Note: The following letter and Executive Summary are being sent by mail to the rector and vestry of every parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh as well as to each member of the Somerset Anglican Fellowship. Click here for a printable PDF copy of this announcement.
February 11, 2011
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
On behalf of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States and Somerset Anglican Fellowship, we are happy to publicly announce that we have amicably reached an agreement concerning parish property.
The terms of agreement resolve questions over the intended use of the church property and will allow the people of Somerset Anglican Fellowship to be affiliated with any religious body of their choosing. The agreement follows lengthy confidential negotiations by representatives of both sides. A summary of the terms is contained with this announcement.
By resolving these issues of ownership and use of church property, our agreement allows the parish and the Episcopal Diocese to continue in their ministry without supporting or engaging in lawsuits involving the other. The Gospels and all of Scripture teach us that when differences arise among believers, our first duty is to seek peace and reconciliation with each other. We believe that both the Episcopal Diocese and the parish have been faithful to those Scriptural lessons in reaching this agreement.
However, because of legal requirements, the particular terms of this agreement are subject to court approval. Somerset Anglican Fellowship and the Diocese have pledged to seek that approval together, and we commit to work with each other in implementing this agreement.
The Rt. Rev. Kenneth L. Price, Jr.
Bishop of Pittsburgh
The Rev. J. Mark Zimmerman
Rector, Somerset Anglican Fellowship
Executive Summary of the Agreement between
The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and
Somerset Anglican Fellowship, Somerset, Pennsylvania
February 11, 2011
The Agreement acknowledges the existence of the provisions of Canon I.7.4 of The Episcopal Church, also known as the "Dennis Canon" and adopted in 1979, which provides that all real and personal property held by or for the benefit of a parish church is held in trust for The Episcopal Church and the Diocese thereof in which the parish is located.
The Agreement acknowledges that the only real property of Somerset Anglican Fellowship is a month-to-month lease of premises utilized for worship and ministry, and that the value of the lease does not exceed its cost. The Agreement notes that Somerset Anglican Fellowship plans to purchase the real estate of St. Paul's Presbyterian Church on East Union Street, Somerset, Pennsylvania, and confirms that the Episcopal Diocese will make no Dennis Canon trust claims against that real estate.
The Agreement further identifies the personal property held by or for the benefit of Somerset Anglican Fellowship as consisting of various liturgical artifacts given to the parish for its use by the Diocese, and provides that Somerset Anglican Fellowship will return all of these articles of property to the Episcopal Diocese. Being a new parish as of October 4, 2008, Somerset Anglican Fellowship had no endowment or other permanent assets to be considered in the negotiations.
The Agreement does not contain provisions that would operate to limit the identity of any other religious body that Somerset Anglican Fellowship may be affiliated with; the parish has agreed to return to the Episcopal Diocese all of the property that the parties have agreed is subject to the Dennis Canon trust interest.
The Agreement expressly states that the parties have entered into it for the purpose of avoiding unnecessary controversy and litigation, and that they commit themselves to that mutual purpose in their implementation of the Agreement. They pledge to work cooperatively to resolve any dispute that might arise under the Agreement before resorting to legal remedies. Additionally, Somerset Anglican Fellowship agrees not to support any litigation brought by another against the Diocese involving property.
The Agreement provides for the maintenance of, and ongoing access to, parish records and files. Provisions also cover memorials, dedications and similar parish assets.
Because of the nature of the Agreement, Court approval is required. Under an October 14, 2005 Stipulation and Order of Court in the case Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania v. The Rt. Rev. Robert William Duncan, et al., No. GD 03 020941 (C.P. Allegheny County) (the "Calvary Suit"), any person seeking to raise an objection to the Agreement has a period of 45 days from the mailing of this public announcement to file the objection with that Court. The Agreement is also subject to the approval of the Orphans’ Court division of the Court of Common Pleas of Somerset County. The Diocese and Somerset Anglican Fellowship have agreed to cooperate in seeking these court approvals.
Subject to the required Court approval, 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, including new forms of ministry, outreach and service, in the name of our one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.