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|Ga. Supreme Court rules in favor of national Episcopal Church in property dispute|
|by Dyana Bagby|
|November 21, 2011 12:14|
The Georgia Supreme Court ruled 6-1 today in favor of the national Episcopal Church in a property dispute case with the oldest church in Georgia that broke away from the national church after it affirmed its first openly gay bishop.
Savannah Christ Church, founded in 1733 and known as the "Mother Church of Georgia," joined the Episcopal Church in 1823. In 2007, four years after the Episcopal Church USA affirmed Gene Robinson as its first openly gay bishop, 87 percent of the Savannah congregation voted to break off from the national Episcopal Church and instead join an Anglican diocese in Uganda.
The Episcopal Church USA risked schism with the 77-million member Anglican Communion to consecrate V. Gene Robinson in 2003 as bishop of New Hampshire — making him the first openly gay bishop in the worldwide church. The denomination has faced controversy ever since, including condemnation from other Anglicans and losing more than 800 congregations to the Anglican Church of North America, a rival group formed by churches opposed to the Episcopal Church’s increasing gay inclusion. Robinson retired early in 2010, noting the toll of constant criticism and even death threats he endured. But the Episcopal Church isn’t stepping back: In May 2010, Rev. Canon Mary Glasspool was consecrated as the second openly gay Anglican bishop.
In Savannah, the division between the local congregation and Episcopal Church USA made headlines and eventually into the court system as the two battled for the property the local church and its property.
"The Georgia Bishop recognized the minority faction, including its rector, wardens and vestry, as the rightful leaders of Christ Church who named themselves 'Christ Church Episcopal.' However, the majority faction, which called themselves 'Christ Church in Savannah,' refused to give up the property," states an overview of the case from the state Supreme Court.
"The Georgia Diocese and the national Episcopal Church sued the local congregation, seeking a court declaration that the church’s historic building and property on Bull Street, worth nearly $3 million, as well as three other parcels of property titled in the name of Christ Church, were held in trust for the benefit of the national church," according to a press release from the state Supreme Court.
Justice David Nahmia wrote in the majority opinion, “And the record shows that at all times during the 180 years before this dispute began, Christ Church acted consistently with the Episcopal Church’s canons regarding its property, demonstrating the local church’s understanding that it could not consecrate, alienate, or encumber – much less leave with – its property without the consent of the parent church.”
“While we are grateful that a third court has upheld our legal rights to the property held in trust for the Episcopal Church for more than 200 years, whatever satisfaction we feel in prevailing in the courts is muted by the knowledge that this decision if painful for some of our brothers and sisters in Christ,” Bishop Scott Benhase said Monday in a prepared statement.
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