San Joaquin: Court rules St. John’s belongs to the Episcopal Church

April 13, 2014

[Episcopal News Service] A California Superior Court has ruled that the 160-year-old landmark St. John the Evangelist Church in downtown Stockton, California, is to be used for the mission of the Episcopal Church.

In issuing the April 2 ruling, Stockton Superior Court Judge Roger Ross granted the Diocese of San Joaquin‘s motion for summary judgment, agreeing with previous court rulings that “all the parish assets and parish premises are held for the ministry and mission of the church and the diocese” and the wider church.

Once the individuals of St. John’s former vestry left the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, they “ceased to be the directors and officers of, and could no longer represent or otherwise act on behalf of the parish corporation, and as a result had no authority to act on behalf of the parish corporation,” according to the decision.

San Joaquin Bishop Provisional David Rice said, “I join with Episcopalians throughout San Joaquin in looking forward to exploring the ways in which St. John’s, Stockton can continue to be a center of celebration and place from which God’s mission is evident.

“We believe St. John’s provides a marvelous opportunity to become a place of reconciliation and again, given its context, a downtown center for much needed urban ministry. We also look forward to seeking ways in which we might welcome any parishioners to remain.”

St. John’s was established as a congregation in 1854 and is a landmark church in downtown Stockton. Located at 316 N. Dorado St., its assets include commercial property.

It is the latest church property to be returned to the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin since theological differences purportedly split the diocese in 2007. Those differences resulted in legal cases concerning church properties still held by former members.

Altogether, other properties in Ridgecrest (St. Michael’s), Turlock (St. Francis), Bakersfield (St. Paul’), Delano (Hope and Redeemer) and Sonora (St. James) have also returned to the Episcopal Church. Another church property, St. Paul’s, Modesto was returned July 1, 2009 prior to litigation.

State and federal courts have consistently ruled that church properties are held in trust by the diocese for the mission and ministry of the wider Episcopal Church and that while dissenting members may leave, they cannot take property with them, according to Michael Glass, diocesan chancellor.

Other disputed properties are in various stages of litigation, Glass said.

–The Rev. Pat McCaughan is a correspondent for the Episcopal News Service. She is based in Los Angeles.