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Judge will settle Episcopal financial flap in Missouri

Judge will settle Episcopal financial flap in Missouri

A judge has been asked to decide who should control an Episcopal church's assets in a St. Louis suburb, ostensibly to settle the flap rooted in debate over a gay Episcopal bishop in New Hampshire. An Episcopal bishop from Missouri and the priest of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Town and Country, Mo., agreed this week to settle the property dispute during a July bench trial before Mary Bruntrager Schroeder, a St. Louis County associate circuit judge. Last Sunday, 84 of 98 members attending a Good Shepherd parish meeting voted to break away from the Episcopal Church and join the Anglican Mission in America, a different group. That decision was prompted by the consecration of openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson last November. On Monday, lawyers for the Reverend Paul Walter, rector at Good Shepherd, and Bishop George Wayne Smith of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri agreed to a temporary restraining order leaving things as they are until Schroeder rules. Walter said Wednesday the majority of the parish's 290 members endorse joining the Anglican Mission. "The principal issue is the authority of Scriptures; it is not sex," Walter said. "The vestry [the parish's governing body] is unanimous. They would do this even if I weren't here." At the diocesan level, the church's standing committee on February 24 supported Smith in his decision to bar Walter from performing his duties as a priest for six months. Walter has been approved as a priest by the Anglican Mission. According to court documents filed by the diocese in a lawsuit to keep the church, Good Shepherd was incorporated in St. Louis County circuit court in May 1958 "in union with the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Missouri." "This harmonious union persisted for almost 46 years, until the defendants engaged in unlawful conduct," the suit alleges. What the diocese considers unlawful--and Good Shepherd officers consider proper--was a court petition, approved February 9, that amends the wording of the original documents to delete references to the Episcopal Church and to change the name of the parish to the "Anglican Church of the Good Shepherd." Diocese lawyers said they consider it a stealth maneuver to wrest away control of the property.

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