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In American Anglicanism
the Parish is a Basic Unit of the Church

[COMMENT:   YES!     If you are Anglican or Episcopal, get this out to everyone you know!   (It repeats itself, and needs a lot of editing...!  But is worth the read for the information...) 

See also Peter Toon's article;  also  Property CanonsAnglican Polity by Louis Tarsitano; &  4 Levels of Unity.  See also article on Jane Dixon's persecution of Christ Church, Accokeek, MD. 
 

Some of those who helped write the American Constitution also helped write the Episcopal constitution.  Shortly after the revolutionary war ended and the first bishop was consecrated in Scotland and returned to America, there was a debate specifically about who should own parish property, and those in favor of parishes owning their own property won.  That had been the received opinion right up until, as explained below, the beginning of the 20th century.  But the actual rules did not change until the so-called "Dennis Canon" tried to circumvent local control in favor of centralized control. 

However, one cannot legislate parish property away by passing a canon law.  The parishes in question must agree to the loss of their property rights.  Otherwise such taking is known as theft.  Very few parishes have knowingly given up their parish property to their diocese.  California law (with certain known judges excepted...) respects these principles, and hopefully other states will come to do likewise.  But parishes must present a logical and historically accurate argument to make that happen.

State and federal courts which have favored the diocese have generally relied on the notion that the Episcopal Church is an hierarchical Church, as is the Roman Catholic Church, not like the Baptists, with almost totally dispersed control. 

But as explained below, the Episcopal Church is not hierarchical in material affairs, only in spiritual affairs. 

The parish owns the property and delegates the key to the property to the priest who is called to serve there, contingent on good behavior.  The Episcopal Church has (or once had) a federal system, where local units federate with each other, but retain their sovereign right to de-federate. That has always been my understanding of the Episcopal structure. 

The Dennis Canon was a new thing, and very unwisely and inappropriately passed.  In any event, it should have required each individual parish to sign off on it, which it did not.  It apparently assumed that parishioners, rectors, vestries, et al, knew what was going on.  A foolish, if not dishonest, assumption.   Or it assumed that the "hierarchical" nature of the Church was sufficient to justify what was in fact a dishonest seizure of property.

Exceptions would be "mission" churches which are funded by the diocese, or where the diocese had contributed a large portion of the funds for building the church.  But where the vestry holds the title, the vestry rightly has the freedom to determine where the parish will associate, and the diocese has no grounds for interfering.  Such a freedom is not an intrusion into the rightful presiding of the bishop over the spiritual life of the Church.  The Anglican tradition is top down with respect to spiritual matters, trusting in Apostolic Succession to help maintain a true connection with the doctrine and teaching of the early Church.    

But the principles of separation of powers should apply to any Christian government situation, not just our civil government.  Power still corrupts, and the more it centralizes, the more it corrupts. 

A diocese, as with any other law-abiding citizen or organization, has a perfect right and freedom to secure ownership of property, but not at the expense of that same ownership by others.  The diocese, like the others, must earn its property by paying for it, or have it given.  But it has no right to commandeer property by passing a canon law, any more than the civil government does. 

And, the diocese has no right to sneakily get the property by inserting a condition into a loan agreement that the diocese now owns the property (as has apparently happened).  If a diocese and its bishop cannot act responsibly and honorably and with all the facts on the table, then they need to be disciplined just as any other party should. 
 

Note 1:  I do not agree that the parish is "the" basic unit of American Anglicanism (as per title below), but it is "a" basic unit, and, I believe, should be upheld as a independent unit federated with the diocese.  This separation of powers is a good Biblical principle for limiting the possibility of tyranny. 

NOTE 2:  see exchange below on these matters currently in Virginia.   There are 3 short articles posted below the main article.    E. Fox]

  

I.
In AMERICAN ANGLICANISM --
The PARISH is the BASIC UNIT of the CHURCH

Serious Challenges Face American Anglicanism: 
On What Principles Will a New Order Be Shaped?

By the Rev. Dr. Tim Smith and the Rev. George Conger

Summary Points

The Parish is the basic unit of the church in American Anglicanism. Local property rights prevailed throughout early American Anglicanism. Centralization of control using the corporate model which began to be used in the early 1900s - has failed the purposes of the Church. Any new order should return to the foundational roots of American Anglicanism.

Introduction

In the life of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (ECUSA), the basic unit has historically been the local parish. With the parish being - and not the diocese or the national church - the basic unit of the church in the United States, property rights of the lands and buildings of a parish from the inception of ECUSA were held by the local church which had purchased those lands and constructed those buildings.

At its outset and for more than a century and into the Twentieth Century, property rights in American Anglicanism were not vested in higher ecclesial bodies, such as a diocese or the national church. The first serious challenge to this foundational polity did not come until the Civil War and that precedent served to confirm that the local parish was still the basic unit of the American Episcopal church and that the local parish was the owner of its property and buildings.

Organizationally, it was not until the first quarter of the Twentieth Century that a move toward centralization of managerial functions within the Episcopal Church with the creation of the Presiding Bishop's Office to help manage the growth. The most recent quarter century has witnessed further centralization at the national level which has been designed to assert over control assets and usurp the authority of the dioceses and local parishes. The first efforts toward centralization were a function of prosperity, the second a function of decline and a lack of spiritual dynamism. This corporate model and the failure on many within it to guard the Faith once received has, in many instances, not served godly purposes.

These underlying principles are important now that Anglicans are once again divided and face gravely serious doctrinal challenges. As a result, questions concerning polity and ecclesiology have arisen to the forefront throughout the United States.

Following (1) the affirmation of the election of Canon Gene Robinson to be bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire, (2) the formal provision for local option for same-sex "unions" and (3) the refusal to affirm the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, all by the ECUSA 2003 General Convention, many leaders and provinces of the international Anglican Communion have condemned the Episcopal Church for these and numerous other actions. Orthodox Anglicans - both still in ECUSA and outside of it - have declared that they cannot accept these actions of the 2003 General Convention which constitute heresy and schism, abrogate 2,000 years of accepted Christian teaching, reject the plain words of Holy Scripture and usurp "officially" adopted church doctrine at the behest of a vocal and politically powerful minority.

A new order is being sought. But how and on what principles will a new order be shaped? Isn't there a need to return to the historic roots of American Anglicanism?

Summary of Underlying Precepts of Anglicanism in the United States of America

A. The Parish Is the Basic Unit of the Church in American Anglicanism

Since its founding and in the history of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, its basic unit has been the local parish. The federal system of church government -or, more properly speaking, the confederated system - is the hallmark of Anglicanism in the United States. This is a chief difference between the Anglicanism of the Church of England and the Anglicanism of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

William White, the first Bishop of Pennsylvania and the very first Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, was the primary advocate for the parish-based ecclesiology which was actually adopted by ECUSA. Thereunder, governing authority rested with the parish and thereupon was delegated by the parish to any other body, such as the diocese or the national church.

Between 1782 and 1789, the Episcopal churches met in state conventions. They also met in national conventions on three occasions before the two national Conventions of 1789. During this period, a series of compromises were reached that, by 1789, allowed the two national conventions to be united.

The conclusion was reached whereby Bishop White's system of government, with a few minor and unrelated changes, was enacted by and for the Episcopal Church in the United States while Bishop Samuel Seabury's orders were accepted by the whole American Episcopal Church and the revisions to the Book of Common Prayer were kept to a minimum. As a result, noted historian Loveland has cogently observed that "The basic unit in the government of the Church is not the diocese as in England, but the parish." Clara O. Loveland, The Critical Years: The Reconstitution of the Anglican Church in the United States of America: 1780-1789 (Greenwich, CT: The Seabury Press, 1956) 284.

John Booty, historiographer of the Episcopal Church writing in the Church Teaching Series in 1979 has clearly stated the classical American understanding of Anglican church government is that temporal authority flows from the parish. "The result of all the maneuvering in 1789 was a church government based upon local control by voluntary associations of persons in parishes. Dioceses and national convention possessed power in relation to and for the sake of parishes. The larger organizations functioned as agencies preserving and strengthening the unity of the church. White agreed that 'the great art of governing consists in not governing too much'." John Booty, The Church in History, The Church's Teaching Series (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979) 71.

Roger Beckwith, an English scholar of Anglicanism, in his introduction to Anglicanism writes, "In practice at least, the parish is the basic unit of Anglican Church life, to which the diocese is accessory (not vice versa)." Roger T. Beckwith, The Church of England: What it is and what it stands for. (Oxford: Latimer House, 1992) Sec. 6.

Dr. Louis Tarsitano, writing in An Outline of an Anglican Life, in 1994 states, "The basic unit of the Church is the 'congregation', a 'group of people gathered' in Christ's Name (Matthew 18:20)." Louis Tarsitano, An Outline of an Anglican Life: Lessons in the Faith and Practice of the Anglican Church (Charlottesville, VA: Carillon Books, 1994 3rd ed.) 87.

In the history of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America from its founding, the basic unit of the Episcopal Church in America has been and is the local parish.

B. Local Property Rights Prevailed in Early American Anglicanism

In no instances in Colonial America prior to the establishment of the Episcopal Church in the United States did the Bishop of London hold title to congregational property. Spiritual authority was separate from temporal authority on American shores at its inception.   
[COMMENT: Fox emphasis.  This distinction between spiritual and temporal authority is essential.  It is not a dualistic pagan idea.  Both temporal and spiritual belong to God.  But God delegates various parts of His authority to whom He will, for the good of us all.  E. Fox] 

As originally organized, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America deliberately adopted a policy based upon the consent of the governed. The parish, not the diocese or the national church, was the basic unit of the church. Deriving from these cardinal principles, property rights lay with the local church which held title to its property which it had purchased and thereupon constructed buildings, all with its own monies. Ownership of these lands and buildings was not vested in other ecclesial body, like a diocese or the national church. In fact, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, as a corporate entity, did not even exist until 1820 and thus, at the beginning of American Anglicanism could not have held title to local properties.

The first serious challenge to this polity of parish-based property ownership did not occur until the 1860s with the Civil War. The result of that precedent only confirmed the reality that the local parish was the owner of its property and buildings. White's polity still held. As the historians have noted, the Episcopal Church in America was a voluntary association where authority was delegated by the parish to the diocese, and the diocese to the national church. And under this legal arrangement, the parish retained ownership of its property.

Up to the Dennis Canon in 1979, civil legislation was required for the diocese or national church to retain property otherwise. Canon law had been acknowledged to be insufficient for the diocese or national church to hold parish property if there was no specific legislation (state by state) or some instrument of express trust in favor of the diocese or the national church.

The parish, not the diocese or the national church, held title to its own property. That is another central historical distinctive woven into the fabric of American Anglicanism at its beginning.

C. Centralization of Control Using the Corporate Model - Not Beginning until the 1900s - Has Failed the Purposes of the Church

Historically, the Presiding Bishop took the chair as President of the meetings of the House of Bishops. He was a diocesan bishop with no other special powers, authority or privileges as Presiding Bishop. He was the bishop senior to his peers by virtue of the date of his consecration. He was not a manager or chief executive of the national church, but was responsible only for his own diocese. Outside of General Convention and its House of Bishops, the office had no function or activity. The functions and duties of the Presiding were not even enumerated under the initial Constitution and Canons adopted by the Episcopal Church in the United States.

It was not until the first quarter of the Twentieth Century - well past its first hundred years of existence - that one began to see a move toward centralization of managerial functions within the Episcopal Church with the creation of the Presiding Bishop's Office to help manage the growth. The most recent quarter century has witnessed further centralization at the national level which has been designed to assert over control assets and usurp the authority of the dioceses and local parishes. The first efforts toward centralization were a function of prosperity, the second a function of decline. The 1979 Dennis Canon, which seeks to place all Church property in trust for the national hierarchy, is but one example of a declining church turning in on itself and against its basic unit of ecclesiology by attempting to control its ever-dwindling human resources and lack of spiritual dynamism. This corporate model and the failure on many within it to guard the Faith once received has, in many instances, not served godly purposes.

Ecclesiology Is Part of the Task Facing American Anglicanism Today

Recently commenting in an article entitled "The Structures of Unity" on the theological ramifications of the current doctrinal dilemma within the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams has noted, "Staying together is pointless unless it is staying together because of the Body of Christ." Dr. Williams observed that the theological task awaiting the Primates and leaders of the Anglican Communion is ecclesiological in nature. "I think it worth working at structures in Anglicanism that don't either commit us to a meaningless structural uniformity or leave us in mutual isolation" (emphasis added). These structures might include rival, overlapping jurisdictions. "I suspect that those who speak of new alignments and new patterns, of the weakening of territorial jurisdictions and the like, are seeing the situation pretty accurately." Rowan Williams, "The Structures of Unity" New Directions No 100 (September 2003) 3-4.

What does the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams' call for a new ecclesiology of Anglicanism mean for the "man in the pew," for the local parish or for the parish priest? What is at stake here in a new order?

The Principle that the Parish Is the Basic Unit of the Church in American Anglicanism

The question raised by Rowan Williams is essentially, "What is the fundamental or basic unit of the Church?" From this matter flow questions of how the Church should organize itself, how it should govern itself, who should control its property, what should its teachings be and how should its teachings be changed?

In the history of the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States of America, the basic unit of the American Episcopal Church has been the local parish. The federal system of church government - or, more properly speaking, the confederated system - has been the hallmark of Anglicanism in the United States. It is the chief difference between the Church of England and the American Episcopal Church. Recent efforts at centralization of authority, of privileging General Convention over the diocese, or the diocese over the parish find scant basis in classical Anglican doctrine or church history.

The basic governmental principle of the Episcopal Church in America is of delegation of powers: from the parish to the diocese to the national church. The parish or diocese reserves power not specifically delegated to a "higher" body. The model upon which the Episcopal Church's Constitution was based was not the United States Constitution but the Articles of Confederation. In recent years, the theology, polity and history of the Episcopal Church in America has been subject to inaccurate assumptions which distort historical reality.

In the historical American Episcopal ecclesiology which is parish-based, the authority of church order flows from the parish to the bishop. The head of the Church is not the bishop, but Jesus Christ. The parish places itself under the spiritual authority and direction of the bishop, and not the other way around. The parish - through its officers, the vestry, owns property and manages the affairs of the local parish. The parish sends delegates to diocesan conventions. These conventions set budgets, pass canons or laws, and elect bishops. Civil law governs the business affairs of the parish. Bishops have spiritual, sacramental and teaching authority; yet they are bound by canons, custom and civil law in the exercise of their authority.

Bishops, churches and clergy have been at odds over property, and in the law courts, from the very beginning of the Christian Church. Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History records a lawsuit brought in the Roman civil courts by the clergy of Antioch against their Bishop over control of parish property. The local clergy won. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, VII:30, "The Epistle of the Bishops against Paul".

As The Rt. Rev. Dr. FitzSimons Allison noted as to doctrine in his book, The Cruelty of Heresy, the "new" ideas of many progressive churchmen are but the old heresies repackaged. The fight over the nature of the church is no different.

Following upon Bishop Allison's observation, that which has been different in recent years has been the use of revisionary church history in the law courts to attempt to seize the property of parishes unwilling or unable to accept the revisions of doctrine and discipline in the Episcopal Church. This effort at historical revisionism flies directly in the face of the founding history the Episcopal Church in the United States.

The fact of the matter is that William White, first Bishop of Pennsylvania and first Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church, was the initial primary advocate for the parish-based ecclesiology as adopted by ECUSA. White applied Locke's reasoning to the church, proclaiming that authority in the church originated from the people. On the other hand, Samuel Seabury believed that the diocese was divinely ordered and its ministers divinely empowered. White believed that the basic unit of the church was the parish; Seabury argued unsuccessfully that it was the diocese.  William White, The Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered, Richard Solomon, ed. (Philadelphia: Church Historical Society, 1954).

Bishop White was the driving force behind the formation of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. He believed as a matter of church government and ecclesiology that the parish was central to the Episcopal Church.  White's view of church polity that the Anglican church in America is parish-based - and not Seabury's polity favored by the liberal establishment today - prevailed in the writing of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church in 1789.

Bishop White made his mark. The consensus of modern historical fact and scholarship stands firmly behind the parish as the primary unit of the Church in American Episcopal history.

John Booty, historiographer of the Episcopal Church writing in the Church Teaching Series in 1979 states the classical Episcopal understanding of Church government is that temporal authority flows not [sic???] from the parish. "The result of all the maneuvering in 1789 was a church government based upon local control by voluntary associations of persons in parishes. Dioceses and national convention possessed power in relation to and for the sake of parishes. The larger organizations functioned as agencies preserving and strengthening the unity of the church. White agreed that 'the great art of governing consists in not governing too much'." John Booty, The Church in History, The Church's Teaching Series (New York: The Seabury Press, 1979) 71.

In 1956, Clara Loveland, author of The Critical Years, the leading historical treatment of the formation of the Episcopal Church, concluded, "The basic unit in the government of the Church is not the diocese as in England, but the parish." Clara O. Loveland, The Critical Years: The Reconstitution of the Anglican Church in the United States of America: 1780-1789 (Greenwich, CT: The Seabury Press, 1956) 284.

Roger Beckwith, an English scholar of Anglicanism, in his introduction to Anglicanism writes, "In practice at least, the parish is the basic unit of Anglican Church life, to which the diocese is accessory (not vice versa)." Roger T. Beckwith, The Church of England: What it is and what it stands for. (Oxford: Latimer House, 1992) Sec. 6.

Dr. Louis Tarsitano, writing in An Outline of an Anglican Life, in 1994 states, "The basic unit of the Church is the 'congregation', a 'group of people gathered' in Christ's Name (Matthew 18:20)." Louis Tarsitano, An Outline of an Anglican Life: Lessons in the Faith and Practice of the Anglican Church (Charlottesville, VA: Carillon Books, 1994 3rd ed.) 87.

Article XIX Understands that the Parish Is the Basic Unit

A difficulty with the revisionist belief is that it contravenes Article XIX of the Articles of Religion in attempting to assert the diocesan-based polity. Article XIX specifically holds that: "The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same."

The Articles of Religion do not deny the existence to the church beyond the local congregation. They do, however, state that the visible Church of Christ is the local congregation engaged in specific activities. The church has an existence, of course, when it is not actively engaged in worship. Yet, the revisionist view of "a fellowship of Churches in an area in communion with their bishop" is a mere ideal and not visibly the church because it never meets as an entirety to hear God's word and receive his sacraments.

Article XIX refers not to the idealized church but to the visible Church - the tangible, visible congregation. It is not the bishop who is physically present in every congregation, but Christ Himself. The Book of Common Prayer declares Christ, not the bishop, as the head of the Church through His gracious and efficacious ministry in and through the physical congregation, the basic unit of the American Anglican ecclesiology.

[Comment:  I think this point is overdrawn.  While the temporal side of the Church is bottom up, the spiritual side is indeed top down, the Apostolic succession.  That is why the priest is put in charge of the spiritual life of the local church, even though he receives the key to the building, and his salary, from the vestry (governing body).  The priest has de facto authority over how the buildings will be used.    E. Fox] 

The Nature of the Episcopate

The different interpretations given to these to the Articles of Religion - whether the bishop is of the plene esse (William White) or esse of the Church (Samuel Seabury) and whether the Church is the visible congregation of faithful men (William White) or the mystical body of Christ (Seabury) - animates the early history of the American Episcopal Church. An additional theory is that of bene esse. These three theories of the episcopate underlay the discussions, and it is necessary to diverge from the historical record to explain the theological terminology being used.

A. The Esse Theory Summarized

The esse theory, as stated previously, can be reduced to the phrase "no bishop, no church" and vice versa. Thereunder, some would argue that the parish is a creature of the diocese. Without a bishop, there can be no parish.

The consequences of such thinking are that the parish has no authority or life independent of the bishop. Doctrinal change, organizational change, moral change and control of property flow from "the top down." Traditionally, this doctrine has been known as the esse theory of the episcopacy. Bishops are thereby viewed as essential for the very being of the church: "no bishop, no Church" and vice versa sum up this theory. Understandably, a number of bishops and dioceses across the Anglican Communion and in the United States prefer this erroneous argument.

If a bishop and a parish disagree, in this particular view of church order, the bishop can seize assets, hire and fire clergy, and replace recalcitrant lay leaders because he is empowered by the canon law to do so. A contemporary example of this authoritarian philosophy in action was demonstrated on September 6, 2003 in Vancouver, Canada when the Bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham, sent a locksmith to St Michael's Parish, a congregation at odds with that bishop over his advocacy of the gay agenda, and attempted to change the locks on the building. The Parish Vestry intervened and drove off the intruder. Rebuffed in his physical attempt to gain control of the property, the following day Bishop Ingham resorted to the canon law, removing the wardens from office and replacing them with a group amenable to his wishes. Jack Keating, "Anglicans Clamp Down on North Shore Parish" The National Post (9 September 1998) http://canada.com/national/story.asp?id=C9AF2F20-564E-42E3-86BA-475F1C6FF0E6.

A particularly full-blown Nineteenth Century American explanation of this theory states,

"In the State, under our form and theory of government, power ascends from the people whereas, in the Church, it descends from above to the bishops and, in some respects, through the bishops, into the subordinate ministry. The bishops are the governing order. Neither priest nor layman possesses any inherent power of legislation. Their counsel and advice is taken by the Bishops, as was the case in the Primitive Church; and in 'this church' the Bishops have granted to them, as represented in National Synod, the constitutional right of initiating and vetoing measures. In other words, the Bishops have consented and in legal form agreed not to exercise certain of their inherent functions, except so far as advised and approved by the House of Deputies in General Convention. The powers of the a Bishop in his Diocese are not merely and only those flowing from his individual functions, but those flowing from the authority and functions of the College of Bishops, of the Bishops of the Province, through whom his individual functions are derived there can be no such thing as an 'independent' church or diocese. The National Church is not a Church of delegated powers at all, but one possessing in and through the Bishop, or college of Apostles, inherent authority of government and discipline, the constitution of the National Church being simply an instrument under the terms and conditions of which organization was effected and jurisdiction recognized, and not conferring or attempting to confer any law-making or governing power. ? The fact is known to all that, nevertheless, the General Convention legislates in ecclesiastical matters without reserve or hindrance, except so far as restrained by the limitations of the Constitution, and in subordination to Divine and Catholic law." S. Corning Judd, "By what laws the American Church is governed, and herein chiefly, how far, if at all English Ecclesiastical Law is of force as such in this Church" Church Review 37 (1882) 194-7.

B. The Bene Esse Theory Summarized

Bene esse argues that bishops are desirable for the well being of the Church. They are not essential to the church, but merely historical and desirable. Germany's Lutheran bi shops or Methodist bishops in the United States serve as an example. Bishops are chosen to be overseers, following the example in Holy Scripture. They have no especially distinctive ecclesiastical functions save for confirmation or ordination. Though they are responsible for the continuation of the priesthood through their powers of ordination, they do not embody or continue in themselves the Church. Walter Ayrault, "Proper Place of Episcopacy in the Church" Church Eclectic 10 (1883) 961-8.

C. The Plene Esse Theory Summarized

The plene esse theory of the episcopate, as distinct from the bene esse, states bishops are necessary for the "full being" or "fullness" of the Church. Though this theory was not thoroughly articulated until the Twentieth Century and would be an anachronism if applied to the White-Seabury debate, it does encapsulate White's theory of the episcopacy as seen through the prism of the Thirty-nine Articles. Bishops are one necessary mark of the true church.

But even though bishops may abound, heresy can still be present. The mere presence of even validly consecrated bishops does not mean a true church by definition. Though no church can be perfect, or in fullness of being without a bishop, some churches at some times, wholly without bishops, have more nearly been true to the faith than some churches with bishops. Bishops are necessary for the fullness of perfection, but no more. Kenneth Carey, ed., The Historic Episcopate (London: Dacre, 1954) 105-27.

The Foundation of the Episcopal Church in the United States

To fully develop the understanding that the parish, not the diocese, is the basic unit of the American Episcopal Church it is necessary to look at the actual circumstances surrounding the founding of the Episcopal Church. The American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence of 1776 severed the bonds of the American churches with the Church of England. It is quite important to stress the plural, churches, and not Church. The churches in America had no synod or convention and were tied together only by a common Prayer Book and common discipline under the authority of the Bishop of London. King's Chapel, the largest parish in Boston had no tie to Christ Church in Philadelphia or Trinity Parish in New York let alone with the churches of South Carolina or Virginia.

The ties that bound the churches were personal friendships among the clergy. As Edgar Pennington has noted, "The few clergy-conventions that were held were almost all intra-colony.  The Conventions were more or less informal. This was to be expected since the conventions lacked authority and remained voluntary to the end. No one was empowered to enforce their decisions." Edgar Pennington, "Colonial Clergy Conventions" Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 8 (1939) 217.

Only one organization in the pre-PECUSA era crossed colonial boundaries, i.e., the Corporation for the Relief of Widows and Children of Deceased Clergy of New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The Widows' Corporation was a mutual insurance company chartered by the colonial legislatures of the three states and remains in existence to this day.

The stockholders meeting of 1784 in New Brunswick, New Jersey was the first multi-state meeting of clergy in the wake of the Revolution. According to William White, this meeting"was the first step towards the forming of a collective body of the Episcopal Church in the United States." The clergy met "not only for the purpose of reviving the said charitable institution, but to confer and agree on some general principles of a union of the Episcopal Church throughout the states." William White, Memoirs of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1880 3rd ed.) 19.

The differences among the churches in the New World were by no means confined to geography. In Virginia, the House of Burgesses established the Church of England under law. The clergy held the same privileges in Virginia society as they did in English society. The only lawful marriages, for example, were those performed by Episcopal clergy. The Commonwealth, patrons, vestries, or Mission Societies, held title to the buildings and glebe lands and the stipends of parish clergy were paid by the State. In Maryland and South Carolina the Church was also established but property was vested directly with the proprietors or patrons of the parish, or if the parish were independent or chartered by the state legislature, in the vestry. In Maryland, the Governor, acting on behalf of the proprietor, Lord Calvert, reserved the right to appoint the clergy.

In the Mid-Atlantic states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey, the church was not established, but was one of many competing in a pluralistic Christian environment. Title to parish property lay either in the hands of the London-based missionary societies who paid the stipends of the clergy, as was the case in North Carolina or in Pennsylvania outside of the City of Philadelphia or with the vestry as in the case of William White's parish, Christ Church in Philadelphia, or in the case of Trinity Church in New York.

In New England, the Episcopal churches were a tolerated but were in effect a discouraged minority. Congregationalism was the established church of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Parish vestries or proprietors or mission societies owned the property of the congregation. In Boston, ownership of King's Chapel, the largest of Boston's Episcopal Churches lay in the hands of those who owned the pews.

In no instances in Colonial America did the Bishop of London hold title to congregational property. This comports with the understanding that the parish, not the diocese, is the basic unit of the Anglican, now called the Episcopal Church on American shores.

Spiritual authority was clearly recognized as separate from temporal authority. The clergy owed their political allegiance to the Crown, their spiritual obedience to the Bishop of London, and their financial loyalty to their vestries or to their sponsoring missionary society.

Governed by the Prayer Book, Formularies and Articles of Religion, the colonial church system was Episcopal in doctrinal and spiritual matters. Its clergy ordained by Bishops in England.

However, the colonial churches were congregational in temporal matters. Property was held by the congregation or the sponsoring mission society. The day-to-day affairs, not touching upon matters of the Faith, lay in the hands of the local vestry.

At the outbreak of the American Revolution, Anglicans in America (the term is a precursor in this case since it was not coined until the 1840's but is used here merely in a descriptive sense) found themselves on both sides of the political dispute. Some like Samuel Seabury were ardent advocates of the "Tory" or loyalist position. Seabury served as a chaplain to a Loyalist regiment in New York. Bruce Steiner, Samuel Seabury, 1729-1796: A Study in the High Church Tradition (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1972) 159-67. Against these loyalists were the "Patriots" such as William White who served as Chaplain to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

The Tory clergy who did not emigrate or who found themselves in "hostile" territory either withdrew from the active ministry or braved the wrath of patriots. The point of dissension was often the obligatory prayers read for the monarch found in the Morning Prayer Service.

The Patriot clergy omitted the prayers for the monarch or substituted prayers for the new "lawful" political authority, the Continental Congress, or the state government. In Maryland, the Patriot legislature ordered the Episcopal clergy to substitute prayers for the new "monarch" by referencing "the Legislature" instead of the King.

When the Revolutionary War ended, the church with its English origins was devastated. Many of its churches were destroyed in the fighting or were abandoned by fleeing Tories. Though many of the Founding Fathers of the new nation were Episcopalians, the clergy were viewed with suspicion for holding a residual loyalty to the English Crown.

William White and the Pennsylvania Plan for Church Union

Into the void left by the War stepped the Rector of Christ Church in Philadelphia, William White. Generally considered to be the founding father of the American Episcopal Church, White offered a confederated plan of organization for the remnant of the Church of England residing in America. White's first priority was to organize the churches in the midst of hostile circumstances. And when it could be so arranged, procure a bishop. Loveland, 63.

The theoretical basis of White's plan, according to Loveland, was that "the authority to govern the Episcopal Church in America had to be derived from elected representatives from all the Churches throughout the United Stated, united by the voluntary acceptance of a Federal Constitution." Loveland, 62.

White outlined his proposals in The Case of the Episcopal Churches in the United States Considered. Written during the summer of 1782 before the end of hostilities at a time when White believed England would not recognize the independence of the American States, White's Case was concerned with delineating a practical form of union for the churches in the United States.

White assumed that it would be impossible to secure consecration of an American Bishop from the English line. Given this political reality, White suggested that a continuing witness to the Christian faith dictated the reorganization of the former Church of England in America be conducted, by such necessity, in the absence of a Bishop. White, Case, 29f.

Political events moved rapidly at the close of the Revolutionary War and by August 1782, Parliament was willing to recognize American Independence. White, Case, 9. Emboldened by the prospects of peace, White distributed The Case across the American Church.

In the third chapter of White's Case outlines a "Sketch of a Frame of Government," it is declared that,

"As the churches in question extend over an immense space of country, it can never be expected, that representatives from each church should assemble in one place; it will be more convenient for them to associate in small districts, form which representatives may be sent to three different bodies, the continent being supposed divided into that number of larger districts. From these may be elected a body representing the whole.

In each smaller district, there should be elected a general vestry or convention, consisting of a convenient number (the minister to be one) from the vestry or congregation of each church, or of every two or more churches, according to their respective ability of supporting a minister. They should elect a clergyman their permanent president; who, in conjunction with other clergymen to be also appointed by the body, may exercise such powers as are purely spiritual, particularly that of admitting to the ministry; the presiding clergyman and others to be liable to be deprived for just causes, by a fair process, and under reasonable laws; meetings to be held as often as occasion may require.

The assemblies in the three larger districts may consist of a convenient number of members, sent from each of the smaller districts severally within their bounds, equally composed of clergy and laity, and voted for by those orders promiscuously; the presiding clergyman to be always one, and these bodies to meet once in every year.

The continental representative body may consist of a convenient number from each of the larger districts, formed equally of clergy and laity, and among the clergy, formed equally of presiding ministers and others; to meet statedly once in three years. The use of this and preceding representative bodies is to make such regulations, and receive appeals in such matters only, as shall be judged necessary for their continuing religious communion." White, Case, 25

White's plan for church union is considered in the scholarly literature to be substantially identical with the final form of the Episcopal Church's polity. "The Constitution of the American Church to this day bears the imprint of his hand, more so than of any one man." Walter H. Stowe, "William White: Ecclesiastical Statesman" Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 22 (1953) 374. The preface of the 1954 reprint of White's Case states, "It contains the first draft of the organization of the Church as it is today." White, Case, 1.

One of the underlying principles of White's Case was to limit the powers of church bodies external to the congregation. "The use of this and proceeding representative bodies is to make such regulations, and receive appeals in such matters only, as shall be judged necessary for their continuity one religious communion." White, Case, 26.

Governing authority rested with the parish. Other authority was delegated by the parish to other bodies, e.g., a diocese or the national church. It was deemed necessary "to retain in each Church every power that need not be delegated for the good of the whole." White, Case, 25. Thus, it was not the United States Constitution that served as a model for the Episcopal Church's Constitution, but rather it was the Articles of Confederation which are embodied in the governing documents of ECUSA.

In the annotated 1954 edition of White's Case the editor, Richard Solomon, cites the Articles of Confederation as the influence upon White's thinking in this matter. Solomon cites Article 2 thereof that states, "Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled." The polity of the Episcopal Church in America emulated this model of delegated powers, and not the more centralized Constitution.

White also quoted with affirmation the words of the Bishop of St Asaph, "The great art of governing consists in not governing too much." White, Case, 29; this is the source of Booty's quote above. White's concern was to protect the individual churchman from "too much" ecclesiastical legislation by setting up an elaborate system of representatives. This system was built from the local parishioner, through a series of representative bodies, to a final group continental in composition and scope.

White's theory of Church government was based upon the governmental theories of John Locke. White was a "Lockian" as noted by Loveland. "His firm support of a contract theory of government was derived from his belief in the importance of natural as well as revealed religion." Loveland, 9.

Sydney Temple writes, "The American Episcopal Church took its form from an outline laid down in White's Case, which likewise found its basis in Locke's Theory of Government." Sydney Temple, The Common Sense Theology of Bishop White (New York: King's Crown Press, 1946) 23. What this meant was that religious government was founded on the principle of the consent of the governed and by voluntary association rather than by autocratic rule. Spiritual order and church order were separate issues.

An Early and Practical Example of Parish Property Ownership under White's Polity

Parenthetically, White's views of congregational rights were not open-ended however. In 1785, White began a correspondence with the minister of King's Chapel-Boston over that congregation's adoption of theological innovations. During the Revolution, the rector and many of the members of King's Chapel fled to Nova Scotia. A new congregation with a Unitarian caste of mind called James Freeman, a Harvard student, to be its lay pastor. Freeman applied to White for assistance in ordination. In support of this action, the vestry forwarded to White a copy of the congregation's revised Book of Common Prayer.

White voiced two objections to the revisions which he found in the proposed King's Chapel Prayer Book. One was doctrinal, and one was a matter of polity. The revised liturgy left out "every invocation of the Redeemer," and it had made "the alterations of the liturgy a congregational act."

White wrote, "The invoking of the Redeemer has been too conspicuous a part of our services to be set aside by some of us, consistently with any reasonable expectation of continuing of the same communion with the rest."

The second action "was inconsistent with the whole tenor of the ecclesiastical government of the Church of England." To leave each church to its own congregational government "would be foreign to every idea of Episcopal government, which supposes, let the authority of bishops be more or less, that the flock is under a diocesan, and not under congregational discipline. But that this can be the case, and yet each congregation be left to model its liturgy, I cannot conceive possible."

Any such diversity was not a source of strength for White. King's Chapel could not claim the Episcopal mantle if it adopted non-Episcopal doctrines. It must reform or leave.

If it chose to leave, White asked the congregation to vacate the King's Chapel as it had been established as an Episcopal congregation. To leave with the property would be a betrayal of the original intent of the founders of the parish. He acknowledged, however, that he was powerless to prevent the departure of King's Chapel from the possession of Episcopal Church however, since legal control of the property resided with the vestry and pew-owners. White never disputed ownership of King's Chapel (no locksmiths were sent round); yet he vigorously disputed the spiritual and doctrinal path taken by the congregation. Loveland, 162-3; See also F.W.P. Greenwood, A History of King's Chapel (Boston: Carter, Hendee & Co., 1833).

This incident illustrates the boundaries of White's notion of church polity and church government. Matters of doctrine and discipline were not proper matters for a congregational polity while control and disposition of physical assets, such as land and buildings, were.

Historical Backdrop Presses the Issue of the Form of Governance

Upon Bishop Seabury's return from Scotland in 1785, two schools of thought contended for control. His Connecticut Plan held that the organization of the American churches could not be achieved until a bishop was in place. White's Pennsylvania Plan sought to achieve unity first, and then secure a bishop as soon as was practicable.

Seabury objected to plans to allow lay representation in Convention and to changes in the Prayer Book that would remove the Athanasian and Nicene Creed and the passage "He descended to Hell" from the Apostles Creed. Loveland, 181. Seabury also saw no need to incorporate the Articles of Religion into the new church, believing the Prayer Book held sufficient theological grounding for the church. However, White wisely saw the Articles as a guard against heterodoxy and as a link to the Church of England. Loveland, 269.

White's supporters responded by refusing to recognize Seabury's consecration and by not recognizing the validity of any ordinations which he performed. Seabury's Scotch pedigree and his attempt to incorporate portions of the Scotch Communion Office in place of sections of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer Communion Office as well as High Church views of the episcopacy divided the American Church into competing camps.

Events soon took a new twist when the American Minister in London, John Adams, equipped with testimonials from two leading Episcopalians in the new United States, John Jay of New York and Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, approached the Archbishop of Canterbury on behalf of White's party and began the slow process of negotiations towards changing English law. Loveland, 173.

On June 26, 1786, Parliament passed an Enabling Act that granted English bishops the authority to consecrate candidates from "countries out of his Majesty's Dominions" without requiring the oath of allegiance and supremacy to the King or the oath of obedience to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Samuel Provoost of New York and William White were elected bishops by their state conventions; on February 4, 1787, they were consecrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury at the Old Chapel in Lambeth Palace. White, Memoirs, 367-9, 27.

Though there were now three Bishops in the United States, Seabury in Connecticut, White in Pennsylvania and Provoost in New York, the Episcopal Church was no nearer to forming a united church. Provoost would not recognize Seabury's Scotch orders while Seabury continued to object to the proposed liturgical revisions of the Prayer Book and to White's system of church government.

The Compromise of 1789 Established the Parish as the Primary Unit

The Episcopal Churches met in state conventions between 1782 and 1789. It met in national conventions on three occasions before the two national Conventions of 1789. During this period of time, a series of compromises were reached that, by 1789, allowed the two bodies to be united. The essence of the compromise was that Seabury's orders would be accepted by the whole church, that White's system of government would be adopted, with a few minor and unrelated changes, and Prayer Book revision would be kept to a minimum. This is precisely what transpired.

At the 1789 Convention, Seabury's objection to seating the Bishops as members ex officio of Convention was resolved by creating two houses of government, i.e., a House of Bishops and a House of Deputies. The bishops were to constitute "a House of revision; and when any proposed act shall have passed in the General Convention, the same shall be transmitted to the House of revision for their concurrence." Article 3 of the Constitution of 1789.

The New England clergy proposed a compromise. "If the third article of that Constitution may be so modified as to declare explicitly the right of Bishops, when sitting in a separate House, to originate and propose acts for the concurrence of the other House of Convention, and to negative such acts proposed by the other House as they may disapprove", then the Seabury faction would ascent to the proposed Constitution.

The disagreements over the Creeds were resolved by compromise and by passing the responsibility for final revisions to a committee. The Athanasian Creed would be removed but not the Nicene. No changes would be made to the Apostles Creed. Portions of the Scotch Communion Office would be introduced into the new prayer book, but the balance, less the politically necessary changes, would come from the English Prayer Book.

Earlier objections to Seabury's Scotch orders were thereupon laid aside. Political expediency and the death of the last Stuart pretender in 1788 allowing the Scottish Episcopal Church to give allegiance to George III removed the legal impediment between the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

This resolved the question of the legitimacy of Seabury's episcopal orders for many in the Convention. Loveland, 237. White also defused a crisis surrounding Seabury's pension from the British government. White noted the money received by Seabury was for past services and had nothing to do with present loyalties. Bishop White finally settled the matter by offering a resolution which the Journal of Convention recorded as, "Resolved unanimously, that it is the opinion of this Convention, that the consecration of the Right Rev. Dr. Seabury to the Episcopal office is valid." William S. Perry, ed., Journals of General Conventions of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States, published by authority of General Convention. Vol. I and II of A Half Century of the Legislation of the American Church (Claremont, NH: Claremont Manufacturing Company, 1874) 1:60-83.

Not all of the contentious issues that divided the Church in 1789 were resolved by that Convention. Nevertheless, by accepting Seabury's orders, adopting White's polity for ECUSA, and keeping the Prayer Book and Articles essentially unchanged, the churches were able to achieve union. The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was now formed.

Loveland's pertinent conclusion summarizes the important points at issue: "Before the end of the Revolutionary War, it was evident that the American Chu rch must break with the English politico-ecclesiastical system. The organization of the Protestant Episcopal Church today [1956] is essentially the same as that suggested by Bishop White in 1782.   Not Parliament, but its own representative General Convention constitutes its final legislative body. The basic unit in the government of the Church is not the diocese as in England, but the parish. Every parish sends representatives to its annual diocesan conventions, at which diocesan representatives to the triennial General Convention are elected. Thus, every parish is represented in the General Conventions, by which the Church is governed.

Another break with the English system was the change in the status of bishops.  American bishops have no political power or prestige. Each one is elected by the church members of a specific region, solely to supervise and administer their ecclesiastical affairs.  The power and prestige of each American bishop lies in his control of the affairs of the Church in his own diocese. The purely ecclesiastical bishop, considered an impossibility in 1772, but a necessity in 1784, is a continuing reality today.

The third innovation adopted by the Protestant Episcopal Church during the period of reorganization, which has remained a vital part of the American Church, is the principle of lay representation.  The struggles of the years 1780-1789 ended in real achievement. In 1789, the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America was established with a new form of government suited to its new political situation, but universally recognized as continuous in thought and feeling with the Church of England. Loveland, 284-8 (emphasis added).

The Global Christian View Supports the Parish as the Basic Unit

Outside of the precincts of the Episcopal and Anglican churches, the Christian churches world-wide have been acknowledged the important on the local parish. Even Orthodox theologians such as John Zizoulas have explored the theological nature of the local congregation as the fullness of the Church. Zizoulas, in a passage that finds perfect harmony with Articles XIX and XXIII writes: "The basic ecclesiological principle applying to the notion of the local Church is that of the identification of the Church with the eucharistic community. Orthodox ecclesiology is based on the idea that wherever there is the eucharist there is the Church in its fullness as the Body of Christ. The concept of the local church derives basically from the fact that the eucharist is celebrated at a given place and comprises by virtue of its catholicity all the members of the Church dwelling in that place." John Zizioulas, Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and Church (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985) 247.

The Ecumenical Movement has also taken a strong theological and ecclesiological interest in the priority of the local church. The New Delhi Assembly of the WCC in 1961 focused on the local congregation as the basic unit of the Church and asserted that the local congregation was the primary vehicle for mission. "Every Christian congregation is part of that mission, with a responsibility to bear witness to Christ in its own neighborhood and to share in the bearing of that witness to the ends of the earth." The New Delhi Report: Third Assembly of the World Council of Churches, 1961 (London: SCM Press, 1962) 249.

Property Rights in Early American Anglicanism

The Episcopal Church, as organized, deliberately adopted a policy based upon the consent of the governed. This is a critical understanding for the consideration of the property ownership issue.

As has been made clear, the parish - not the diocese or the national church - was the basic unit of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Property rights lay with those holding title to the property and were not vested in other bodies, e.g., dioceses or the national church. Scant evidence of the system of church laws in England did not make across the Atlantic Ocean and was not extended to the Colonies and what did transverse the waters permitted the local parish to hold title to its properties.

This fits into the context that reflects that in no instances in Colonial America had the Bishop of London hold title to congregational property. This corollary to the policy based upon the consent of the governed was continued in actual practice.

As noted earlier, the differences among the churches in the New World were by no means confined to theology or geography. But the end result as to property ownership was carried over into local ownership of local lands and buildings.

In Virginia, the English-established Commonwealth, patrons, vestries, or Mission Societies, held title to the buildings and glebe lands and the stipends of parish clergy were paid by the State, but not the diocese. In Maryland and South Carolina, the church was also established, but property was vested directly with the proprietors or patrons of the parish or if the parish was independent or chartered by the state legislature, in the vestry.

In the Mid-Atlantic states of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, the church was not established. It was one of many competing in a pluralistic Christian environment. Title to parish property lay either in the hands of the London-based missionary societies who paid the stipends of the clergy, as was the case in North Carolina or in Pennsylvania outside of the City of Philadelphia or with the vestry as in the case of William White's parish, Christ Church in Philadelphia, or in the case of Trinity Church in New York.

In New England, the Episcopal churches were a tolerated, but they were in effect a discouraged minority. Congregationalism was the established church of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Parish vestries or proprietors or mission societies owned the property of the congregation. In Boston, ownership of King's Chapel, the largest of Boston's Episcopal Churches lay in the hands of those who owned the pews. Matters of control and disposition of physical assets, such as land and buildings, were proper matters for a congregational polity.

In fact, the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society, as the only corporate entity of the Episcopal Church in the United States, did not even exist until 1820. Thus at the beginning of American Anglicanism, ECUSA could not have held title to local properties because it had no corporate entity into which to vest legal title.

Despite what is often assumed, a denomination's hierarchical polity does not guarantee property ownership for the central church authority. The Roman Catholic trusteeship controversy after the independence of the United States exemplifies this reality.  See http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07719b.htm. The Roman Catholics do not, as a matter of fact, hold property in the Unites States by virtue of their hierarchical polity. The Roman Catholic Church holds property in the same way that any American or American corporation holds property, i.e., by deeds and acts of state legislatures, and not because of its ecclesiastical structure. In fact, the Pope himself in the early 1800s admitted that the only way for the Roman Catholic Church to hold property absolutely in the USA was for the property to be conveyed to it.

For many decades, property rights lay with those holding title to the property and were not vested in other bodies, i.e., not in a diocese or the national church. The first serious challenge to this polity came with the Civil War.

The Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States in America

The secession of the Southern States during the American Civil War saw the only instance, so far, of dioceses withdrawing from the national church. The actions and statements of conventions and of the bishops illustrate the acceptance of White's polity within the Episcopal Church.

Following the outbreak of armed conflict and the creation of the Confederate States of America, the Southern dioceses withdrew from the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. The first to speak was Leonidas Polk, Bishop of Louisiana. Polk believed that a church followed its nation. When Louisiana seceded from the Union in January 1861, Polk issued a pastoral letter stating that the Diocese of Louisiana was necessarily independent from the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America and from all other dioceses of that Church.

"We have, therefore, an independent diocesan existence.  Our separation from the brethren of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America has been effected because we must follow our nationality; not because there has been any difference of opinion as to Christian doctrine or catholic usage. Upon these points we are still one.  Our relations to each other hereafter will be the relations we both now hold to the men of our mother-church of England." William Polk, Leonidas Polk: Bishop and General, II vol. (New York: Longmans, Green 1915) 1:304-6.

Though none of the other Southern Bishops followed Polk's reasoning, they all came to the same conclusion. The bishops of Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina argued that the Constitution of the American Episcopal Church only applied to those dioceses "in the United States" pursuant to Article 1 of the Constitution or the language "in any of the United States" found in Article 5. Since the dioceses in the South were no "longer in the United States," they could not constitutionally be part of that Episcopal Church. Joseph Cheshire, The Church in the Confederate States (New York: Longmans, Green 1912) 20-5.

Bishop Atkinson of North Carolina and Bishop Ottley of Tennessee took a third route to secession. Bishop Atkinson declared that the secession of the Southern states from the United States had no effect on the Episcopal Church. The Southern dioceses remained a part of the Episcopal Church unless they were either forced to withdraw or voluntarily withdrew from the Episcopal Church. Edgar Pennington, "The Organization of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Confederate States of America" Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 17 (1948) 315-8.

"We do not lose our rights and interests, then, in that Church by ceasing to be citizens of the United States, but only when we voluntarily withdraw from that Ecclesiastical organization, and establish another for ourselves. This, I conceive, we had the right to do, even if the United States had not been divided, were there sufficient causes for it; and that division does itself furnish sufficient cause." Cheshire, 34. The dioceses, in Bishop Atkinson's view, possessed the right to secede at will. G. MacLaren Brydon, "The Diocese of Virginia and the Southern Confederacy" Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 17 (1948) 395.

Opinion in the Northern dioceses was divided. The Presiding Bishop, Hopkinson of Vermont, opposed the secession of the Southern States and Dioceses. Another group argued that the Southern dioceses were schismatic and should be condemned by the Church. Murray Hoffman, What is Schism? (New York: E. Jones, 1863).

A Resolution was introduced into the 1862 General Convention to this effect seeking condemnation of those who left ECUSA. The measure was defeated, and a substitute resolution expressing concern and reproof was passed in its place. Journal of the General Convention, 1862, 37-40, 51-4, 92-4.

Officially, General Convention took no notice of the secession. It began the roll call of dioceses at the 1862 Convention with "Alabama." Addison, 198. When the war was over, one of the key factors in reunion was the acceptance by General Convention of actions taken by the Southern Church which, strictly speaking, were unconstitutional. Journal of the General Convention, 1865, 45, 56f, 167f.

With end of hostilities, the individual Southern dioceses reevaluated their relationships with the Episcopal Church. The Diocese of Texas believed that the end of the war saw the end of the Confederate Church. The division of the states by war by necessity led to a division of the Church while the reunion of states resulted in a reunion of the Church. The Diocese of Texas chose to attend the 1865 General Convention and did not send deputies to the Confederate Church's convention of that year. DuBose Murphy, "The Protestant Episcopal Church in Texas during the Civil War" Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 1 (1932) 98-100.

Bishop Atkinson of North Carolina urged his diocese to return to the Episcopal Church. As a diocese had the right to secede at will, it also had the right to rejoin at will, he argued. Atkinson and North Carolina along with deputies from the now bishop-less Diocese of Tennessee joined Texas in attending the 1865 General Convention. DuBose Murphy, "The Spirit of Primitive Fellowship: The Reunion of the Church" Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 17 (1948) 438.

The remaining Southern dioceses attended the Convention of the Southern Church in November 1865. In the first year after the war, South Carolina and Virginia urged the Southern Churches keep themselves apart form the Northern Church. However, the mind of the Confederate Convention was expressed in a resolution of November 8: "That in the judgment of this council it is perfectly consistent with the good faith which she owes the Bishops and Dioceses with which she has been in union since 1862, for any Diocese to decide for herself whether she shall any longer continue in union with this council." Pennington, "Organization of PECCSA", 335. On May 16, 1866 the convention of the Diocese of South Carolina voted to rejoin the Episcopal Church and the last of the Confederate Church "renewed their connection with the Church in the United States." Cheshire, 252.

The history of the Confederate Church, though colorful in its own right, illustrated the consensus of the polity of Anglicanism on the American shores through the middle years of the Nineteenth Century. The National Church had no claim to the property of the local parishes. It was a voluntary association of dioceses which could, at will, come and go. The question of "nullification" never arose in the course of the Civil War and the Reconstruction period which followed.

White's polity still held. The Church was a voluntary association where authority was delegated, and reserved from the parish to the diocese, and the diocese to the national Church. The National Church and the dioceses had no claim to the property of the local parishes.

Property Ownership in the Late Nineteenth Century

Until the early 1870s. There was little or no question that the local parish held its own property. In 1871, then Canon 25 entitled "Of the Consecration of Churches" was revised in an effort to begin to seek consolidation of property ownership at the national level as a result of an Illinois court case. The Cheney case confirmed local ownership.

The 1954 edition of White and Dykman (Vol. 1, 427-431) discusses and explicates this effort. The commentary reads: "Exposition of Canon 25 The consent of the bishop and standing committee should be acknowledged and proved the same as a deed, and such consent so acknowledged be filed with the deed of alienation.

That the General Convention of 1871 which amended the canon recognized this necessity in order to make legal the requirement of the consent of the bishop and standing committee is evidenced by the resolution adopted by the Convention as follows: 'Resolved, the House of Bishops concurring, That it be recommended to the several Diocesan Conventions to take such measures as may be necessary, by State legislation or by recommending such forms of devise or deed or subscription as may secure the Church buildings, grounds, and other property, real or personal, belonging to the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, to those who profess and practice the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the said Church; and to protect such buildings, lots, and other property, from the claims of those who abandon the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the said Church.'

Many of the states have enacted statutes giving force to the requirements of this canon, to make valid and legal such alienation of Church property. The amendment to this canon made by the Convention of 1871, and the resolution adopted by the same Convention, were due to the outcome of the celebrated Cheney Case in the Diocese of Illinois (now Chicago).

The Rev. Dr. Cheney had been deposed by the bishop in June 1871, but still continued to officiate as rector of Christ Church in the city of Chicago. It was feared that the property of Christ Church would become alienated from the Protestant Episcopal Church, a fear which was afterwards realized. When Dr. Cheney went into the Reformed Episcopal Church, he took the property of Christ Church with him, and the courts sustained the transfer, holding that there was no law to prevent it.

The Convention of 1871, in enacting the amendment to the canon, providing that before the consecration of a church, the bishop was to be satisfied that the building and grounds thereof are secured from 'danger of alienation from those who profess and practice the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Protestant Episcopal Church," recognized that while this was as far as the Convention could legislate in this matter, it was not sufficient to prevent such alienation, and the Convention therefore adopted the resolution, recommending that the several diocesan conventions take steps to procure legislative action by which such alienation could be prevented.(Vol. 1, 430-431).

This explanation in the 1954 edition of White and Dykman expresses the General Convention's own opinion - in 1871 and right through its approval of the 1954 White and Dykman - that civil legislation was required to retain property and that canon law was insufficient to hold property if there were no specific state legislation or some instrument of trust in favor of the diocese or the national church. The bishops of the various dioceses were left to obtain civil legislation in their favor or to demand deeds of trust from the local congregations, as the Roman Catholics were forced to do in their earlier controversies. Either action would have been controversial.

Concerns nationally about obtaining property ownership arose in earnest in the 1970s with several changes. Beginning in the early 1970's parishes across the country began to leave ECUSA over issues surrounding the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Church. Issues ranging from Prayer Book revision, female clergy, the gay agenda, and the abandonment of classical Anglican doctrines, spawned a wave of secessions from ECUSA. Many of these secessions found their way into the state and federal Court systems as dioceses and parishes grappled over the control of property.

At the same time, the United States Supreme Court in Jones v. Wolf, 443 US 595 (1979) adopted a new means for deciding such cases. It approved the neutral principles of law criteria in awarding the property to the local church majority because there was no express trust in any of the relevant documents in favor of affiliation, even though the church was in fact a member of a hierarchical church. Justice Blackmun stated, "Rather than deferring to the congregational majority or hierarchical tribunal, the neutral approach looks at the constitutional documents, bylaws, property deeds, and even canons of the church. If the entitlement to property can be determined from these documents, without any reference to disputed matters of religious doctrine or governance, a court may do so. But if the dispute is essentially about a departure from an express doctrinal trust, or the documents are riddled with religious concepts the neutral principles method is inappropriate, a court must fall back on deference or abstain altogether."

In affirming the use of neutral principles as an option, Justice Blackmun J. noted the limitations of this approach: "The neutral principles method ... requires a civil court to examine certain religious documents, such as a church constitution, for language of trust in favor of the general church." Wolf at p. 604.

This language spurred the powers of the national to press for the adoption of the now-notorious Dennis Canon as an effort to accomplish that which it had been unable to do otherwise. If anything, the passage of the Dennis Canon was necessitated by the legal reality that without express language, the claim of a diocese or the national church was weak, as indicated by the California decision in Protestant Episcopal Church in the diocese of Los Angeles v. Barker, 171 Cal. Rep. 541 (ct App. 1981). In Barker, three churches which left ECUSA were able to retain their properties because they had never acceded to any claim by the diocese or the national church in any legal documents able to be considered under the neutral principles of law doctrine. The Dennis Canon was introduced in 1979 in order to assert the interests of the national church to overcome the effect of the United States Supreme Court case of Jones v. Wolf.

Historically, the parish, not the diocese or the national church, held title to its own property. The facts before, at and after the establishment of ECUSA evidences that property rights lay with the entity holding title to the property and were not vested in other bodies, e.g., dioceses or the national church. Up to the controversial Dennis Canon in 1979, civil legislation was required to retain property otherwise. Canon law was acknowledged to be insufficient for the diocese or national church to hold parish property if there was no specific state legislation or some instrument of trust in favor of the diocese or the national church. Parish property ownership is another central historical distinctive woven into the fabric of American Anglicanism at its beginning.

The Twentieth Century: Centralization and Decline

In the history of ECUSA from its founding, the basic unit of the Episcopal Church in America has been the local parish. As originally organized, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America deliberately adopted a policy based upon the consent of the governed. White's polity became the polity of the Episcopal Church.

Until 1901, there were only two places in the Church Constitution where the Presiding Bishop was mentioned. In 1823, the Constitution was amended to allow the "Presiding Bishop" to have the power to appoint an alternate place for General Convention to meet if some "good cause" made it necessary not to meet in the chosen place. Perry, 2:17, 19, 66, 95. In 1844, Article 10 was added to the Constitution that, in part, allowed the "Presiding Bishop" under certain circumstances to take order for the consecration of bishops for foreign countries. Journal of the General Convention, 1844, 26ff.

Historically the Presiding Bishop took the chair as President of meetings of the House of Bishops. He was a diocesan bishop with no special powers, authority or privileges. The Presiding Bishop was the bishop senior to his peers by virtue of the date of his consecration. He was not a manager or chief executive of the National Church, but responsible only for his own diocese. Outside of General Convention, the office had no activity outside of General Convention. His functions and duties were not enumerated under the Constitution and Canons of the Church.

Section 3 of the new Article I in 1901 was finally added in an effort to define constitutionally the office of the Presiding Bishop. The office was to be determined by seniority from point of consecration among bishops having jurisdiction in the United States. He was "to discharge such duties as may be prescribed by the Constitution and Canons of the General Convention." Journal of the General Convention, 1901, 35.

In 1919 General Convention amended the Constitution making the office of Presiding Bishop elective by the House of Bishops and subject to confirmation by the House of Deputies. Edwin White and Jackson Dykman, Annotated Constitution and Canons for the Government of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (Greenwich, CT: The Seabury Press, 1954) 1.18-22. The Presiding Bishop was also made executive head of the National Council in 1919. In 1922, he was made administrative head of that body as well. Journal of the General Convention, 1919, 165-70; Journal of the General Convention, 1922, 159; Canon 61.1.1. In 1943, there were subsequent changes in the Canons which required the Bishop to resign his diocesan see. Journal of the General Convention, 1943, 153f.

In tandem with the creation of the Office of an elected Presiding Bishop was the establishment of the National Council by the 1919 General Convention. The National Council, now known as the Executive Council was a revolutionary development in its day as it created a "board of directors" of the Church who were not directly accountable to the people in the pews. It essentially created an entity that existed outside of the meetings of General Convention and created a mechanism for Convention to extend its reach giving itself powers and authority hitherto reserved to the dioceses. C. Rankin Barnes, "The General Convention of 1919", Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 21 (1952) 238-42.

As the Church increased in numbers, influence and wealth, the role the National Council gave to itself was "managing" a growing non-profit corporation. Accountability lay not with the parishes or the dioceses which provided the funding, but to General Convention which selected the members of the Council. With the changes of the 1960s and 1970s, an era that saw the decline of the church by a third. The Executive Council, formerly the National Council reflected its new "authority" ECUSA strayed from its own founding principles. This has led to the legal strife and dissension that still plagues the Episcopal Church.

Conclusion

A. The Parish Is the Basic Unit of the Church in American Anglicanism

Since its founding and in the history of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, its basic unit has been the local parish. The federal system of church government -or, more properly speaking, the confederated system - is the hallmark of Anglicanism in the United States. Governing authority rested with the parish and thereupon was delegated by the parish to any other body, such as the diocese or the national church. This is a chief difference between the Anglicanism of the Church of England and the Anglicanism of the Episcopal Church in the United States.

A compromise was reached in 1789 whereby Bishop White's system of government, with a few minor and unrelated changes, was enacted by and for the Episcopal Church in the United States. John Booty, historiographer of the Episcopal Church writing in the Church Teaching Series in 1979 clearly observed that the classical American understanding of Anglican church government is that temporal authority flows from the parish. Booty, p. 71. Also, noted historian Loveland has cogently stated that "The basic unit in the government of the Church is not the diocese as in England, but the parish." Loveland, p. 284. Further, Roger Beckwith, an English scholar of Anglicanism, in his introduction to Anglicanism writes, "In practice at least, the parish is the basic unit of Anglican Church life, to which the diocese is accessory (not vice versa)." Beckwith, Sec. 6.

In the history of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America from its founding, the basic unit of the Episcopal Church in America has been the local parish.

B. Local Property Rights Prevailed in Early American Anglicanism

The Episcopal Church in the United States of America deliberately adopted a policy based upon the consent of the governed. The parish, not the diocese or the national church, was the basic unit of the church. From these cardinal principles, property rights lay with the local church which held title to its property which it had purchased and thereupon constructed buildings, all with its own monies. Ownership of these lands and buildings was not vested in other ecclesial body, like a diocese or the national church. The first serious challenge to this polity of parish-based property ownership did not occur until the 1860s with the Civil War. The result of that precedent only confirmed the reality that the local parish was the owner of its property and buildings.

Up to the Dennis Canon in 1979, civil legislation was required for the diocese or national church to retain property otherwise. Canon law had been acknowledged to be insufficient for the diocese or national church to hold parish property if there was no specific state legislation or some instrument of express trust in favor of the diocese or the national church.

The parish, not the diocese or the national church, held title to its own property. That is another central historical distinctive woven into the fabric of American Anglicanism at its beginning.

C. Centralization of Control Using the Corporate Model - Not Beginning until the 1900s - Has Failed the Purposes of the Church

It was not until the first quarter of the Twentieth Century - well past its first hundred years of existence - that one began to see a move toward centralization of managerial functions within the Episcopal Church with the creation of the Presiding Bishop's Office to help manage the growth. The most recent quarter century has witnessed further centralization at the national level which has been designed to assert over control assets and usurp the authority of the dioceses and local parishes. The first efforts toward centralization were a function of prosperity, the second a function of decline. The 1979 Dennis Canon, which seeks to place all Church property in trust for the national hierarchy is but one example of a declining church turning in on itself and against its basic unit of ecclesiology by attempting to control its ever-dwindling human resources and a lack of spiritual dynamism. This corporate model and the failure on many within it to guard the Faith once received has, in many instances, not served godly purposes.

---The Rev. Canon Dr. Tim Smith is the rector of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Jackson, Mississippi. He can be reached at: RevDrDr@jam.rr.com

---The Rev. George Conger is Chaplain to a Life-Care Center in Florida.
 

See also Peter Toon's article;  also  Property CanonsAnglican Polity by Louis Tarsitano; &  4 Levels of Unity

 

II.  An email on the issues in Virginia as of January 2008
(This is a response to email below)

       We need to get the message out that the Episcopal Church is "hierarchical" and "top-down" only in spiritual matters (apostolic succession, etc.), but NOT in material matters of ownership of property (see url below). 
 
        Spiritually we are a top-down Church, but materially we are a bottom-up Church.  That distinguishes American Anglicanism from both the Roman Catholic pattern and from our pre-Revolution history in England. 
 
        The history of the Episcopal Church is quite contrary to what the centralists are saying.  There was a strain of "separation of powers" implanted right at the start of the Episcopal Church (see article below on Virginia), precisely to guard against the coercive use of power by bishops which had been experienced in prior centuries in England, and because America was overflowing at the time with a desire to limit the power of centralized government.  Some of those who helped write our Declaration of Independence and Constitution were no doubt involved in writing our own Episcopal constitution. 
 
        See articles by the Revs. Tim Smith & George Cooper, (et al).  at http://www.theroadtoemmaus.org/RdLb/32Ang/Epis/PrprtyRtsEpisc.htm    Note the top of this article for others. 
 
        The notion that Virginia's civil law is contrary to religious freedom and that the Diocese of Virginia is being made a "victim" of state law is absolute nonsense.  If we do not have secure property rights, everyone's freedom is at risk.  That includes the ownership of property by parishes.  Centralized ownership of such cases is always a control issue, not a freedom issue.  Religious freedom does not include the right of  central religious authority to arbitrarily take over already locally-owned parish property. 
 
        IF the local parish has in writing agreed to the central takeover of its property, that is another matter.  But very few have, and most vestries are hardly aware of the attempt in the Dennis Canon.  Did 815 ever approach individual vestries with the news of the Dennis Canon, and with a request on paper to sign over their property?  Hardly.  They know that they would have been thrown off the property.  They just enacted the Dennis canon and tried to make it appear that, being "hierarchical", their canon superseded local ownership by an unreal and illogical right of legal title to the property. 
 
        That (Bishop Lee needs to understand) is not "hierarchical" religion, that is attempted theft.  And it is a betrayal of religious liberty, not an exercise of it. 
 
        The legitimate hierarchical nature of the Church (spiritual) is routinely denied (Hey, we can rewrite the
Bible!), but the illegitimate hierarchical nature (material) is being pushed.  This is not legitimate hierarchical-ness, it is abandonment of the Faith. 
 
        Our American laws were written to protect against this very imposition of arbitrary power.  For tyranny to try to sneak in under color of religious liberty is either ignorant or deceitful.  Time for vestries to wake up and defend themselves.  If parishes will present an effective defense in court of the true historical nature of the Episcopal Church, the tide will begin to turn. 
 
        I hope y'all will spread the referenced articles far and wide.  
 
Blessings, Earle Fox

III. The above email responded to the email below...

http://www.livingchurch.org/news/news-updates/2008/1/25/virginia-bishop-conflict-a-religious-liberty-issue

Virginia Bishop: Conflict a Religious Liberty Issue

Posted on: January 25, 2008

The Rt. Rev. Peter Lee, Bishop of Virginia, told members and guests attending the first day of the diocese’s annual council in Reston that the current “shadow” of litigation over the diocese is worth the expense because of the cause’s “serious consequences for religious liberty.

“If the attorney general’s view of the law prevails, it will mean that the Commonwealth of Virginia gives preference to churches with congregational governance, discriminates against churches that are hierarchical or connectional in their governance, and intrudes into the doctrine and discipline of communities of faith,” Bishop Lee said in his Jan. 25 address.

Bishop Lee said a hearing in Fairfax Circuit Court was held earlier in the day to determine if Attorney General Bob McConnell will be permitted to intervene in the case. Previously Attorney General McConnell filed a motion to intervene and a brief stating that the Canons and Constitution of the Episcopal Church are subordinate to Virginia statutory law, which is in favor of congregations departing the diocese and the Episcopal Church.

Elsewhere in his address, Bishop Lee described at length a number of diocesan ministries that had been adversely affected by a combination of litigation costs and “a continuing inability or unwillingness [by congregations] to meet the suggested guidelines for proportionate giving of parish income to what we do together as a diocese.” Bishop Lee suggested the loss of income was in all probability due to hard times in general, saying that some wardens had already notified him that their 2008 contribution would be lower than the previous year, “but that I should not take it as a sign of any unhappiness with what we are doing as a diocese.”

 

IV.

The following is from a lawyer friend who responded to a query of mine about whether the information above had ever been used in a legal case: 

Earle+,

The argument has, in fact, been used in a number of affidavits with the late Fr. Lou Tarsitano (who knew this stuff cold) in cases we worked together.  The courts don’t care.  They also don’t care about the early Federal precedent in Virginia which exposits the same issue.   The message I took to an AAC conference some years back—a message folks didn’t want to hear—was that unless you were very fortunate and had a statute on your side as well as “non-activist” judges, you are better off walking from the property.  The expense of resources and emotional toll on parishioners, particularly leaders, isn’t worth it.

An entire diocese is a different proposition, and one that shall be tested in court given the insanity of the bruja who presides of the sect formerly known as ECUSA.

Blessings,  Canon CN

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Date Posted -  --/--/2005   -   Date Last Edited - 07/07/2012