frgavin on November 24th, 2011

By Betsy Scott
The News-Herald

St. Anne’s in-the-Fields in Madison Township has been ordered to relinquish its assets because it disaffiliated from the former Episcopal Church USA.

The repercussions of a rift in the Episcopal Church are being felt locally.

St. Anne’s in-the-Fields of Madison Township is one of five Ohio parishes court-ordered to relinquish its building and assets as a result of disaffiliating from the former Episcopal Church USA, now known as The Episcopal Church, or TEC.

The now-Anglican congregations disaffiliated in 2005 because of a conviction that the TEC leadership and denomination are moving away from biblical beliefs. In 2008, the Ohio Episcopal Diocese and TEC sued all five parishes for their buildings and certain belongings.

In September, after a three-year court battle, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge Deena R. Calabrese ruled that the real and personal property belong to the Ohio Diocese and TEC.

The ruling was based on a canon of the denomination, which states that TEC congregations hold their buildings and possessions “in trust” for their local diocese and TEC.

“What we have bought and paid for over the years as a congregation with our own money and sweat equity is not ours at all – it belongs to the denomination,” said the Rev. Kelly Irish, pastor of St. Anne’s.

“It is like the United States government telling individual, taxpaying citizens that everything we have bought and paid for with our own dollars ultimately belongs to the government.”

By court order, the parishes had 60 days to turn over the keys, vacate their buildings, and leave behind most of their possessions.

“We knew from the start that our decision to leave TEC could result in eviction, but we had no other choice than to follow the unchanging truth of God’s Word and realign ourselves with a majority of worldwide Anglicans who still hold fast to the ‘faith once delivered to the saints,’ ” Irish said.

“While we are saddened by the decision of the court, we know it was the right thing to do.”

Martha Wright, communications director for the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, said, “When someone decides to leave the church, we have to decide who the property belongs to … and the way the Episcopal Church is structured, the properties are held in trust by each diocese.”

Since 2000, about 200 churches have left TEC – at least 100 of those since the denomination’s General Convention 2003, according to the American Anglican Council. That was the year that a majority of diocese bishops from across the denomination approved an openly gay clergyman, the Right Rev. Gene Robinson, as bishop of his New Hampshire diocese.

Irish said that was merely “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”

“Unfortunately, that’s always the story that gets told, but it’s been happening over 30, 40, 50 years in the Episcopal Church – a movement away from the core values of our faith that make us Christian,” he said.

Wright disagreed that ordaining a gay bishop is a move away from core biblical values.

“Obviously, we have a difference of opinion about that,” she said.

St. Anne’s congregation – about 180 active members – is leaving its Middle Ridge Road home of 53 years, but will continue worship services and ministry at 2300 Hubbard Road in Madison Township, in the second-floor Youth Center of Cornerstone Friends Church.

“Cornerstone has graciously opened their doors to us in our time of need and provided us with ample worship, classroom, office and storage space,” Irish said. “After looking at several viable options, including the possibility of sharing space with other local congregations, it was clear that God’s hand was leading us to Cornerstone.”

“We as a people are the Church,” he added. “For sure, we know we must respect Judge Calabrese’s decision, but we also know that God is sovereign over all earthly authorities and, ultimately, He has allowed us to be dispossessed from our property. We will trust God and seek to glorify Him by leaving with integrity.”

Services will be at 10 a.m. in the new facility, starting Dec. 4. Parking and entrance are behind the building.

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