The story of Church of the Good Shepherd Binghamton, New York is widely known: the parish decided in 2007 to leave the Episcopal Church, offering to pay $150,000 to the Diocese of Central New York for the small 130-year-old property. Rather than negotiate a payment from the departing Anglicans, the diocese opted to sell the building for only $50,000 to an Islamic group, which converted the church building into an Islamic awareness center. According to the Rev. Tony Seel, the Diocese even added a legal caveat to the sale stating that the new owners of the property could never re-sell the building to the original congregation. You can read the whole story here, as chronicled by IRD’s Faith McDonnell.
This is a photo of Good Shepherd’s Christmas Eve service just before they left their building:
This is the building today:
“I’ve had two principles throughout this,” Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told NPR earlier this year when speaking about Episcopal property battles. “One, that the church receive a reasonable approximation of fair market value for assets that are disposed of; and, second, that we not be in the business of setting up competitors that want to either destroy or replace the Episcopal Church.”
By only getting $50,000 for the building, the Episcopal Church apparently jettisoned the first principle. Since Islam is not considered by the Presiding Bishop to be a competitor to the Episcopal Church — but Anglicans apparently are — the second principle seems to have weighed more heavily. As for the common refrain by Episcopal Church litigators that they are “preserving property for future Episcopalians,” it would seem that the Binghamton property will certainly not be preserved for their purposes.
Unfortunately, the Episcopal Church’s strategy of litigation against all parishes that seek to depart with their property is not going to conclude anytime soon. The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina severed its relationship with the national church in October, and in January a small number of parishes wishing to remain a part of the denomination will form a loyalist diocese. This group of somewhere between 5 and 12 churches will then proceed to initiate litigation against all of their former South Carolina Episcopalians, and attempt to gain control of the church buildings they worship in. Good Christians may disagree over who these properties rightfully belong to, but hopefully they will not end up like the former Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton.
Service for the Dedication and Consecration of a Church in the Book of Common Prayer:
Through the ages, Almighty God has moved his people to build houses of prayer and praise, and to set apart places for the ministry of his holy Word and Sacraments. With gratitude for the building of (name of church), we are now gathered to dedicate and consecrate it in God’s Name.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, we thank you for making us in your image, to share in the ordering of your world. Receive the work of our hands in this place, now to be set apart for your worship, the building up of the living, and the remembrance of the dead, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
UPDATE [3/30/2017]: Bishop Adams has since retired as Diocesan Bishop for Central New York, but it might be helpful to look at how the diocese fared during his time there from 2001-2016. The Episcopal Church Table of Statistics for 2002 reports Central New York had 100 parishes with a membership of 22,389 and average Sunday attendance (ASA) of 6,734. By 2015, this had dropped to 81 parishes with a membership of 12,598 (-44%) and attendance of 3,859 (-43%). Mark 4:9: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”