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Monday, April 4, 2011

Negotiations with TEC

From The Pittsburgh Tribune Review-

The Pittsburgh Episcopal diocese and 41 breakaway Anglican parishes scattered throughout Western Pennsylvania are ready to discuss their financial differences.

"At this point, negotiations are the way forward," said Bishop William Ilgenfritz of St. Mary's, the Anglican parish in Charleroi, which is waiting for the Episcopal diocese to set a starting date for talks.

Negotiations over property issues are expected to take place on a parish-by-parish basis, church leaders said, although it's not clear when negotiations will begin.

The split in the Pittsburgh diocese developed over disagreements involving biblical teaching on salvation and other issues, including homosexuality. The diocese called a special convention after the election of V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay priest, as bishop of New Hampshire in 2003. Clergy and lay members of the Pittsburgh diocese voted overwhelmingly in 2008 to cut ties with the theologically liberal national church.

In February, Episcopal Bishop Kenneth Price Jr. invited the individual Anglican parishes to "contact me to begin a conversation seeking an amicable resolution" of property issues.

For the 24 parishes whose church building titles are held by the Episcopal diocese, the negotiations will revolve around the buildings themselves. The remaining parishes have bank accounts and other property, such as sound systems and office equipment, that could figure in reaching a financial arrangement with the Episcopal diocese.

Price's letter to the parishes cited agreements the diocese reached with St. Philip's in Moon Township and the Somerset Anglican Fellowship in Somerset.

"In reaching these two very diverse agreements," Price wrote, "we believe we negotiated in good faith to balance the desires of the congregations with the requirement of this diocese and the Episcopal Church."

A state appeals court last winter affirmed the Episcopal diocese's claim to more than $20 million in assets held by the breakaway parishes, which have formed the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The Anglican diocese appealed the court ruling. Commonwealth Court could grant a rehearing or ignore the request. The court has been silent about what it will do.

Ilgenfritz said he had no idea what a negotiated deal might mean for his parish.

"I can't even begin to determine that," he said.

The church building in Charleroi is 110 years old, according to Ilgenfritz, who said the ideal settlement would clear the way for his parish of 200 to "thrive."

The Rev. Gary Miller, pastor of Holy Innocents, an Anglican congregation, refused to comment on anything related to negotiations with the Episcopal diocese.

"Right now, I would refer you to the diocese," Miller said. "It's a very delicate time right now."

Rich Creehan, a spokesman for the Episcopal diocese, said church officials are "in the process of reaching out to each" of the breakaway parishes. He said the diocese is "determined to put the dispute behind us" and that church officials are hoping for "mutually agreeable" settlements.

According to Anglican officials, a majority of parishes have replied to Price's letter and are awaiting an answer and the beginning of talks.

The Rev. John Bailey of St. Andrew's Anglican Church in New Kensington said his parish's negotiating team will include himself and a lay member of the congregation, likely "a seasoned attorney."

Bailey said that the Anglican diocese would act in an advisory capacity for the talks. At the suggestion of the diocese, Bailey said, the parish has completed an inventory of its property and has looked for a new building in which to worship.

"We are trying to find out what is the best option for us in the Allegheny Valley," Bailey said. "If it comes to that, and we would find better property in a better location, we would be willing to leave our property."

Bailey said he was not sure how strong a hand he will have in negotiations with Episcopal officials.

He said he would not negotiate a settlement in which the parish would be forced to sever its relationship with the Anglican diocese. That was part of the deal the Episcopal diocese struck with St. Philip's Church in Moon, which is barred from Anglican membership for five years or until their financial settlement is paid in full, Bailey said.

Some Anglican priests said they are trusting God to guide them in the negotiations.

"It really is what God wants to do with the church in the future," said Christopher Klukas, the rector of St. Martin's in Monroeville. "I don't know what the best outcome would be."

Details of the agreement the Episcopal diocese struck with St. Philip's were not disclosed, though it is known to include a financial settlement. The deal with the Anglican church in Somerset included the return of liturgical items used for worship.

The Somerset Anglican Fellowship meets in a storefront in Georgian Place. The Fellowship split with the St. Francis-in-the-Field Episcopal Church, which retained the church building in Somerset.

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