SAVANNAH: Christ Church Anglican Announces Settlement
May 3, 2012
Christ Church Anglican (CCA) in Savannah, GA has agreed to settle a 4 ½ year legal battle with The Episcopal Church (TEC), and The Episcopal Diocese of Georgia. At the heart of the dispute was a lawsuit against CCA, the Senior Pastor and fourteen members of the 2007 Vestry (Board) including money damage claims by the Diocese against these individuals in excess of $1million. "While we never agreed that our people had any personal liability, we are pleased to see these claims dropped as this threat of personal financial loss has hung over our people for more than four years. These parishioners served as volunteer directors on a non-profit 501-C3 board and made decisions to try to stand for their beliefs and fulfill their duty to protect the non-profit corporation they served," said John Albert, CCA Senior Warden
In 2007, Christ Church Anglican, established in 1733 and predating the formation of TEC by 56 years and the TEC Diocese of Georgia by 90 years, conducted a congregational vote by which 87% of the congregation supported the Vestry's decision to disaffiliate from TEC over core theological differences. Subsequently, TEC sued Christ Church Anglican, its pastor, and the 14 individual members of the 2007 board. After the Georgia Supreme Court ruling on November 21, 2011, CCA turned over possession of its three buildings (including the church building on Johnson Square) and the parking lot, all worth in excess of $6 million.
As set forth in the settlement agreement, the Church will adopt the title "Christ Church Anglican." "We see the addition of 'Anglican' to our name as a way of identifying our roots going back to our beginnings in Savannah as a Mission of the Church of England in 1733. God has given us the privilege of living out a truth we have always believed, that the Church is not the building but the people of God. God has blessed us in this struggle, as we have maintained the vast majority of our congregation while adding new members who are excited to be part of a church that seeks to live out its beliefs. Orthodox Anglicanism is alive and well in Savannah and we look forward to a bright future," commented The Rev. Dr. Marc Robertson, Christ Church Anglican's senior pastor.
Also included in the agreement, is a requirement that all litigation be dropped including CCA's appeal to the US Supreme Court which asked the Court to decide whether the "neutral principles"doctrine embodied in the First Amendment permits imposition of a trust on church property when the creation of that trust contradicts the state's property and trust laws. "It was a hard decision to give up our appeal as we are aware of the pain many other Anglican Churches which are being sued by TEC are experiencing, but we are encouraged by the fact that two other strong cases, (Timberridge Presbyterian Church, McDonough, GA and Bishop Seabury, an Anglican parish in Groton, Conn.) are going forward and feel we have supported their effort with our appeal. However, at this time we feel our primary call is to build a stronger Anglican presence in Savannah," stated Albert.
Judge Michael Karp's 2008 decision declared that all church property "was held in trust for the Diocese and the national church", so other aspects of the settlement provide that CCA will relinquish any claim to the Endowment Funds worth some $2.3 million and return $33,000 of operating funds pursuant to an accounting of funds at the time of disaffiliation. The Diocese however agreed to assume a $33,000 debt obligation from CCA. "We have left all our material possessions on Johnson Square, but that which we have taken with us is far more valuable: our people, the historic faith and the Holy Spirit. We have no regrets," said CCA senior pastor, Marc Robertson.
On December 11, 2011, two weeks before they were required to vacate, Christ Church held its final service in its historic building on Johnson Square. Following that service, the entire congregation of more than 400 people processed down Bull Street to Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC), where they were welcomed by 500 IPC members and Pastor Terry Johnson who stated "our faith is your faith and our buildings are your buildings." Christ Church now holds Sunday services at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., and 9 p.m. at IPC and Wednesday and Friday noon services at St. Andrew's Reformed Episcopal Church.
The strife is O'er, the Battle Done
By Rev. Marc Robertson
May 3, 2102
Dear Pastoral Allies,
Many of you have probably heard by now of the Agreement we have reached with The Episcopal Church, The Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, and Christ Church (Episcopal). A summary of that agreement as well as the legal document itself may be found on our website (it should be up by now, if not, certainly by tomorrow). This is the end of 4 1/2 years of legal combat in which we have been engaged for the sake of the Gospel and for our witness in Savannah and beyond. You have stood with us in prayer and support, and for that I wish to thank you all.
The good news is that the fourteen personal law suits against me and the 2007 Vestry (who voted to withdraw from The Episcopal Church) have been dropped. The 1.3 million dollar damage claim against us is gone, and the settlement requires us to give approximately $33,000 to our opponents, while turning over a mortgage that has a principal balance of approximately $33,000. We will take the name "Christ Church Anglican" and will be able to draw our history to our beginnings in 1733. Our independently incorporated Women of Christ Church and the HIstoric Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens remains unscathed. This frees us now to pursue unabated God's call to establish a vigorous Anglican presence in Savannah that continues to defend and proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The disheartening news is we had to dismiss our appeal to the Federal Supreme Court. That means the matter of property, for us, is over. We are encouraged, however, that our petition, which has been before the Supreme Court for six weeks, has helped in some way the two other congregations that have appealed: Timberridge Presbyterian (McDonough, GA), and Bishop Seabury Anglican (Groton, CT). Please continue to join us in prayer for these two parishes as they seek to preserve our Constitutional right as set forth in the first Amendment.
We will gather our flock for a special "Parish Forum" this Sunday to answer any questions people may have. We have kept our congregation as informed as possible without jeopardizing our legal position, but there will be a broad spectrum of emotions this Sunday. Many in our congregation will be relieved; others will be deeply disappointed. Pray for me and the leadership of our parish, that we might "rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep."
I have no regrets. We have fought faithfully and obediently. And though in a legal sense "the strife is o'er, the battle done," as the Easter hymn proclaims,I am well aware that the battle for Gospel life and proclamation in our society will continue. Christ Church stands with all of you in this battle, and may we remain allies in the faith in the months and years to come.
God bless you all,
The Rev. Marc Robertson Sr. Pastor,
Christ Church Anglican (Savannah)
The Nastiness of the Diocese of Georgia and Bishop Scott A. Benhase over Christ Church Settlement
Christ Church Leadership (Criteria for Possible Legal Settlement)
1. The Christ Church Name: At the outset it appeared our opponents were trying to block us from using the Christ Church name in any form, as their position was they had won the name already with the court decisions. We were determined to retain the name in some form. The name Christ Church Anglican was considered to be acceptable as it was more descriptive of who we are going forward and also traced us back to our roots of an Anglican Church founded in 1733.
The settlement agreement & registration with the Secretary of State gives us ownership of the name "Christ Church Anglican"
2. The Christ Church History: From the outset, opponents have vigorously tried to block us from tracing our history and lineage back to our founding in 1733. We have not ever wavered about the fact we are Christ Church - an Anglican Church established in 1733.
The settlement agreement states this fact clearly and we intend to continue to proudly proclaim our history
3. Not Mortgaging Our Future: On January 20, 2012 we were presented with a demand letter from our opponents claiming that they were entitled to damages in the amount of $1.3million. This was in addition to the $6.5million of real estate the courts had awarded them and their claim on the endowment ($2.3million). We knew that if we were to be able to build a strong Anglican Church in Savannah at a permanent home, we could not afford to give into these outrageous demands.
The settlement agreement does not mortgage our future. Courts around the country have granted TEC what was in the local church's accounts at the date they left. On 9/30/07, we had about $210,000 in our accounts. We agreed to return only $33,000 to the Diocese but in return the Diocese agreed to assume a $33,000 debt obligation owed by us to SunTrust. Net effect was we paid the Episcopal Church no money to settle.
4. Drop All Personal Lawsuits: The most disgusting aspect of this whole legal matter has been the fact that the Diocese and Christ Church Episcopal personally sued our Pastor and 14 members of the 2007 Vestry. Surprisingly, through most of the negotiations, they continued to maintain that our people had acted in "bad faith" and were personally liable. Our position is these parishioners served as volunteer directors on a non-profit 501-C3 board and made decisions to try to stand for their beliefs and fulfill their duty to protect the non-profit corporation they served.
In this settlement agreement all personal lawsuits are dropped.
5. Secure Ownership of The Tour of Homes and Women of Christ Church Funds: This criterion was added in the middle of negotiations, when during the Tour our opponent's behavior led us to believe that they would probably challenge the ownership of the Tour in the future and possibly go after the 2012 Tour proceeds. Leadership felt it was wise to deal with this issue now rather than later.
In this settlement agreement The Diocese and Christ Church Episcopal agree they have "no ownership interest in, or claim to the assets of, Women of Christ Church, Inc., or the Savannah Tour of Homes and Gardens, LLC".
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