The Georgia Supreme Court has ruled that a Savannah congregation of a 278-year-old church that revolted over the affirmation of a gay bishop will have to give up the historic building to the national Episcopal church.
From a summary issued this morning:
Christ Church was founded in 1733, when English General James Oglethorpe designated the land on which the church stands as a place of worship. The church received title to the building by land grants from the royal government in 1758 and post-Revolution state legislature in 1789. In 1823, Christ Church co-founded the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia and formally joined the national Episcopal Church.
In 2007, after the national Episcopal Church affirmed its first openly gay bishop in New Hampsire, 87 percent of the Savannah congregation voted to cut off its affiliation with the Georgia Diocese and join an Anglican diocese in Uganda.
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.
The Georgia Diocese and national Episcopal Church then 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.
Lower courts had ruled in favor of the national organization, with the state Court of Appeals pointing out that Episcopalians have a hierarchical denomination ruled by bishops rather than one controlled by congregations.
The 45-page decision was written by Justice David Nahmias. Superior Court Judge Phillip Brown of Macon, filling in for Jusice George Carley, was the only dissenter:
“The majority ….reaches an unjust result that is contrary to law in many ways,” Brown writes in his 96-page dissent. The local congregation “has spent large amounts of time and money to prevent the National Church from wrongfully taking [its] property through judicial action without the National Church having any document that qualifies as a title document under Georgia law.
How else can we fairly describe the National Church’s conduct other than an attempt to take [the local church’s] property without paying for it.”
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider