A judge will decide today if 155 Spokane residents can join a new faith in the church where they have worshiped for years.
The Episcopal Diocese of Spokane asked the court for a restraining order, preventing any non-Episcopal services from being conducted at Holy Trinity Church, 1832 W. Dean.
Most members of the Holy Trinity congregation, along with their priest, are scheduled to convert to Eastern Orthodoxy tonight at 6.
Priests from the Antiochian Orthodox Church are coming to Spokane today to receive the converts into the Eastern Orthodox Church and to administer their first communion.
The Episcopal Diocese made its request Tuesday afternoon. Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor promised to announce her decision sometime before the service.
“This is consecrated Episcopal land,” said Peter Witherspoon, lawyer for the diocese. “People are buried there, with the understanding that they are on consecrated land. Such services are not allowed.”
The Rev. Robert Creech and other members of the congregation would not say if they have an alternate location for the service, should the judge rule against them.
Along with Creech, 154 members of the Holy Trinity Episcopal parish voted last week to join the Orthodox Church. They want to keep their 100-year-old church building.
Creech and most of his congregation are traditionalists. They are upset with trends in the Episcopal Church of interpreting of creeds and doctrines, which traditionalists consider unmovable.
In choosing the Antiochian Orthodox Church, Holy Trinity is joining an offshoot of the Russian Orthodox Church. The congregation will report to a patriarch in Damascus, Syria.
Episcopal Bishop Jeff Terry filed a lawsuit late Tuesday seeking to prevent the congregation from holding Orthodox services there.
Lawyers for Holy Trinity said the church is a separate corporation and holds the deed to the property.
The diocese argues that the church is holding that deed in trust. By joining a different faith, the congregation no longer has a claim to the property.
Terry said last week he has an obligation to the small minority of people who still wish to receive an Episcopal communion at Holy Trinity.
Terry sent the Rev. Larry Eugene Harrelson, an Episcopal priest, to Holy Trinity last weekend to conduct the standard Saturday evening and Sunday morning services.
Church members refused to allow Harrelson to conduct the communion service. At one point he was physically restrained from entering the church, Witherspoon said in court.
Any Episcopalians in the Spokane Diocese who join an Eastern Orthodox Church would not be considered “in communion” or in good standing with the Episcopal Church, Terry said in an affidavit.
“We may only have one Episcopalian in good standing,” Witherspoon said. “But that one person deserves an Episcopal communion.”
Holy Trinity and its members maintain there is no emergency justifying a restraining order, and the court could settle the property dispute through normal channels.
“You issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting religious services and you are treading on the First Amendment,” said William Powell, lawyer for Holy Trinity.
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