Anglican congregation to continue fight for St. Luke's

LA CRESCENTA — Attorneys for the Anglican congregation at the St. Luke’s of the Mountains Church said they intend to appeal a June 9 court decision affirming the Episcopal Diocese’s ownership of the property.

Attorney Daniel Friedman Lula, who represents the Anglican congregation, said he would file a petition for review with the California Supreme Court on Aug. 10.

St. James Anglican Church in Newport Beach pursued a similar course, but lost its case before the state high court.

The Orange County church has requested that the U.S. Supreme Court overturn the state Supreme Court ruling that a head church could invoke it’s property rights over an affiliated group. Basically, any group that chose to separate itself from the head church, must also separate itself from that church’s property, the court ruled.

Lula acknowledged St. Luke’s faces an uncertain road, especially in light of the decision in the St. James case.

“The California Supreme Court does not have to take every appeal it receives . . . so we will have to convince them that this case is meritorious enough to warrant their time and attention,” he said. “But we think that we can do that because it’s a church and there are a lot of families, who’s lives, and spiritual lives and spiritual wholeness is at stake.”

If the state Supreme Court grants the petition for review, Lula could be arguing the merits of the congregation’s case as early as next year, he said.

Despite the monthlong lapse since the state appellate court decision affirming the Episcopal Diocese’s ownership of the church, Lula said the Anglican congregation had decided almost immediately that it would keep on the legal fight.

“We are this far along in the process and it makes sense to keep fighting because the facts we believe are on our side and the court of appeal just made an error here,” he said.

A state appeals court on June 9 and agreed with a lower court that the Episcopal Diocese had the right to restore the church to its authority after the now-Anglican congregation split in 2006 over theological differences, mostly stemming after the diocese allowed a gay man to become a bishop in 2003.

After severing ties with the Episcopal Diocese, the congregation allied with the Anglican Province of Uganda. But congregants continued to worship at the church, arguing that the property belonged to them, not to the diocese.

Lula said two congregants disagreed with the vote to leave the Episcopal Diocese. Those congregants, he said, later started attending St. George’s Episcopal Church in La Cañada Flintridge and have been members ever since they left.

The Episcopal Diocese later sued St. Luke’s after it joined the Anglican Province of Uganda.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge sided with the diocese in July 2007, citing a 1979 church law establishing its ownership of all Episcopal parish property.

Appeals court judges ruled that when the congregation split in February 2006, it lost its membership, power and authority in the diocese, and that congregants “were no longer members in good standing of the Episcopal Church.”

The congregation wasn’t angry about the appeals court decision, Lula said.

“They are the kind of people that when they have gotten victories before and early on in the case, they were joyful and when they get handed defeat, in the words of the Bible ‘They count it all joy,’ “ he said. “If eventually they don’t prevail in this case, they are going to start their new life in a new building . . . and they are going to be just as vibrant, just as joyful and just as faithful.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles would not seek to remove the Anglican congregation from St. Luke’s of the Mountains Church property until a trial court receives the appellate court’s June 9 decision, said John Shiner, an attorney for the diocese.

The lower court is expected to receive the decision in early August.

“At this juncture, there is nothing to be done,” Shiner said, adding that he was stunned the Anglican congregation would try to appeal to the California Supreme Court since, he said, the court already made a decision on a similar case.

“I am rather surprised that they would petition the court again on virtually the same set of issues,” he said.

Shiner said the Episcopal Diocese will have to wait and see if the St. Luke’s Anglican congregation files an appeal with the state Supreme Court in order to determine their next move.

The Anglican congregation is under no immediate threat to vacate, Lula said, because it has a nearly two-year-old Los Angeles Superior Court order “allowing them to stay on the property pending all appeals.”

“The reason for that is, I’ll be really blunt about it, the diocese likes to come out and talk about these faithful Episcopalians in La Crescenta are in exile — they don’t have anywhere to go,” he said. “The fact is there are no ‘faithful Episcopalians’ that are clamoring to get into St. Luke’s.

“If the diocese got a hold of this property, we wonder what they will do with it.”

Still, the congregation has created a contingency plan. Seventh Day Adventist Church on Vallejo Drive in Glendale has offered its facilities to the Anglican congregation for services and other church-related events.

“It’s just all sort of on hold,” parish administrator Kay Wisdom said.


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