US Anglican Church Loses $4 Million Property Battle

An Anglican church in Jacksonville, Fla., USA has lost its church property to the Episcopal diocese in a court ruling earlier this week.

Judge Karen Cole ruled that Redeemer Anglican Church belongs to the Diocese of Florida, which put parish members on legal hold until an official report is issued for review.

"We are naturally disappointed that the diocese ignored the appeals of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Panel of Reference," Redeemer's rector, the Rev. Neil Lebhar, told VirtueOnline, a voice for global Orthodox Anglicanism. "We had hoped that the Primates Communiqué would be taken seriously and honored by the Diocese of Florida."

Anglican leaders from around the world had requested in a February communiqué that congregations in the United States back away from property litigation as they wait on a response from the Episcopal Church - the U.S. arm of Anglicanism - to the communion's moratorium on consecrating homosexuals and blessing same-sex unions. More recently, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Anglicanism's spiritual leader, had recommended in a letter presented last month to suspend litigation over property.

Bishop John Howard of the Diocese of Florida, however, said in response that until Lebhar and his parishioners "are willing to be in communion with the Diocese of Florida and the Episcopal Church, they remain by their own choice outside the Church," according to The Living Church Foundation.

The ruling went forward and Redeemer's 300 members are now preparing to move out.

Lebhar and his parish had voted to leave the diocese and the Episcopal Church in January over theological differences, particularly the issue of homosexuality. Controversy within the Anglican Communion over homosexuality heightened when the Episcopal Church consecrated an openly gay bishop in 2003.

Bishop John Howard of the Diocese of Florida filed suit against the parish and Lebhar, saying they failed in their duty to the diocese and the denomination. Redeemer argued it left the diocese to remain part of the Anglican Communion and also to be faithful to orthodox Christian teaching on homosexuality.

The congregation went under the authority of Bishop Joel Obetia of the Diocese of Madi West Nile, Uganda. And Lebhar was inhibited by Howard.

Redeemer is one of several North Florida congregations that left the diocese because of the national denomination's departure from Anglican tradition and scriptural authority.

After notification on Tuesday of Cole's ruling, Redeemer parishioners are moving ahead with leaving the $4 million property. But Lebhar remains optimistic.

"Please see a move as a new chance to serve the Lord and glorify Him," he said in a letter to the Redeemer congregation.

Still, Lebhar hopes there is room for negotiation as he waits to review the ruling. And in the meantime, a Messianic Jewish congregation, Beth Israel, offered to share their property with Redeemer until they find a building of their own.