Conn. Episcopal Church Hopes Supreme Court Will Settle Property Dispute

A Connecticut church that lost a legal dispute over the ownership of its property will soon attempt to bring its case to the United States Supreme Court.

Bishop Seabury Church of Groton, which broke away from the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut in 2007, hopes the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn a lower court ruling. The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled unanimously in September in favor of the Episcopal Diocese in the property ownership dispute.

Karin Hamilton, director for communication & media for the Episcopal Diocese, told The Christian Post that there was a crucial difference between a “parish” and a “congregation.”

“Institutional authority differs among churches. Bishop Seabury Episcopal Church is an official parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut,” said Hamilton.

The Diocese argued that although the congregation using the parish property can vote to leave, they cannot take the parish property with them as it belongs to the Episcopal Church.

“Christians can legitimately differ about who lawfully should possess these properties,” commented Jeff Walton, communications manager for the Institute on Religion and Democracy, in an earlier interview with CP.

“Sadly, the Episcopal Church appears more interested in property than people, and more interested in the recovery of property than in reconciliation.”

Bishop Seabury Church’s effort to get an appeal from the Supreme Court comes not long after a Wisconsin court ruled in favor of another Episcopal Diocese over a similar dispute.

Last week, Waukesha County Circuit Judge J. Mac Davis ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Milwaukee against St. Edmund’s Parish after a three year legal battle over its church property.

These and other disputes between breakaway Episcopal congregations and the Dioceses they once belong to are mostly due to theological differences found within the Episcopal Church. Issues such as the Episcopal Church's 2003 ordination of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire have led many Episcopal congregations to leave and form their own more conservative denominations.

Bishop Seabury’s congregation had voted overwhelmingly to join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a missionary district formed by the Church of Nigeria.

"CANA's Missionary Bishop Martyn Minns and Suffragan Bishop Julian Dobbs have recently visited Bishop Seabury Church and are keeping in close touch with their rector," said Harry K. Zeiders, chief of staff for CANA, to the CP.

If the ruling by the Connecticut Supreme Court is not overturned, the congregation of Bishop Seabury Church of Groton, Connecticut will have to vacate their building by Jan. 4.

Bishop Seabury Church of Groton could not be reached for comment.

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