BINGHAMTON, N.Y. Members must vacate church after court ruling

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Wed Jan 14 22:19:39 EST 2009

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. Members must vacate church after court ruling

By Karen Lee 
January 10, 2009

It could be one of the last times a hymn is played by members Church of the Good Shepherd.

"It feels very empty here already. I don't know something feels like it's gone," said parishioner Micah Towery.

Parishioners have been packing and moving out of the Conklin Avenue church since Thursday night. Good Shepherd severed ties with the Episcopal Diocese when the Diocese began to condone gay marriage. The Episcopal Church then sued to get Good Shepherd off their property, which was backed by a recent Supreme Court decision.

"Say you know that a relative is going to die. You might know that and come to terms with that. But when it actually happens, it's still very sad. And I think that's where everyone is at this point," said Father Matthew Kennedy, Senior Pastor at Good Shepherd.

Though they may be churchless, there are no regrets when it comes to their stance on gay marriage. Members must vacate church after court ruling More than one hundred members of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton are now without a building. After disagreeing on gay marriage, their former diocese took back the building. Our Karen Lee went to the church as they moved out and finds out what they plan to do next. 	

"Our mission is to proclaim the word of God. And we're willing to stand on it and to die on it and lose our property if necessary. And I guess it's necessary," Father Kennedy said.

Though they've admitted to shedding tears, the congregation says they're ready to move on.

"We've really strived not to become Church of the Good Lawsuit. We've really been trying to stay focused on our mission and I think we've done a pretty good job of that but now, in one sense, it frees us up," Towery said.

"We're still a body of believers that are extremely attached to each other. And the building is not going to make the difference," said parishioner Carmen Swoffer-Penna.

Members of the Good Shepherd Church say they aren't even sure if they'll be able to have service here this coming Sunday. They'll find the answer to that soon enough. But should there be locks on the door, they say they may temporarily share a building with another church. But in the long run, they're looking for their own place of worship.


A Letter from The Vestry, Warden, and Rectors of the Church of the Good Shepherd 

Dear Good Shepherd,

As you may or may not have heard, the judge has ruled and we have lost our building and all of our assets. There is, at the moment of this writing, no time specified for our departure. We expect an order to arrive sometime in the next few days that will give us some indication of how long we will remain here. It could be a matter of days, it could be a month or more, we simply do not know. When we do, we will get the information to you as soon as possible. Pay attention to the website, the blogsite, Sunday announcements and your phone messages for news. In the meantime, we must prepare our hearts and minds to go.

This little white church on the corner of Livingston and Conklin has been a part of all our lives and the lives of those in our neighborhood for many years. Some of us have spent our whole lives here. This is painful news.

This may seem especially difficult given the fact that there is no discernible good in the future of this building. It will, we presume, no longer be used to feed people or to proclaim the Gospel. It seems as though we have lost. But we must remember what we know about God, what He has revealed about His character:

The Lord passed before him  and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin." Exodus 34:6-7

God is gracious, merciful, loving and provident towards his children. His greatest provision was sending his own Son, Jesus, to die on our behalf. As sons and daughters of God through faith in Jesus Christ, the darkness is never final. The light is greater than the darkness. God's providence is greater than the destruction of sin. Jesus died but he also rose from the dead. So it is for His people. There is no "end" or "death" or "despair" for us because we know that in all things God works for his glory and for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). Because God is faithful to his promises, we look to our future knowing it to be one full of hope. God has been faithful to us in the past. He is faithful to us now. He will be faithful to us in the future.

We have been praying for the better part of a year now, asking for God's guidance and direction. God has answered our prayers. He has closed one door and now all that remains is to go forward into the new future and new home God has prepared. Our location will change. Our mission will not. We will continue to share the good news of eternal salvation won by Jesus Christ. We will continue to serve our neighbors, feed the hungry, and help the poor, just as we have in the past.

But there is something else that we must do that, at least for the moment, may be far more difficult: Love those who are forcing us out. Perhaps they do not know what they are doing. Perhaps they do. Either way, ask God to forgive them and pray that he will give us the grace to do the same. Anger is not always sinful but it can easily and quickly become so. Unchecked anger leads to bitterness, hatred, and resentment and all of these things hurt our relationship with God and damage our capacity to reflect his love and beauty into the world. Just as God has been merciful to us, daily forgiving our sins and wickedness, so we must, by his grace and help, return good for evil and pray for those who persecute us.

The vestry is very sad, but we are also thankful. Our future is now clear. What wonderful things God has in store for us. He has set us free from the bondage of this lawsuit and free, finally, of the turmoil in the Episcopal Church. We are not only thankful to be free, but thankful that we have been tested and found worthy by his grace of suffering loss for the sake of Christ, of being purified by sacrifice. We know that what we have been enduring is only preparation for greater things to come and that all of this being worked out for the good of those who love Christ.

And we love Christ. This has been the defining mark of our church body. Let Christ be our banner and our seal, the Rock to which we cling. Let Christ go before us and behind us. Above all let His holy name be praised.


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