Letter to the editor: Rector of St. Andrew's petitions TN Supreme Court

Wednesday, August 22, 2012 at 7:04pm
By The Rev. James M. Guill

What if I told you that a church purchased a piece of property more than 40 years ago, obtained a deed free and clear, demolished old buildings and built new ones with its own money, and then that property was confiscated from the same church when it had the courage to stand up for its principles?

You would likely tell me that this could not happen in America. You might say that if it did, it could not happen here in Tennessee. You would most certainly tell me that fellow Christians would not act this way. But that is exactly what is going to happen to St. Andrew’s Church in Nashville if the Tennessee Supreme Court does not accept a pending request for review of a lower appellate court’s decision.

I have had the pleasure of serving as the Rector of St. Andrew’s for the past 13 years. During that time, our small group of parishioners has focused on keeping with St. Andrew’s Anglo-Catholic principles and walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. It has not been easy. The last thing a church wants to do is talk with lawyers, show up in court, and ponder its future in the hands of judges.

In the 1960s, St. Andrew’s purchased the property where our church stands from the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee with its own money. St. Andrew’s also chose to have a relationship with the Diocese. Because it is an Anglo-Catholic church though, the relationship was never intended to be the same as other Episcopal churches. The Diocese and its Bishop at the time, John Vander Horst, not only knew this, they encouraged St. Andrew’s and its Rector, Edwin Conly, to grow their unique church.

In exchange for the purchase price, Bishop Vander Horst gave us a Warranty Deed. The deed conveyed the property to St. Andrew’s free and clear with no trust in favor of the Diocese. The Diocese also asked St. Andrew’s to formalize the parties’ special relationship, and it did so through modified language in its corporate charter. Neither St. Andrew’s nor the Diocese intended for property bought by St. Andrew’s free and clear to ever be returned to the Diocese under any circumstances.

But the story does not end there. When St. Andrew’s arrived at the property, it found a dilapidated mansion and other buildings, which were in dire need of repair. St. Andrew’s parishioners built a new church building, later razed the mansion, and a new parish hall was built. These buildings were erected with money from St. Andrew’s parishioners for the benefit of their church, not the Diocese. Over the years, St. Andrew’s alone has paid to maintain its buildings and continue operations of its church.

By 2006, the Episcopal Church in the United States became a very uncomfortable place for an Anglo-Catholic church like St. Andrew’s to call home, and our members unanimously decided to end their special relationship with the Diocese of Tennessee and begin a new relationship with the Diocese of Quincy in Illinois. Three years later, the Diocese of Tennessee chose to sue St. Andrew’s, demanding what it called a return of St. Andrew’s property.

The Diocese’s efforts have been resisted by our little church and its lawyers for several years now. In other states, such as South Carolina, the courts have seen fit to stand up for local churches in their struggles with the larger Dioceses. In Tennessee, it remains to be seen how all of this will shake out. After a trial court and court of appeals ruled in favor of the Diocese, St. Andrew’s has recently requested that the Tennessee Supreme Court consider a further appeal. That court does not have to take the case but most other states’ supreme courts have done so. Only two justices are needed for the Tennessee Supreme Court to consider an appeal.

While St. Andrew’s will continue to remind the courts of the actions of Bishop Vander Horst, Father Conly and others back in the 1960s, it ultimately just wants to have its day in court. At this stage, no one has been allowed to testify about any of these events. No matter what ultimately happens though, St. Andrew’s will continue to worship as a church, with or without the property it bought. Its parishioners are committed to reflecting the actions of Christ in their daily lives.

After all, that to me is what being a Christian is all about.

 

 

The Rev. James M. Guill, SSC, has been Rector at St. Andrew’s Church in Nashville since 1999. He is also a lawyer. A native of Memphis, Guill attended Vanderbilt University for undergraduate studies and Emory University for law school. He and his wife, Patti, have been married 32 years and have three children.

 

'The City Paper' occasionally publishes thoughtful letters to the editor online.

15 Comments on this post:

By: yogiman on 8/22/12 at 7:35

Good luck, Rev.

I wonder what you should call a church that sells a piece of their land to another church through a financial agreement and pass the deed over to the purchasing church free and clear and become friends for several years into their futures?

Then, what do you call the church that want's the land they sold to their "friend church" back because they are not "friends" any longer after half a century of "friendship"?

Will the revoking church give their "friend" their money back with consideration of the improvements they made on the land? Or should the church that made the purchase be ordered to pay for their destruction of the buildings [not worth repairing] on the land when they bought it?

The court's decision will be interesting.

By: gdiafante on 8/23/12 at 5:09

Have church's pay property taxes, then I'll give a damn about any of them.

By: bfra on 8/23/12 at 6:05

Amen on that!

By: govskeptic on 8/23/12 at 8:07

So, the atheist have posted their comments, back to the subject.
If contract law has any worth to it at all, then the good Reverend
and congregation should win this case. This is a very valuable
property at this time, far beyond what it was in the day of the
purchase. Surely it's sale is on the minds of the Diocese
immediately after the final decision.. Only a move from another
church location to this one would be a viable option for the
Diocese to sustain a church at the present time.

By: Blanketnazi2 on 8/23/12 at 8:24

Churches going to court. Does anyone else see the irony?

By: yogiman on 8/23/12 at 8:27

I've always understood all religions accept the others as their "kinfolks". But this looks like one church screwing the one that took advantage of them by buying their land 50 years ago.

You know, preachers think differently from ordinary folks. Could they have thought it was a good deal to sell the land in 1960 (with unusable buildings) and use the money in their home church then get it back in later years when the land became more valuable?

By: yogiman on 8/23/12 at 8:36

I imagine most of us see this as an unusual case, Blanketnazi2. One church suing another is Incomprehensible.

By: Kosh III on 8/23/12 at 8:57

Maybe they should heed St Paul:

" If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints?
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!
Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?
But instead, one brother goes to law against another--and this in front of unbelievers!
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

I Cor 6:1ff NIV

By: JeffF on 8/23/12 at 9:03

Case law does not look favorable for the Diocese of Tennessee. Very , very similar case from South Carolina a few years back where the diocese there was trying to take control of a property from a church that was founded independently and prior to the diocese itself. The diocese there is in other parts of the country tried inserting deed restrictions on all their churches in the vent of mutiny. They did so without consideration and without cause so the judge was left with just the chain of ownership which did not benefit the diocese. If the last deed registered with consideration shows the property being transferred to a church (or church Inc.) than they will ultimately win.

By: budlight on 8/23/12 at 11:34

Blanketnazi2 on 8/23/12 at 9:24
Churches going to court. Does anyone else see the irony?

To Blanket (aka Seinmart) and Kosh III; you both forgot to factor in the irony of all men and women not being "perfect" but rather human. To err is human; as well as to sin.

Jeff, good points. And the person holding a legal deed should prevail, shouldn't they?

I just wish someone else were holding the deed to my property so I could rent. Oh yeah, the bank is holding the deed and I have to pay them. Shucks! I almost forgot. Please let me sell my house so I can move back to Montana where they can shoot up the big sky on 4th of July without fear of arrest? (Just kidding about the shoot up the sky part).

By: yogiman on 8/23/12 at 11:51

You can put it on the market, budlight. Get all of your details together and call a broker in for a talk. The older ones can pretty well give you the facts on possibilities.

If you list it with them, the general rate is 6%. Or you can sell your own without an agent's rate.

There's different ways to sell and the best selling factor is location, location and location.

By: JeffF on 8/23/12 at 11:54

for further information:

http://www.postandcourier.com/article/20090922/PC1602/309229925

"Friday's ruling traced the history of the congregation's claim on the property, starting with a 1745 deed of trust and culminating in a 1903 quit-claim deed in which the diocese specifically made clear that the property belonged to the congregation."

Sometime later the diocese of South Carolina issued quit claims to all the congregations in the state over the objections of the national church. The South Carolina diocese being more conservative than the national body did not want the local churches to face battles with national denomination in the event the state leaders were forced out.

By: Rasputin72 on 8/23/12 at 3:20

I love St.Andrews! Have played golf there on two occasions and watched the British Open once. A great piece of golfing history. I also at one time lived on St.Andrews Drive.

By: tpaine on 8/24/12 at 4:31

A church suing another church for something as material as property!! How Christian is that?
Episcopalians have to ask themselves: "What would Jesus do" to realize how rotten to the core their national church has become.
Tennessee's lawmakers have to look at their laws when judges can rule in favor of The Episcopal Church which has done NOTHING to acquire, build or maintain this property.

By: Still_an_Episco... on 8/25/12 at 11:44

Folks, don't be deceived! The intentions of Fr. Conly and Bishop Van der Horst in the 1960s were for Saint Andrew's EPISCOPAL Church. The current congregants do not consider themselves to be Episcopalians; neither does the Diocese of Quincy. The current rector, Mr. Guill, does not attend functions of the Diocese of Tennessee, nor does the parish contribute to it. The fact is that land and property of parishes are held in trust by the bishop of the diocese regardless of the manner in which the land or property were obtained. What the rector and bishop intended in the 1960s is irrelevant since they were both bound by the constitution and canons of our church.
Mr. Guill has claimed that the Episcopal Church is not a hierarchy--absurdity of absurdities! The church is indeed a hierarchy with individual parishes being led by priests, dioceses being led by bishops, and provinces being led by archbishops/primates/presiding bishops. These make up the Anglican Communion looking to the Archbishop of Canterbury as a first among equals. Saint Andrew’s has always been more congregational than anything, for the most part isolating itself from other parishes of the diocese, so it comes as no surprise that their current leader would think that the rules of the Episcopal Church don’t apply.
The saddest part of this is that there are some good Christian people there who have been faithful Episcopalians for many years. Now Mr. Guill has led them out of their church into a splinter group. The courts are being used to drag all this out and I see from proceedings up until now that judges are reluctant to get into a dispute where the rules of the church are clear. For those of you who think this little parish is being unjustly persecuted know that they are free to worship as they please, elsewhere.