Eric Sohlgren, lead attorney for St. James, said that the church is "seriously considering" appealing the case to the California Supreme Court after Tuesday's appellate court decision which upheld the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles' claims to the church's property.
The ruling reversed an Orange County Superior Court decision in 2005 that three Southern California churches, including St. James, retained rights to their properties after severing ties with the Episcopal Church in 2004 because of what congregants characterized as its liberal philosophies, particularly a refusal to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The international Anglican Communion, which traces its roots to the Church of England, has been divided following the U.S. Episcopal Church's consecration in 2003 of openly gay bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
St. James, North Hollywood's St. David's and All Saints' in Long Beach subsequently affiliated with the Diocese of Luwero in the Anglican Province of Uganda.
Though Sohlgren said the ruling "fundamentally disagrees" with 30 years of state precedent, the attorney for the Diocese of Los Angeles disagreed.
"I don't think this case breaks with precedent at all," John Shiner said. "The court took great pains to analyze each of the relevant church property cases that existed up to this time, and I think their decision reflects the current state of the law."
As the case returns to the Orange County Superior Court, a judge will consider the validity of a Diocese Canon declared in 1979 which claims to hold local church property in trust.
St. James joined the denomination 60 years ago, Young said.
"While individuals are always free to leave the Episcopal Church and worship however they please, they do not have the right to take parish property with them," Rt. Rev. J. Jon Bruno, the diocese's bishop diocesan, said in a statement.
Longtime St. James parishioner Alan Armstrong said he is concerned about the church's future, though he left Wednesday's service feeling positive.
"This parish is going to continue irrespective of what happens to the building," he said. "I think the church chose the right path because the Episcopal church was definitely going down the wrong path."
JESSIE BRUNNER may be reached at (714) 966-4632 or at email@example.com.