Thursday, January 7, 2010

San Diego scorched earth victory

David Virtue reports this week that Bishop James Mathes (TEC-San Diego) announced plans to take back St. Anne’s in Oceanside, after winning an important procedural round in November.

“Winning” the St. Anne’s property is but the latest milestone in Mathes’ scorched earth campaign against traditionalists, who — reading the writing on the wall — fled en masse beginning in 2005, even before PB Katharine Jefferts Schori and her attack dog/chancellor began their national campaign against conservative parishes.

I will leave aside the legal merits of the TEC claim to the departing parishes since Anglican Curmudgeon has been doing the best job of covering the law. However, outside the TEC, other denominations have been negotiating rather than litigating such disputes, and none has a (morally if not legally dubious) policy of favoring de-consecrating churches rather than selling them to “competing” jurisdictions (e.g. Schism I or Schism II parishes).

Despite the same national policy across the TEC, San Diego had the greatest proportion of parishes fleeing the diocese of any in California: nine of the 49 parishes in the Episcopal Diocese of San Diego had many or most of their parishioners flee with the rector to set up a new parish. Six of the nine parishes are in San Diego’s North County, the most affluent and educated suburbs of the San Diego metropolitan region.

At most of the parishes (Christ the King Alpine, All Saints’ Vista, Grace San Marcos, St. Timothy’s Peñasquitos, Holy Cross Carlsbad, St. Paul’s Yuma), those leaving the TEC left without fighting for the property. (At Holy Cross, thanks to the duplicity of the bishop selling their land without consulting them, the mission had no property to fight for.)

Three of their parishes fought for their property: St. John’s Fallbrook, St. Anne’s Oceanside and Holy Trinity Ocean Beach. After winning the first round, St. John’s lost a key appellate decision in 2008 and decided to vacate the property last March when the California Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The Anglican faithful at St. John’s surrendered the property to the much smaller group of TEC loyalists, and held the first services of the new Christ Church Fallbrook on Palm Sunday 2009.

This week’s letters by Mathes claimed victory over St. Anne’s Anglican, which this Sunday is beginning worship as Grace Anglican Church with two services at a borrowed sanctuary in Carlsbad.

Still continuing its fight is Holy Trinity, which believes it can still win its case on appeal — particularly if the US Supreme Court intervenes to reconcile conflicting state rulings. Holy Trinity has been anticipating a legal fight for years, and one of its longest serving members is the retired City Attorney of San Diego (who was for years was among 4 lay delegates in the diocese at General Convention, voting against the stupid idea du jour.) It is not clear what the EDSD would do if it won the Holy Trinity property, since it has no use for it (it is smaller than the nearby ultra-liberal All Souls) and is not allowed by KJS to sell it back to its current users.

Not leaving TEC is St. Michael’s-by-the-Sea, the onetime flagship of Anglo-Catholic traditionalism in San Diego and one of the five biggest parishes in the diocese. Established in 1894, the parish has an irreplaceable coastal property that I imagine has weighed heavily on the decision of clergy and laity to stay put in the diocese. (Given the city of Carlsbad has long resented this tax-exempt usage in a prime tourist location, I’m sure the EDSD would sell it in a heartbeat to ameliorate its own serious financial troubles.)

Today, TEC’s loss forms the backbone of the 18 congregations of the ACNA Diocese of Western Anglicans. Last Sunday, ACNA-affiliated forces opened Holy Spirit Anglican, a new congregation near San Diego State, not quite halfway between the existing Western Anglican parishes in Alpine and Ocean Beach.

I’ve attended several of these parishes in their original locations but none in their new locations. The one I’m most keen to visit is Anglican Church of the Resurrection in San Marcos, which has the most active youth choir of any Anglican church in San Diego (if not California). Last year, the choristers were among 15 choirs participating in a choir festival sponsored by the “San Diego Choristers Guild.” (I imagine readers in other cities wish they had a similar organization).

Legal troubles (and lack of permanent facilities aside), next to the Diocese of San Joaquin (which left TEC lock, stock and barrel), San Diego seems to be the most vibrant bastion of traditional Anglicanism in all of California, if not the Western United States. Let us hope these parishes can work with their new Western Anglican bishop (based in Long Beach) to build the infrastructure for communicating the faith, preserving the liturgy and (at least among the Rite I parishes) continuing a tradition of Anglo-Catholic hymnody.

Update: A.S. Haley of the Anglican Curmudgeon notes that for the first months of 2009, TEC has slashed mission spending by $1.4 million, while litigation expenses are $1.8 million over budget. In earlier postings, he raises questions about the TEC’s “hierarchical” claims to church property, the central question in lawsuits against the Anglican dioceses in Ft. Worth and San Joaquin, and reports that St. Luke’s (La Crescenta) has appealed to the US Supreme Court, asking for an application of neutral principles of property law (as in South Carolina) to the current property disputes.

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