canon" therefore applies to its assets. Those assets--the liturgical items--will then be returned to the Episcopal Diocese.

Following the return of the relevant assets, Somerset Anglican Diocese will be removed from the roster of "non-responding" parishes of the Episcopal Diocese, thus avoiding any possible issues related to the Dennis Canon as they might otherwise have applied to the new property obtained by the parish in the future.

In the announcement of the Moon Township settlement two weeks ago it was said that there is no "general template" for these negotiations, but that, as described in Paragraph Two of the 2005 Stipulation, each parish desiring to be separated from its canonical and legal identity and duties as a parish of the Episcopal Diocese would need to enter into negotiation with the Episcopal Diocese.

I would just note that what these two settlements have in common is that both parties acknowledge their identities and duties under the applicable canons of the Episcopal Diocese and of the Episcopal Church, including the "Dennis Canon," and that in both cases the issue of "parish assets" was successfully negotiated to the mutual satisfaction of both parties.

The substantial differences between the two settlements appear to me to be first that while the Somerset Anglican Fellowship is able to satisfy the terms of the agreement all at once, with the return of property, the financial settlement with St. Philip's will require the parish and Episcopal Diocese to continue to be "entangled" by a financial agreement for a period of several years, until the payments have been completed.

Secondly, it would be noted that the agreement with St. Philip's also included an agreement to "disaffiliate" from the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and not, for a period of five years, to "reaffiliate" with it, or with any other denominational judicatory. There are no provisions for this kind of "disaffiliation" in the agreement with the Somerset Anglican Fellowship, and thus that parish will continue as a parish of the Anglican Diocese.

I would notethat I personally am very glad that in the resolution of this the good people of the Somerset Anglican Fellowship will be able to move forward in their ministry with clarity and a sense of freedom from the overhang of possible canonical and legal problems down the road. Mark and Cindy Zimmerman, of the Somerset Anglican Fellowship, have been dear friends of mine and Susy's for many years, and Lenny and Kelly Anderson (Lenny is the new Rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church) are wonderful newer friends. I will pray for God's continued care and blessing on their lives and ministries and for the congregations of Somerset Anglican and of the Episcopal Church of St. Francis in the Fields.


Jeremy Bonner said...


While I agree with you that this settlement is a better outcome than that for St. Philip's, I rather suspect that the liturgical items in question were the residue of closed churches that have been taking up the limited space in the archives.

Given that Mark+ and those who went with him behaved as the national church has always insisted those realigning should behave and left the property behind them, I can't help feeling that it would have shown more grace to allow them to continue use "diocesan property" for sacramental purposes rather than just have it gather dust (which I well remember it doing while I labored in the archives).

Bruce Robison said...

I don't really know the terms of that transaction, as they weren't specified. My guess is that any negotiated settlement related to assets will require some material acknowledgment of the ownership. I don't know what we're talking about here. Communionware? Prayer Books? Purificators? I would imagine the same principle would have been in place had SAF "returned" the items and then "rented" them back for $1 a year or something. But I think the key is simply that the result was "mutually satisfactory." That's the good news.

Philip Wainwright said...

'The agreement announced yesterday seems to me to follow the provisions of "Paragraph Two" of the Stipulation or Agreement'. It seems to me that some important parts have been left out, actually. Para 2 calls for the parish desiring to disaffiliate, or, presumably, make its de facto disaffiliation a de jure one, to notify every parish in the diocese of the fact. It also calls for all interested parties to be involved in the discussion--any of the parishes of the diocese who feel they have an interest in the disposal of the property, as Calvary did in 2005, could thereby put in their two cents' worth. My guess is that if this procedure had been followed, St Philip's might not have had to break its fellowship with ACNA, and Somerset Anglican Fellowship might have been able to keep the chalice etc it has been using.