Saturday, November 14, 2009

OCEANSIDE: O'side congregation loses legal battle with Episcopal Church

From San Diego-

Sunday's sermon at St. Anne's Anglican Church in Oceanside will be about "standing on the authority of God's word" in light of a recent court ruling that could force the congregation to find a new home.

Father Joe Rees, rector of the church at 701 West St. near the former Ditmar Elementary School, said he and his parishioners are still praying about a ruling handed down by San Diego Superior Court Judge Steven Denton on Tuesday.

The tentative ruling found that the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego is the true owner of the Oceanside church building and grounds, as well as property inhabited by another Anglican congregation in Ocean Beach. Both congregations left the Episcopal Diocese in 2006 and changed denominations.

It is the latest legal victory for the Episcopal Church, which has seen many individual congregations and four dioceses nationwide break away in disagreement over several decisions made by church leadership, including the ordination of the faith's first openly gay bishop in 2003.

In his Nov. 10 ruling, Judge Denton wrote that once St. Anne's congregation changed denominations, the Oceanside property "reverted to the national church."

The judge based his ruling in large part on a pair of appellate court decisions that found for the dioceses of other formerly Episcopalian churches earlier this year.

Denton wrote that it was undisputed that both the Oceanside and Ocean Beach parishes agreed "from the beginning of their existence to be part of a greater denominational church and to be bound by that greater church's governing instruments.

"Those instruments make it clear that a local parish owns local church property in trust for the greater church and may use that property only so long as the local church remains part of the greater church," he continued.

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