Monday, December 06, 2004

Churchly Quality Control VII: Who should hold the property?

Some of you may have noticed what could turn out to be an important California Supreme Court ruling. Now, I’m no property lawyer. But in short, the court ruled against the United Methodist Church and allowed the congregation of St. Luke’s church to hold on to their property after leaving the denomination.

This could have ramifications in other cases involving other denominations, including the ECUSA.

There is a collection of relevant links and quite a good discussion over at Titusonenine.

Putting aside the legal aspects for now and focusing on church polity and CQC, I want to ask the question: Who should hold church property – the local congregation or a larger church body (such as a diocese or presbytery)?

I have mixed feelings on this. I can see how churches would want the property held by dioceses or presbyteries and the like. For one thing, many congregations started as missions (or the equivalent) nurtured and financed by the regional or national church. Also, holding the property exerts some control. A congregation is less likely to go off the deep end if that means the larger church may take the property out from under them. So the larger church holding the property can be a good tool of Church Quality Control.

But that control in recent decades has been used often against conservative congregations. There have even been ugly episodes of congregations being locked out of their buildings by regional church bodies. The Presbyterian church in which I became a Christian was the victim of such an episode.

Seeing property control being used as a club against the orthodox gives me a gut feeling against denominational control of property and for congregational control. If I’m not mistaken, parish control of property is, at least in part, the policy of the Reformed Episcopal Church I’ve recently joined. (Anyone who knows more about REC polity feel free to educate me.)

But a good case can be made both ways, I think. So feel free (as always) to go ahead and make it.

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