The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Somerset Anglican Fellowship announced today (February 14, 2011) that they have signed an amicable agreement resolving parish property issues.

It is the second such agreement in recent weeks between the Episcopal Diocese and a group of clergy and laity who left the Episcopal Church in 2008.

The agreement allows the Somerset Anglican Fellowship to remain part of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh or any religious body of its choosing. The congregation agrees to return all property provided for its use by the Episcopal Diocese and to not support any property litigation brought by anyone else against the Episcopal Diocese.

“The agreement will resolve all potential legal disputes between the Diocese and Somerset Anglican Fellowship and allow both to go forward with their respective principal missions,” states an Executive Summary of the agreement issued jointly by Bishop Kenneth Price of the Episcopal Diocese and the Rev. J. Mark Zimmerman, pastor of the Somerset Anglican Fellowship.

The terms are subject to court approval and both parties will seek that approval together.

The Somerset agreement comes less than two weeks after the Episcopal Diocese reached its first settlement of parish property issues through an agreement with St. Philip’s Church in Moon Township.

Both agreements were based on an acknowledgement of the “Dennis Canon,” adopted by the Episcopal Church in 1979, which holds that all parish property is held in trust for the Episcopal Church and the local Episcopal diocese. The St. Philip’s agreement contained a non-affiliation clause by which the congregation becomes an independent church, while the Somerset agreement has no such provision.

In both cases, the settlement reconciled the concerns of the Episcopal Diocese and what the congregations saw as essential to their mission.

"Since the Somerset Anglican Fellowship agreed to return all property to us and not to support litigation against us, its affiliation with the Anglican Diocese was not an issue," says Bishop Price, adding, “We hope that every agreement we reach will be fair to both sides.”

Episcopal Ministry in Somerset

Admitted into the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in 2008, the Somerset Anglican Fellowship is the newer of two diocesan parishes serving the area. The other, St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal Church, began its ministry in 1958.

St. Francis remains a vibrant community with about 55 members. Its congregation plays an active role in the Episcopal Diocese with several members serving in diocesan leadership groups. The parish is taking a lead in organizing youth activities for the diocese’s eastern-most parishes. St. Francis is currently exploring ways to provide worship and outreach in more remote sections of Somerset County.

St. Francis and its young rector, the Rev. Lenny Anderson, are actively involved in ecumenical programs with other Somerset churches. Among them, Father Anderson notes, is the Somerset Anglican Fellowship.

“It’s nice that we can work together, and that Mark and I can sit down and have lunch together,” Father Anderson says. “In so many aspects, there’s definitely a lot of positive energy here at St. Francis right now.”

For More Information

The text of Bishop Price and Dr. Zimmerman’s letter announcing the agreement between the Episcopal Diocese and the Somerset Anglican Fellowship, with an Executive Summary of the terms, is available at http://www.episcopalpgh.org/saf-agreement/

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