The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago have opted to file a lawsuit against a small breakaway Illinois diocese over its property and assets.
Filed last week in Peoria County at the Circuit Court of the Tenth Judicial Circuit, the suit is part of the ongoing legal efforts by the national denomination against what was once its smallest diocese in the United States.
The suit calls for the Court to declare the church properties of the Anglican Diocese of Quincy as belonging to The Episcopal Church.
"Plaintiffs pray that the Court…declare that all property held by the Parishes of the Episcopal Diocese is held for and may only be used for the mission of the Church and the Episcopal Diocese, subject to the Constitutions and canons of the Church and the Episcopal Diocese," reads the suit in part.
"[Plaintiffs also pray that the Court] declare that the defendants do not hold any offices or positions of authority of the Episcopal Diocese or any of its Parishes and Missions and are not the directors or officers of the Illinois not-for-profit corporations called the Diocese of Quincy and The Trustees of Funds and Property of the Diocese of Quincy."
The Rt. Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago, said in a statement that he hoped that through the litigation a level of "reconciliation" could be reached.
"In our society, we invest a great deal of energy in an impartial legal system designed to help parties settle matters about which they cannot agree," said Lee.
"Although we are prepared to litigate this matter, ultimately we still hope that God will use even these legal proceedings to bring us to a place of reconciliation and mutual respect in Christ."
In November 2008, the conservative Diocese of Quincy, with a total of 23 churches under its authority, voted to leave the liberal national denomination over theological differences. The diocese eventually joined the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).
The Episcopal Church does not recognize the dismissal of dioceses; when speaking of breakaway dioceses the national church often refers to a "faction" of leaders who have decided to leave instead.
Five of the congregations in the Quincy Diocese decided to remain with The Episcopal Church and thus identified themselves as the Diocese of Quincy until they opted to dissolve and become part of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago in September 2013.
Tad Brenner, chancellor for the Anglican Diocese of Quincy, told The Christian Post about the current legal situation, as the Episcopal Church sued the breakaway diocese over its property not long after voting to leave.
Brenner explained to CP that while The Episcopal Church filed the recent suit over diocesan property and assets in Peoria County, it is also appealing a similar earlier suit in Adams County.
"The entire diocese withdrew from the Episcopal Church in 2008. That resulted in a lawsuit in Adams County. After more than four years of litigation, the court ruled that the diocese could in fact withdraw. That decision is being appealed by the Episcopal Church," said Brenner.
"The more recent lawsuit in Peoria County is substantially similar to the first case. Needless to say there will be the typical court proceedings."
One of the church properties that could be affected by the Peoria County lawsuit is that of Trinity Anglican Church of Rock Island, Ill.
Fr. Tom Janikowski of Trinity Anglican Church told The Christian Post that from the onset of the legal issues their leadership gave a distinct prayer request.
"All throughout the lawsuit our bishop was adamant that our congregations not pray for victory, that we not pray for trying to force God's hand but in all things that we would pray that God's will be done and that we might be able to follow faithfully where He is calling us," said Janikowski.
"So if that means, you know, going to worship in a shopping mall or homes or whatever it is that we would follow faithfully, that we are not going to try to impose our will upon God."
According to Brenner, at present the Peoria County lawsuit is still being served to the various defendants named in the litigation.