Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Letter to the Church of the Good Shepherd

Dear Good Shepherd,

The last part of the lawsuit filed by Diocese of Central New York against us has been decided and the judge has ruled that the Branan bequest now belongs to Christ Church and the Diocese of Central New York. This is not great news but it is not terrible news either. We were not counting on victory after the first ruling in this case and we have already learned that no matter what the outcome in the courts, the Lord loves us and will protect and provide for our needs.

We are, moreover, so very thankful that we live in a nation governed by the rule of law where our defense was heard by an impartial and objective judge and the Diocese of Central New York could not simply seize our buildings and assets by fiat as it would have liked. How wonderful it has been, despite the negative outcome, to have our day in court.

It is important, I think, also to be grateful for Judge Lebous who has sought nothing more than to make a just decision based on his understanding of the facts and his wide knowledge of the law. Sometimes judges and courts do make mistakes, as this one has, but we must always respect and obey the legal decisions of those God has set in positions of authority over us.

If you take the time to read the decision, and I encourage you to do so, you will find that there are a number of rather curious suggestions and I think it is important to address a few of them.

I did not know Mr. Branan but a number of our senior parishioners knew him very well and remember him to have been both very conservative and very loyal to Good Shepherd but not necessarily to the Episcopal Church. In fact, one woman remembers very clearly that he gave the bequest in order to ensure that the congregation never experienced financial difficulty. Another woman who was a very close friend of Mr. Branan recently sent a letter explaining that Mr. Branan wouldn't have wanted a dime to go to the Episcopal Church given the denomination's recent departure from orthodox Christianity. Since Mr. Branan never once mentioned the Diocese of Central New York in his bequest, it is difficult to understand how Judge Lebous could come to the conclusion that Mr. Branan would have wanted his money given to the institution that has sought the destruction of the church he loved?

Be all that as it may, given our earlier defeat in court, we were not expecting to keep the bequest. We have not counted it in our present budget.

Stranger to me than the idea that Mr. Branan was a person loyal to a larger and heretical denomination and not to his local parish was the language used by Judge Libous to describe our conduct. During the hearing, the lawyer for the Diocese of Central New York noted that Good Shepherd received very little in pledges and offerings during 2008 and accused the vestry of “diverting” income. Judge Lebous re-articulates that accusation in the judgment, finds it “disturbing”, and writes that it is appropriate for the diocese to “investigate”.

The reason for the low income, as is fairly obvious, is that after the lawsuit was filed by the Diocese of Central New York claiming possession of all of our property and money, the vast majority of parishioners made personal decisions not to give any money to the church knowing that any money given stood the chance of being seized by the diocese—as it subsequently has been.

And, of course, the vestry did not “divert” money away from Good Shepherd or spend it on anything other than the regular upkeep of the ministries of Good Shepherd—bills, maintenance, salaries, etc. We are more than willing to cooperate fully with any kind of investigation the court thinks necessary.

Finally, Judge Libous mentions items taken from the building. Most of you remember the confusion and frustration in the aftermath of the first court decision when we learned that the building and home we loved was going to be seized. We moved out of the old building mere days after receiving a letter from the Diocese of Central New York asking us to pay rent of over $2500.00 per month. There were a lot of heartbroken and confused people especially with regard to items donated to the church in memory of deceased relatives. Despite the explanations, it was difficult for people to understand that even though a given item may have been purchased with money personally donated for the memory of a deceased relative, donations given to the church belonged, subsequent to the judgment, to the diocese. No one intentionally took anything that belongs to the diocese and the items we have located that were mistakenly taken have been returned.

I've said this before, but let me say again, how proud I am to be your pastor. Jesus said that no servant is above his master and that the world would treat his followers just as it treated him (Matt 10:17-25). We have felt and are feeling the truth of those words. You have stood courageously in the face of lies and persecution and you have accepted the confiscation of your property knowing that you yourselves have a better possession and a lasting one. I am so very amazed at the graciousness and generosity with which you have responded and, indeed, the charity and forgiveness revealed in both word and deed toward the Diocese of Central New York.

God has abundantly blessed us over the last few months. Trust him. He is for us and not against us. I believe that God's loving kindness, gentle protection, and provision will carry us through these trials and for that reason we must continue to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ, forgiving and loving those who would hurt us and doing everything in our power to be at peace with all people.

May God bless and keep you.

In Christ,

Matt Kennedy

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

What a great judge!!! Not only does he make sure that you lose everything, but he suggests additional causes of action for the other side to pursue. I guess this is what the early Christians went through.

Orgel56 said...

Actually, from first and second reading, it looks like the judge got stuck in a place where he had to follow to the exact letter, as well as navigate through some rather murky canonical waters. Nothing I read "suggested" additional causes of action, but rather allowing confirmation of any actions taken/not taken.

In either case, the only thing Good Shepherd has lost and stands to lose are the chains around their neck.

Anonymous said...

Maybe, you should read the decision a third time. The judge has ordered additionnal depositions over pledge income and personal property and the rectors alleged interference with the diocese's ownership. I would call those "additional causes of action." You also might note that he decided every factual and legal issue in favor of the diocese, not just the case as a whole. The judge has gone past deciding the case. He is engaged in punishing the side that he doesn't like.

Kate Martin+ said...

Matt+, You all remain in my heart and my prayers. Surely, you know how the Early Church felt!
I never cease to be amazed at how Holy you all behave vs. how secular the Diocese behaves.
Blessings to you all.

Joshua said...

Matt,

After reading your post the words of our Lord Jesus Christ in John 15:16-21 came to mind.

Praying that you will keep your eyes fixed on Jesus Matt as you continue to proclaim the unsearchable riches of the Gospel and contend for the faith.

Grace and peace
Joshua

Anonymous said...

Fr. Matt,
Are there any family members, even extended relatives alive that might have been able to give their "family" perspective? When is legal system going to accept that the Dennis canon was NOT fully accepted as a legitimate canon in TEc according to its own canons?.