Members of a breakaway Anglican church in Savannah will have to give historic Christ Church back to the Episcopal Diocese.
Savannah Superior Court Judge Michael Karpf ruled on Tuesday that the church's 19th Century building belongs to the diocese.
The church's more conservative members broke away from the diocese two years ago over theological issues, claiming the historic sanctuary as theirs.
Since then, the church's more liberal members have been meeting at another local church and hoping to return to what both sides consider their spiritual home.
The ruling paves the way for the more liberal faction to return, but Christ Church officials say, it's very likely that they'll appeal the ruling.
"That's obviously an option," says Marc Roberston, a pastor at Christ Church. "But right now, we're reviewing the ruling and calling people together for prayer."
Robertson said, a formal decision to appeal the ruling could be made at a vestry meeting on Wednesday evening.
Meanwhile, for those Christ Church members who have been meeting at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, there's some relief.
"We are looking forward to working with the church in the restoration of the property to the Diocese in an orderly and prayerful transition," says Jim Parker, a spokesman for the Diocese. "Having gone through the process of losing the church facility, we understand that the folks on the losing end are also going through those same feelings."
Historic Christ Church is considered the "mother church of Georgia Anglicanism." It was founded along with the Georgia colony in 1733. The edifice dates to 1838.
The Episcopal Diocese of Georgia is based in Savannah. It covers all of South Georgia and includes about 70 congregations.
In his ruling, Judge Karpf noted the historical and church ties between Christ Church and the Episcopal Diocese. Members of the breakaway congregation claimed that the historic church did not belong to the diocese because the church preceded the diocese.