Monday, June 15, 2009

Congregation waits for what ‘God has in store’. Church awaits court decision on possible eviction. Decision is expected soon.

By Melanie Hicken

Published: Last Updated Thursday, June 4, 2009 9:09 PM PDT

After a lengthy legal battle with the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles over the St. Luke’s of the Mountains Anglican Church on Foothill Boulevard, the more than 200-member congregation is bracing for word from a state appeals court on its potential eviction.

A decision from the Fourth District Court of Appeal, based in San Diego, is expected this summer, after oral arguments in the appeal to the July 2007 Los Angeles Superior Court ruling upholding the church’s eviction ended in May.

Since then, the congregation has been waiting for a court decision that could force them out of the historic church property.

“We are waiting in expectation to see what God has in store for us next,” said Debbie Kollgaard, St. Luke’s senior warden.

The legal battle began when St. Luke’s parishioners voted to split from the Episcopal Church in February 2006, citing theological differences. They then joined the Anglican Province of Uganda, triggering a lawsuit from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, which claimed that the church property was owned by the Episcopal Church.

St. Luke’s vestry, a 12-member governing body, argued that the property and 83-year-old church building belonged to its congregation.

In July 2007, the Los Angeles Superior Court sided with the Episcopal Diocese, citing a 1979 church law that established its ownership of all Episcopal parish property. But a month later, the court stayed the potential eviction pending the outcome of the appeal.

“We would hope that the court would recognize that we hold the title to the property,” said the Rev. Rob Holman. “We are the people who built these buildings and maintain these buildings.”

A spokesperson for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles cited the California Supreme Court January ruling, which upheld a similar eviction of St. James Church in Newport Beach, St. David’s Church in North Hollywood and All Saint’s Church in Long Beach, which all aligned themselves with the Anglican Province of Uganda.

“We in the Diocese of Los Angeles are awaiting the appellate court’s decision,” said Robert Williams, canon for community relations. “And we are hopeful that it will uphold the earlier decision of the trial court.”

If St. Luke’s eviction is upheld once again, tentative contingency plans are currently in place, Holman said.

The property dispute has also grabbed the attention of other community members, who see the church as an important local landmark, said Mike Lawler, president of the Crescenta Valley Historical Society.

“I just want all parties to realize what an important resource St Luke’s is to the community, both culturally, architecturally and historically,” he said. “It’s really an icon of the community, and I just want to make sure whoever ends up in it appreciates that.”

The church was built based on the design of Steven Seymour Thomas, a world-famous portrait artist of the early 20th century, Lawler said. Many of his paintings still hang in the church. The artist designed several of its stained-glass windows.

“It’s a treasure culturally,” Lawler said.

Whoever ends up with the church can expect pressure from the Crescenta Valley Historical Society to allow the nonprofit to nominate it for the National Register of Historical Places, which would encourage its preservation, he said.

Holman also acknowledged the church building’s historical significance.

“It’s part of the richness of our heritage. We have a very old tradition, so the building speaks to that. If we are in some modern building, it’s a different sense of things,” he said. “We very much appreciate our place in the community and our historical roots there. So we would like to continue in that same vein.”

Still, the church congregation is preparing for a negative ruling, Kollgaard said.

“We are prepared for whatever the decision is,” she said. “We have covered this in prayer for a long time. We really feel God will be taking care of us no matter what.”


Glendale News Press, California

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