The Tennessee Court of Appeals has upheld a state trial court ruling in favor of the Convention of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Tennessee, a case that stems from Nashville-based St. Andrews Parish’s efforts to break away from the diocese.
It her ruling, filed April 25, Judge Patricia Cottrell said the Episcopal Church is hierarchal and, as such, individual churches hold property in trust for the diocese and, as such, are not in a position to disassociate themselves from the governing body.
“[St. Andrews] asserted its intention to disassociate from The Diocese of Tennessee, causing the Diocese to file a declaratory judgment action to determine whether it or the local congregation owned and controlled the real and personal property where the local congregation worshiped,” the court ruling reads. “The trial court determined that The Episcopal Church is hierarchical, and based on the canons and constitutions of the Church and its Diocese, ruled that the local parish held the property in trust for the Diocese. The church appealed, and we affirm the trial court’s judgment.”
Cornelius & Collins represented St. Andrews, while Bass Berry & Sims represented the diocese.
St. Andrews can now either file a petition for a rehearing or ask for the Tennessee Supreme Court to take the case, the dispute upon which it is based is more than two years old.
"Obviously, St. Andrews is disppointed in the decision, and the church is curently exploring its options for the future," said Father James M. Guill, St. Andrews Parish rector.
It is unclear how much longer the church and a preschool will operate from the site. Similarly, the diocese's future use of the property, which sits in a highly affluent area anchored by Woodmont Boulevard, is uncertain.
"We’re still absorbing the implications of the appeals court ruling," diocese Bishop John Bauerschmidt said.