Monday, May 12, 2008
On several occasions Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts-Schori has said that the reason that the Episcopal Church (TEC) is initiating suits against those parishes which are leaving TEC is because we have a responsibility to those who have built the churches and given in the name of the Episcopal Church. TEC has a custodial responsibility for the buildings and their contents for the future of the Church.
It was with some dismay then that I heard from a colleague from another denomination about the condition of St. Andrew’s, Vestal. My friend and her church were looking at a property to buy. They were shown the St. Andrew’s property. It was as if the property had not even changed hands. Prayer books were still in the pews. Choir robes were still in the choir room. The property was up on the blocks, but it was as if there had been no care taken to assess the property and its contents.
Now, I am in no way supportive of St. Andrew’s and its policies of dis-communion. And in no way am I supportive of their leaving the Episcopal Church except that I know that the clergy are happier. But I do have to give them credit for having left the building and the property in healthy way and without damage. The concern I have, is the Diocese of Central New York doing what is necessary to maintain custodial responsibility for the property? There has been no cleaning up of the property. There is some question if the property inside the building has even been accounted for. What is to be done with Altar linens, prayer books, bibles and the lot?
There is no doubt that there are too many Episcopal congregations in Broome County given the wholesale depopulation that has gone on in the county over the past 10-15 years. To close a congregation like St. Andrews because there is no longer a viable congregation to inhabit the building seems to be a considered action. But is this the kind of custodial care that merits the kind of suit against Good Shepherd, a parish in a similar situation as St. Andrews? What will we do with yet another empty building? Certainly the real estate value is not that high given today’s economy.
In such places like Falls Church, VA where there is a viable congregation remaining in TEC and the various churches in San Joachin or Ft. Worth, I can see the need for suits to regain property that has been stolen by the schismatics. But in Central New York, I question the validity of such a suit just to close another church especially when the diocese is doing nothing to ensure the custodial responsibility of the property. Why don’t we just charge Good Shepherd rent?
Then comes the question, cui bono? Where does the money go when these properties are sold? Does it go into the coffers of the diocese to be used to pay for more legal fees or more diocesan meetings that produce nothing? Or does the sale of these properties go for the furtherance of the ministry of Jesus Christ in the Southern Tier?
Christians of the Diocese of Central New York need to be asking questions about the use of the property that the diocese owns. We need to be asking what is to be done with Thornfield, St. Andrew’s in the Valley, Syracuse, St. Andrew’s, Vestal and Good Shepherd, Binghamton before we spend more on legal fees.