Local Churches Waiting To Hear Ruling On Church Properties

Some local worshippers may have to look for a new place to meet on Sundays.  A few hundred church members are waiting for the final word from the courts over a disagreement that has left parishioners split.

A recent court ruling has stemmed from disagreements in the Episcopal Church.  About two years ago there was a rift among delegates to the Episcopal Church in the united states.  80% of the delegates to the diocesan convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth didn't feel in good conscience about some teachings of the church.

"The Episcopal Church started to look in the bible and say, 'Ya know, I don't really care for this page, and they would vote on it and take it out.' And that's when we decided to take the stance and leave the episcopal church," said the Very Reverend Scott Wooten, a priest at the Church of the Good Shepherd in Wichita Falls.

At that point, things got complicated.  There are currently two groups called the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth.  Each claims to be the original diocese of the church, and says the other one is a newly formed diocese.

The minority group filed a lawsuit against the majority, saying because the Episcopal Church is hierarchal, it owns all the church buildings built by generations of Episcopalians.  Wooten and the majority, however, say the diocese are independent from any governing national body, and therefore plan to appeal the recent ruling that sided with the minority.

"Churches have split before.  All of them have chosen to do it in a Christian manner, meaning if we can't agree you go your way, I'll go my way.  Unfortunately, the 20% have decided to go about it in a very un-Christian manner and take the matter to court," he said

Katie Sherrod, the Communications Director for the minority group, says the Episcopal Church has never threatened to remove Episcopalians from their buildings.  But Wooten says parishioners in the majority feel separating themselves was the right thing to do.

"If the appellate court rules against us and all the appeals are final and it says those four people own this church, then those four people can come in and pay the bills and 240 of us will leave and find a new home," he said.

Although a judge handed down a partial summary judgment that hands all properties of the majority group over to the minority, all is not said and done.  Aside from a pending appeal, Wooten says the ruling is on hold for the time being because the judge in the case became ill.  The final ruling would affect members from at least four churches in Wichita and clay counties.