South Carolina Episcopalians

An Independent Journal of News & Commentary for Anglicans

not affiliated with the Episcopal Church or its dioceses

August 2, 2018

Court Records Show Adams Tried to Help Breakaway Binghamton Parish Buy its Building

Lawrence is trying to smear Bishop Adams during his "last hurrah" tour by exploiting the sale of a vacant parish building in Adams' old Diocese ten years ago.  Court record shows Judge was infuriated by financial irregularities and apparent hiding of assets when controversial rector was in charge.


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Former Bishop Mark Lawrence and his high command are in the midst of a five-night tour of their former allied parishes to prevent the Episcopal Church from reestablishing a robust proclamation of the Gospel in the debris field left from his futile attempt to lead the Diocese of South Carolina out of the Church.  


Oddly, Lawrence has chosen to gather the remaining faithful over five nights on the campuses of returning parishes that have arguably suffered the greatest loss of membership and revenue under his leadership.


The target of the tour is South Carolina Bishop Skip Adams and his efforts to bring about reconciliation in the fractured diocese.   Their tactic is character assassination and the former secessionists are doing everything they can to smear Adams' reputation and integrity. 


Biased GAFCON video appeals to anti-Muslim prejudice


Among the mud-bombs Lawrence is lobbing is a 15-minute video telling its version of the story of a headstrong, breakaway rector who claims the Diocese of Central New York, under Adams, reneged on a deal to sell his tiny congregation its property, and instead sold it to Muslims.  


The video was made by GAFCON, which has had its own challenges telling the truth in South Carolina ... and getting caught with its pants on fire by SC Episcopalians.


Lawrence is peddling the online video as part of a smear campaign to discourage his dispirited followers from joining Adams in his ministry of reconciliation.  Those attending the Lawrence tour have been urged to watch the film to prepare for the evening with Lawrence.


It features an engaging young Matt Kennedy, one-time rector of the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, New York and his wife, Anne.   As nearly as we can tell, Bishop Adams ordained Matt.


Matt weaves a tale about his decision to take his small parish of around fifty people out of the Church with their parish property, and his decade-old story is well-rehearsed and carefully-worded.  He and Anne gently play up the personal side of this struggle while glossing over obvious gaps in its legal side. 


So we decided to investigate.


In June 2006 the Church of the Good Shepherd adopted a Resolution declaring it intended to dissociate itself from The Episcopal Church and the Diocese.  However, the congregation and its rector had became frustrated when they discovered New York law would not allow them to leave the Church with their property.


They then spoke with Bishop Adams, who suggested there might be a way the Diocese could sell the property to them.  After considerable discussions among diocesan officials and leaders of neighboring parishes, the Diocese decided to allow Matt and the small congregation to make an offer to buy the property. 


And, the congregation did exactly that. 

However, the offer it submitted included a sale price substantially below market value and required that Diocese finance the deal with a payment plan favorable to the congregation.  The proposal became even more tenuous when Matt and the  congregation refused to agree to other conditions the Diocese had requested, including a promise not to work against or cause harm to the Episcopal Church or the Diocese.

The deal then fell apart.  (In the video Matt acts like he doesn't know why the Diocese didn't go through with the deal.)

In November 2007, Good Shepherd's members proceeded with their plan to leave the Church by approving a resolution in which they declared their disassociation "and end our affiliation with The Episcopal Church in the United States of America and the Episcopal Diocese of Central New York and apply for membership within the jurisdiction of the Anglican Church of Kenya".


At the same time, Matt renounced his ministry in The Episcopal Church.


On December 2008 Good Shepherd filed an amendment to its governing documents, the purpose of which was to delete all references to The Episcopal Church and realign itself with the Anglican Province of Kenya.  In the meanwhile, the Diocese filed a lawsuit asking a state court to intervene and determine the rightful owner of the property. 


In January 2009, the court found, to no one's surprise, the parish property belonged with the Church. 


Matt and his wife had been living in the rectory during the whole business while the congregation continued to use the parish buildings.  They do not say in the video whether any of them were paying any rent while the court case was ongoing.  (Sound familiar, South Carolina?)


They do say how terrible it was for them to have to leave the rectory immediately after the court ruling came down.  Somehow they forget to mention in the video that they were actually provided a three-month grace period by the Diocese to make arrangements to move on... after already living in there for two years after Matt renounced his ordination vows in the Episcopal Church.  

Matt, Anne, and about half the congregation did leave the parish building shortly thereafter and found a home in a vacant Catholic church nearby.  The Diocese followed its canonical procedures for listing the property on the open market, retained a real estate agent who put the property on the market.  These procedures are the same in nearly every diocese including South Carolina.

Enter the Muslims


None of us would ever have heard this story except that the successful bidder was a Muslim community organization dedicated to fighting bigotry and prejudice.  Even if the Diocese did not want to sell the building to a non-Christian buyer, anti-discrimination laws would not have allowed it to arbitrarily reject bidders because of their religious beliefs. 

But this story had too much juice to it, and anti-Church groups like GAFCON have feasted on it, or at least their version of it, for the past 11 years. 

In the end, the deal went through and proceeds from the sale were used to augment Christian outreach ministries in the Binghamton area.   Matt himself proved to be a highly effective self-promoter and online blogger, and even admits today the parish is in a much letter place.  


Both Matt and Anne say in the video they believe the ordeal to have been God's Will for them.

One thing we did not realize until recently is that Matt and the Imam with the organization that ended up with the property appear to have been friends throughout the whole drama.  We also noticed that throughout the entire 15 minute GAFCON interview with the rector and his wife, they never mention Bishop Adams.  That service was provided by Lawrence's political team.


Enter the Judge


Like their South Carolina cousins, the breakaways at Good Shepherd apparently did not take the judge's ruling seriously. 


According to Court documents SC Episcopalians is reviewing, "Good Shepherd has submitted an accounting identifying certain real and personal property including, but not limited to, real property located at 74 Conklin Avenue, Binghamton (the church building) and 78 Kendall Avenue, Binghamton (the rectory, single family), tangible personalty, various bank accounts held at M & T and Pennstar Bank, as well as an unidentified number of IBM shares located in the church safe."


However, in an accounting of their financial and physical assets submitted by the congregation, the judge found indications the parish had been diverting income from the plate and pledges to a mysterious "St. Mathias Society," as well as using money from various trust funds established by loyal Episcopalians by to pay their bills while the court case was ongoing.  One of the trusts was established by the Will of Robert A. Branan upon his death in 1986.


These are some of the things the judge said about them:


  • Good Shepherd's own counsel intimated that parish members may have removed personal property to express their displeasure at this court's prior Decision & Order.


  • It is also noteworthy that any revenue being collected during the pendency of this matter was not funneled to the Church of the Good Shepherd, but rather a separate entity named St. Matthias Society, Ltd.


  • While Good Shepherd may have abandoned the Episcopal faith, Mr. Branan never did, and his intent was clearly to benefit a local Episcopal Church. By all accounts, Mr. Branan was an active member of The Episcopal Church and there is simply no basis on which to find that Mr. Branan would want his money to go to those former members of The Church of the Good Shepherd that abandoned the faith that he, apparently, held so dear.

  • [According to the Diocese] the accounting starts too late in time and should have started in November 2007, the date on which the Vestry adopted a resolution ending its affiliation with The Episcopal Church.


  • With respect to missing personalty. .. the IBM shares have not been tendered nor (were not) located in the church safe as indicated.


  •  ... there is an obvious lack of income flowing into Good Shepherd after April 2008.  In other words, since April 2008, Good Shepherd was meeting, but no pledge and plate revenue is identified during that time. Rather, the Diocese alleges that Good Shepherd was spending down an endowment fund to pay for daily operations and diverting income elsewhere.


  • Quite simply, the court finds this record disturbing. On its face, it appears that the parish was doing everything it could to spend down the assets, divert new income, and perhaps even actively interfere with the Diocese's right of ownership.


  • The court finds that the Diocese has every right to conduct an investigation into the income and property of Good Shepherd and may start with, as requested, a deposition of the officials it deems proper, likely Mr. Kennedy and the treasurer as mentioned during oral argument. The court directs that Mr. Kennedy and the treasurer appear for depositions within 45 days of the date of this Decision at a date, time, and location selected by plaintiffs' counsel.


SC Episcopalians thought it was important to provide this information to Bishop Lawrence so that he can provide those to whom he speaks on this tour with an accurate version of the story.