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My introduction to the Immaculate Deception of the Dennis Canon of 1979

My introduction to the Immaculate Deception of the Dennis Canon of 1979

By Bradley Hutt
Special to Virtueonline
Mary 12, 2014

The Dennis Canon is named after Walter Dennis, an attorney and later Suffragan Bishop of New York, who drafted the Canon. It was passed by the 66th General Convention in 1979, having been introduced by the Committee on Canons of the House of Bishops as D-024 of that Convention.

During the turbulent 1960s and 1970s, some parishes left the Episcopal Church and attempted to retain the parish property for reasons including the admission of women to Holy Orders, the adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, and the belief that some bishops held heretical views
In 1979, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Jones v. Wolf that the "neutral principles of law" approach to deciding property disputes between factions of a church offered advantages vs. other means (which may have required involvement in matters of purely religious affairs, an exercise which was prohibited by the First Amendment):

“The primary advantages of the neutral principles approach are that it is completely secular in operation, and yet flexible enough to accommodate all forms of religious organization and polity. The method relies exclusively on objective, well established concepts of trust and property law familiar to lawyers and judges.

It thereby promises to free civil courts completely from entanglement in questions of religious doctrine, polity, and practice. Furthermore, the neutral principles analysis shares the peculiar genius of private law systems in general -- flexibility in ordering private rights and obligations to reflect the intentions of the parties. Through appropriate reversionary clauses and trust provisions, religious societies can specify what is to happen to church property in the event of a particular contingency, or what religious body will determine the ownership in the event of a schism or doctrinal controversy. In this manner, a religious organization can ensure that a dispute over the ownership of church property will be resolved in accord with the desires of the members.

My Diocesan Bishop John Walker and other Diocesan Officials explained that passage of the Dennis Canon by the 1979 Episcopal General Convention would provide much needed and necessary insurance protections to all parishes within the Episcopal Church under an Umbrella Policy. It wasn't even announced that The Church Insurance Company requirement for the new insurance protection was that the all Parish Vestries would now become recognized as Trustees and Caretakers of their property for the whole Episcopal Church. That made sense to us, for these requirements were dictated by insurance regulations requiring ownership and control of property for an organization to qualify for the reduced umbrella or group rates. This was received as a no-brainer for most parishes did not have adequate insurance coverage, and the Church of the Holy Communion Vestry was sued by a parishioner for suffering a fall on the ice not too many winters ago. So we received the new coverage with open arms in a win-win situation.

Little did trusting vestry members and rectors foresee how the Dennis Canon would become an albatross around the necks of all vestries for they had unknowingly and without their consent by vote of delegates at a General Convention given up legal ownership of their property by future court decisions despite vestry holding the deeds to their land recorded in state courts. These deeds were on paper, many were irrevocable trusts established for the historic churches organizational purpose by the state government prior to the organization of the Episcopal Church itself. Very trusting souls vestry members were, and very, very stupid.

On July 29, 1974 an event occurred in Philadelphia that would change the course of the Episcopal Church. It was the "irregular ordination" of eleven women to the Priesthood, who were dubbed "The Philadelphia Eleven."

On Sunday, November 10, 1974, the Rev. Alison Cheek celebrated the Eucharist at St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. This first public celebration of the Eucharist in the Episcopal Church by a woman priest was permitted by the church’s rector, the Rev. William Wendt.

The following month, the Revs. Alison Cheek and Carter Heyward were invited to celebrate the Eucharist on Sunday, December 8, at Christ Episcopal Church in Oberlin, Ohio by the rector, the Rev. Peter Beebe.These events didn’t go unnoticed by the larger church, and in the summer of 1975 both Wendt and Beebe were brought to ecclesiastical trial by their dioceses and convicted of disobeying a “godly admonition” from their bishops against permitting the women to celebrate the Eucharist.

Later the Episcopal News Service (ENS) in an article dated August 18, 1977 titled "Six Episcopal Priests deposed over Women's Ordination" reported "Several breakaway priests and parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of California have formed what they call the Diocese of San Francisco. According to a recent announcement by the Rev. Canon Albert J. duBois, the executive vice president of Anglicans United, and a leader, together with Bishop Chambers, in the separatist movement, the Los Angeles based Diocese of the Holy Trinity now includes more than 40 parishes and missions.

Canon duBois -- himself currently under suspension by the Bishop of Long Island -- said that he has assisted in the creation of new deaneries in the Midwest, the East, and the South, which, he said, adds "over seventy other congregations seeking attachment to the Diocese of the Holy Trinity pending their own formation in five other new American Dioceses." Canon duBois reports that there are at present "over one hundred separatist congregations" in the U.S., and he predicts there will be "over two hundred and fifty such congregations by the end of 1977, with many more in 1978."

Canon duBois said that members of the separatist movement "envision a new 'Anglican-Episcopal Province of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church' based in the U. S. A. by the end of 1977." In an effort to establish the structure of a "continuing" Episcopal Church, the Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen -- an umbrella group of 15 organizations and publications of Anglican traditionalists -- has called a Church Congress for Sept. 14-16 at the Chase-Park Plaza Hotel in St. Louis. About 1,000 persons are reported to be registered for that meeting." That group, The Fellowship of Concerned Churchmen, produced The St. Louis Declaration.

The Immaculate Deception of the Dennis Canon was created, presented and passed on the last day of 1979 General Convention and extraordinarily was to be effective immediately. It gave the Episcopal Church ownership of all parish and diocesan property that they had no legal title to and didn't pay a dime for. Truly an Immaculate Deception by vote of the General Convention without any consent by the Vestry property owners. The Dennis Canon, first described as a win-win situation for all parishes in the Episcopal Church, was really one of the greatest Thefts in History with Trillions of dollars of Property acquired with a vote at their convention.

The Dennis Canon, has become the Episcopal Churches instrument of destruction for Orthodox members, parishes and dioceses standing for their traditional mainstream faith. 530 Episcopal Churches have been closed, more than 1,000,000 have left the Episcopal Church, and Hundreds of Thousands of members have departed for other denominations in the last Decade.
Little Wonder.

Bradley Hutt is the former Senior Warden of The Church of the Holy Communion, Washington D.C.

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