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CENTRAL NEW YORK: Episcopal Diocese Sues Church of the Good Shepherd, Binghamton

CENTRAL NEW YORK: Episcopal Diocese Sues Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton

Contact: Raymond J. Dague
April 15, 2008

The Episcopal Diocese of Central New York filed a lawsuit today against Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York seeking the seizure of the church building, the parish hall, and the rectory. This is the third church which Episcopal Bishop Gladstone "Skip" Adams of Syracuse has moved against to seize since 2006, and the second church he has actually sued. The priest at Good Shepherd is Fr. Matt Kennedy who is a commentator on the internationally known Stand Firm website.

The Church of the Good Shepherd was a small struggling congregation when Bishop Adams took over the diocese as its new bishop. One of the first priests he ordained was Fr. Kennedy, who then went to Good Shepherd and raised it to be a vibrant congregation doubling its Sunday morning attendance.

Since taking the church in Binghamton, Fr. Kennedy has acquired a reputation as one of the most widely read and respected commentators of church news in the Anglican Communion. Today, however, that same bishop who ordained him has sued his church, and refuses to even to acknowledge that Fr. Kennedy is a priest, referring to him as "Mr. Kennedy" in correspondence. In a cover letter to the summons, the lawyer for Bishop Adams likewise followed suit, and addressed the priest as "Matt Kennedy" and "Mr. Kennedy."

The lawsuit was filed in the Broome County clerk's office today. The legal papers ask the court to declare that the Episcopal diocese, which is headquartered in Syracuse, owns all of the property of the Binghamton church based on a so-called Dennis Canon trust theory. In 1979 the Episcopal Church, in an effort to stop congregations from leaving the denomination, enacted a church law which claims a "trust" on any congregation which seeks to leave the denomination. This trust claim is the basis of the lawsuit against the local Binghamton congregation.

One of the other churches which surrendered its property to the bishop rather than face a lawsuit was St. Andrew's Church in nearby Vestal, New York. That church building was taken over by the Episcopal diocese shortly before Christmas of 2007 and is now vacant and for sale, while the congregation is worshipping elsewhere and thriving.

The diocese sued Good Shepherd because the Binghamton church and the bishop are on the opposite sides of a controversy over homosexual bishops and the authority of Scripture which has engulfed the Episcopal Church for the last few years. Good Shepherd adheres to the traditional teaching of the church that sex outside of marriage is prohibited by the Bible, while the Bishop and the leaders of the diocese have been outspoken supporters of the homosexual bishop of New Hampshire who divorced his wife to live with his male partner.

Good Shepherd recently switched its affiliation to an American bishop who is under the Anglican episcopal jurisdiction of Kenya in Africa. The Episcopal Diocese then broke off negotiations for a peaceable resolution of the dispute and filed this lawsuit.

FOOTNOTE: The Diocesan website no longer lists this parish in its parish locater.


CENTRAL NEW YORK: Diocese files suit against Binghamton parish

By Mary Frances Schjonberg,
April 18, 2008

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Diocese of Central New York filed a complaint in Broome County, New York, on April 15 against the Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, seeking what it called in a statement "a full accounting and delivery of real and personal property of the church to the diocese."

The diocese said the action was taken "in response to several actions enacted by Good Shepherd to sever its ties with The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Central New York."

According to the diocese's statement, the vestry, wardens and rector of Good Shepherd passed a resolution on November 8, 2007 stating that they "disassociate and end our affiliation with The Episcopal Church of the United States of America and the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York and apply for membership within the jurisdiction of the Anglican Church of Kenya."

Good Shepherd's weekly update, posted on the church's website the next day, noted that "we have taken the decision to leave the Episcopal Church and we are currently in negotiations with the Diocese of Central New York for the ownership of this building."

An April 18 weekly update said that the lawsuit was "to put it mildly, a disappointment."

Good Shepherd's rector, the Rev. Matthew Kennedy, voluntarily renounced his ministry within the diocese and the jurisdiction of the Episcopal Church in keeping with Title III Canon 9 Section 8 of the Canons and Constitution of the Episcopal Church on December 21. Central New York Bishop Gladstone "Skip" Adams recorded that renunciation on January 15, the diocese's statement said.

The statement noted that both the constitution and canons of both the Episcopal Church and the diocese state that all real and personal property held by any parish, mission, or congregation is held in trust for the Episcopal Church and the diocese. "The Church of the Good Shepherd has clearly stated it is no longer an Episcopal church or in communion with The Episcopal Church, and their clergyperson is no longer an Episcopal priest," the statement said.

Adams offered to allow the congregation up to a year to remain in its current location "while seeking alternative worship space that would best fit their ministry needs," the statement said, adding that the Good Shepherd leadership's rejection of the offer led to the filing of the complaint.

The April 18 update on the Good Shepherd's website gives Kennedy's account of some of the meetings and offers leading up to the lawsuit. "The vestry is confident in our defense strategy," he wrote. "Still, the case law in New York state is not great. We do not know the outcome. We could lose. We could win. We just don't know."

Kennedy, a frequent contributor to the website Stand Firm in Faith, went on to write that "no piece of property or amount of money is equal to the inheritance we have been given in Christ," adding that "we must love those who hate us and seek to persecute us."

Adams said in the diocesan statement that his hope "has been all along that the clergy and people of Good Shepherd would remain in The Episcopal Church."

"We, the Diocese of Central New York, will continue to seek to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ in this time and in this place in its ministry to all of God's people," he concluded.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is Episcopal Life Media correspondent for Episcopal Church governance, structure, and trends, as well as news of the dioceses of Province II. She is based in Neptune, New Jersey, and New York City.

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