Sunday, January 4, 2009

Central Church Ownership - Two Edged Sword

Tomorrow the California Supreme Court will render its decision on a series of cases regarding the secession of several parishes from the Episcopal Church. Needless to say, it’s a nail-biter for everyone.

Anglican Cumudgeon has been covering this saga in detail (he doesn’t do it any other way). You will find an interesting comment from the Anglican blogger Baby Blue, who has had front row seats to the so-far successful secession of parishes in Virginia:

"The other problem that the remaining parishes in The Episcopal Church have if this ruling goes in favor of the Diocese is that no lay person in their right mind is going to invest in a parish that the laity have no control over. If the bishop 'owns' the church, what’s the sense in investing in the property? Tell the bishop to take care of it, and when children get hit by cars in the parking lot on Sunday morning, let the bishop get sued instead."

The blogger goes on to say, "There’s a lot of responsibility that goes with owning property and these bishops - thinking it’s a political action - have no idea what a hornets nest they are stirring up. So, if the People lose this ruling, the The Episcopla Church bishops have far more of a problem on their hands than parishes departing over heretical doctrine. Send all the bills to the bishop - the properties are now his problem."

What do you think? Is central ownership of property a two-edged sword for the central church?

In a broad sense, any central church is a final destination for the liabilities of its parishes/local churches when the property is held centrally. Those liabilities include tort/personal injury liabilities such as Baby Blue mentions, but they also include any indebtedness that the church holds. In most cases those liabilities are dispensed with at the local level, but sometimes they move “up the line.”

Those who give and are conscious of a lack of control at the local level will reduce their giving accordingly. The best way to avoid that problem is to have healthy “give and take” between the denomination and its local churches. But that’s what’s broken down in The Episcopal Church, spectacularly so.

The wise central church must take a “know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em” mentality. For example, it may be expedient for a large local church with a high debt load and insufficient cash flow to be “cut loose” from the central church.

Irrespective of how this decision comes out, The Episcopal Church’s demographics fortell of a world with empty parishes and reduced income. Under those circumstances, they’ll wish they had the money they wasted on litigation.

What say you? (Click "comments" below.)

[from Positive Infinity]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Central government may have been a great idea years ago, but the changing times and economy have brought us to a very different and unique situation. Arguments endorsing a centralized government from a biblical perspective are not always valid. The NT never deals with property ownership by the church. It's model of spiritual authority is based on a servant-leadership concept. Most centralized forms of church government exercise their right of possession for the purpose of securing their ability to rule. Local congregations are often pressed to obey the rule of government through fear and manipulation. It is disguised behind the mask of spiritual submisssion. A church organization that patterns itself after NT principles will always govern by acts of love and servanthood.

Ownership and control of local properties should be held by the group that is paying the financial support to operate the facilities. If the central government wants to retain ownership, let them pay the financial support for each existing church. They will soon find out ownership is more of a responsibility than what they are willing or capable of handling.

If a denomination will rule by love and respect, local churches will most likely acknowledge their spiritual authority, and be willing to cooperate with the recognizable NT patterns of servat-leadership. Property ownership by any central government would never be necessary if they follow the NT principle of spiritual authority.