Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Diocese of Virginia Protocol for Departing Churches Revisted

BB NOTE: This afternoon it occurred to me that - with all this talk of the Virginia Protocol - I wondered how many folks have been able to read it? It's not easy to find, though it is still officially on the Diocese of Virginia website here, but only in pdf format.

I read it again on the train this evening out of Washington. This was the protocol that we followed in good faith in Virginia. The tone of hope and faith and promise are all over the pages - it was an extraordinary achievement, one that brought very different people together after nine months of an intense listening process, a process that was both frank and transparent.

As I read the words, my heart just hurt. You can see in the protocol that we got as far as Bishop Lee starting to appoint the property committee (the protocol provides a just and fair way to do that so that all parties are represented amicably, as you will see). The spirit in which this document was written, the hope and witness that we could walk through this with grace was indeed sincere.

For those of you who visit the Cafe here often, you will know that I was utterly shocked by the complete change of suddenly rejecting the protocol in January replaced by a march into the courtroom. As you will see in the protocol, the property is not transferred until the negotiations are complete. So when we hear those who say that the property was transferred (as 815 has recently been saying on its official releases) that is utterly false. The vote - which the protocol sets out very plainly - was officially recorded. That was all.

Bishop Lee did take part in the 40 Days of Discernment, as did the Diocese of Virginia Standing Committee. The Bishop chose not to address the congregations in person, but instead made a personal video (which you can see here or here at the 40 Days of Discernment website). At Truro, the President of the Standing Committee did, however, personally address the congregation live in a congregational meeting before the vote and then met with members of the Vestry and Trustees of Truro for a time of listening and sharing. I was present for both those meetings and can witness that they were cordial, respectful, and honest.

The Protocol was endorsed unanimously by the Bishop and his committee (the names of those courageous members are listed at the end of the text below) and the Bishop then took the Protocol on November 9 (over a month before the voting began) to persuade a joint meeting of the Standing Committee and the Executive Board to receive the report from his committee. There were some rather strong attempts by some members of the two bodies to amend the report before receiving it, but on the Bishop's request - the Standing Committee and the Executive Board unanimously agreed to receive the report as is and without amendment. It was an extraordinary achievement and so much of the reason that it was such an achievement was due in no small part to the courage of the Bishop of Virginia and the Chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia to see it through.

I never dreamed it would come to this, to where we are now, today. But I continue to pray - even at this late hour - that we may find a way to pick up the pieces and rebuild the process and restore our witness of Christ's redeeming love as a world - and a Communion - watch.

bb

Protocol for Departing Congregation

After nine meetings spanning nine months, the Committee believes, for some members of the Diocese, separation from the Diocese and the Episcopal Church is increasingly likely. Accordingly, with a view toward prudence and stewardship, the Committee offers the following protocol to departing members including concomitant issues concerning real and personal property.

Procedure

a. Before any vote by a congregation on whether to leave the Episcopal Church, a period of reflection and discernment of at least 30 days shall occur. The period of reflection and discernment should include “live” presentations directly to the congregation on behalf of the Diocese by persons appointed by the Bishop.

b. Voting on the issue to leave the Episcopal Church shall occur at a special congregational meeting called by the vestry after at least ten (10) days notice of the time, place and object of the meeting having been given either on an occasion of public worship or by other adequate means to the rector, each vestry member, and the congregation. (The Bishop’s appointees may appear at the meeting.)

c. As a predicate to any such congregational meeting, the vestry, by at least a seventy percent (70%) majority of all members, shall have voted to recommend to the congregation that it leave the Episcopal Church.

d. Any vestry members voting against such departure shall be afforded an opportunity to submit in writing and/or orally, and distribute to the congregation, their reasons for voting not to leave.

e. All adult communicants in good standing, registered in the particular church in question, shall be entitled to vote at the congregational meeting. The voting shall be by ballot in person and a 70% majority of the votes cast shall be necessary to support such withdrawal from the Episcopal Church.

f. If the required voting percentage is achieved, a second vote shall be taken. The question presented shall be, “Should the real and personal property of ____________ (name of parish/mission) be offered to the departing congregation?

g. If the second vote passes by a 70% majority, the amount of payment to the Diocese for its claim to the real and personal property and the terms of such payment shall be determined by agreement, after disclosure of the nature and amount of the parish assets, between representatives of the departing congregation and representatives of the Diocese, appointed by the Bishop. The representatives of the Diocese should include a representative of the remaining congregation, if available. In approaching their agreement, we urge the parties to be guided by principles of fairness, equity and Christian charity.

h. Any agreement will require the further consent of the Bishop, Standing Committee, and Executive Board.

i. The departing members of the congregation shall not include the word “Episcopal” in any “name” it chooses.

There are many other issues – for example: inclusion of the members of a congregation who wish to stay in the Episcopal Church if the congregational vote is to leave – that we have wrestled with and that will require the input of other members of the Body. Notwithstanding the division which may cause some to “walk apart”, we shall earnestly seek to find areas of cooperative ministries in “as close a union as possible.” What we hope to communicate is that there is a way forward that will require faithful humility and forbearance on the part of all of us, if we wish to model something of Christ’s costly reconciling love. Given the state of the world in which we live, we believe we are called as a Diocese to work together and that we will respond to that call.

We end this short epistle on another note of hope. You may have learned that some parishes, considering whether to remain in the Diocese, will be entering a forty-day period of fasting, prayer, and discernment later this fall. We recommend that it would be good for all us, all 192 parishes and missions that make up our church family, to be intentional about reflection and prayer for one another as we all seek God’s guidance and grace, especially this year as we pray for the Diocese of Virginia as we prepare to elect a Bishop Coadjutor.

Imagine for a moment if we agree to fast for six Fridays, agreeing to donate what we would have spent on food to feed the poor. Imagine what we, the Diocese of Virginia, ninety thousand baptized strong, could do to alleviate some of the misery amongst us, and just as importantly, witness to our essential unity in Christ, albeit in trying times.

We acknowledge the challenges we face, we maintain our confidence in god and we are called to remember the words of Jeremiah; “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (ESV; Jeremiah 29:11).

We believe that every parish, cluster of parishes, or regions, should be free to develop its own approach to this forty-day period.

Close is a relational word.

We pray that all of us stay close to the Holy Spirit and to one another as we navigate these turbulent waters knowing that Christ promises to be with us always, even to the end of the ages.

The Bishop's committee, by unanimous agreement,

The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, Bishop of Virginia, Convener

Hugo Blankingship, Jr., Chancellor, the Falls Church, Falls Church; former Chancellor for the Diocese of Virginia.

The Rev. Andrew T.P. Merrow, Rector, St. Mary’s Arlington; former member of the Executive Board of the Diocese of Virginia; Chair of the Diocese of Virginia’s Task Force on Reconciliation.

Russell V. Palmore, Jr., Committee Chair, Chancellor, the Diocese of Virginia; member of St. Paul’s, Richmond.

The Rev. Caroline Smith Parkinson, Rector, Grace Church, The Plains; former President of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia.

The Rev. John Yates, II, Rector, The Falls Church, Falls Church.

Thomas D. Yates, Trustee, Truro Church, Fairfax.

Received by the Diocese of Virginia's Standing Committee and Executive Board without amendment, Nov. 9, 2006.

15 comments:

Kevin said...

Well I got my dates a little off -- that's what you get w/o research but memory and a Firefox calendar add-on.

Anonymous said...

http://www.boston.com/news/local/massachusetts/articles/2007/07/18/for_episcopal_church_fissure_deepens/

This is the right way to do it. Holding on to "your" property has brought you nothing but pain and suffering. You should all have just walked away.

Kevin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kevin said...

Hi Anon:

Your link does not lead anywhere :(

Is the parishes which left for AMiA, leaving the building, and the diocese is going to court anyway, trying to freeze funds and all that? (Reference 37:42 on Anglican Report Episode 31)

It seems to me TEC is just being unreasonable, they seem to think everything is theirs, including my funds? I bet they'll be surprised when they actually met the true owner.

Does any of these going back on ones word (DioVA and the protocol) or suing anyone at a drop of a hat including vestry folks or ones who do leave the property behind ... does any of that bother you? Doesn't this strike you maybe a tad unChristian?

Kevin said...

Hi Anon:

It's me again, I think I found the error and it appears you are linking to the same story from T19.

It had two interesting bits.

One you are probably referencing:

"Murdoch's congregation, which averages about 300 worshipers each Sunday, will have to turn over its three buildings and a $1 million endowment to the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. The congregation is planning to buy a closed Catholic church in Amesbury and start over as All Saints Anglican"

And my point about the AMiA parishes which generally leave w/o a fight BUT ARE BEING SUED ANYWAYS:

"Previous departures have been divisive. In Attleboro, the diocese is suing its former parishioners over the handling of church assets, and similar lawsuits have been filed around the country."

Sorry but I give to my parish and not to the national church, that's not ancestral money, it's yearly budgeted.

Just plain mean, in my opinion.

Kevin said...

Even MORE:

"Giuffrida, who was served with the suit late Thursday afternoon, would not comment on the particulars, but said that despite the suit, he would still be willing to discuss the issues with the diocese out of court, which his parish has attempted to do in the past.

The suit comes just as All Saints Anglican is preparing to buy the former Hebron United Methodist Church on South Main Street, now known as the Hebron Village Outreach Center.

As part of the lawsuit, attorneys for the diocese have asked for a preliminary injunction to freeze the assets of the Anglican parish to prevent the use of any disputed funds toward the building purchase.
"

'No talking, let's ignore 1 Cor 6 and sue, sue, sue' -- Just plain mean, in my opinion.

Anam Cara said...

You go, Kevin!

I personally don't have the emotional energy to spend in a fight of any kind. I've been drained by the Episcopal Church and can't do it. That's probably the main reason I say to just leave. It is too exhausting to fight. I am so tired just by the thought of the struggle that it is hard for me to even encourage anyone else. It may also be that as a military spouse I moved 19 times in 30 years and had to leave things behind with each move. Perhaps that has made it easier for me to walk away.

But I applaude those who do try to keep what they paid for with their labors and the fruits of their labors. As far as I can tell, the national church produces nothing that the local church needs to "buy" with the annual head tax.

No, I agree with you. And it's not only "plain mean" is is mean SPIRITED.

Anon, if you are the one who has been defending +Lee based on your grandparents loving him years ago, I can tell you that while I do not know him, I have been told by people that the recent developments are not at all in his character as they know him. They all have nothing but good things to say about him in the past tense. He was cordial, warm, considerate, all one would hope to find in a shepherd they tell me.

But there has been a drastic change in that demeanor based on his recent communications. Something must account for the difference. Either someone else is running the show or he has changed suddenly, dramaticly, and radically. Perhaps your grandparents would not be enamoured with the +Lee we are seeing currently whether because of a personality change or relinquishing the authority that is his to someone else.

In the words of Forest Gump, "That's all I've got to say about that."

write kathy said...

We walked away from our church without as much as a hymnal. Our bishop says we have nothing to fear from him, but don't believe him. We shook the dust of the TEC from our sandals, and are moving forward. Everytime I feel afraid I keep singing one of two hymns in my head-" We Are the Body of Christ" and "They Will Know We Are Christians". Two songs that drove his predecessor buggy.

Anonymous said...

"Received by the Diocese of Virginia's Standing Committee and Executive Board without amendment, Nov. 9, 2006."

"Received by" does not equal "approved by".

Bishop Lee & the Standing Committee made this "painfully clear" (double entendre intended) to the congregations before votes were taken.

Ask any lawyer about what "meeting of the minds" means in contract law. Your court cases may well hang on this distinction.

-miserable sinner

BabyBlue said...

We were not thinking about lawsuits when this protocol was written. It was bathed in prayer and extraordinary courage on the part of all the participants - you couldn't get a wider diversity of people, including the bishop himself. You do feel the heartbreak, don't you, Anon? Something happened - and perhaps we may never know what it was.

bb

Kevin said...

Sorrow yes, yet not without warning.

I shared in with you in an email on 7/9/06 what was shown in a series dreams -- of course it all seemed silly at the time, +Lee kept his word that Martyn could not be both rector and bishop but made arrangement that +Minns could still be "Priest-in-Charge," these talks say there last three session - it took ten 3 hour meeting and the first seven were just to learn to trust on another ...

Honestly I felt crazy for what my eyes saw and what I was shown was very different. It's kind of odd to see something like I was shown begin to come to pass ...

Anonymous said...

Please forgive if the tone is too harsh -

"We were not thinking about lawsuits when this protocol was written."

Then Hugo Blankingship and Russell Palmore should turn in their bar cards. Any lawyer worth his salt, and I am sure these two gents exceed that standard by a country mile, knew what the stakes were here. I'm sure others knew as well.

I hope it was all done prayerfully and in good Christian charity. I trust it was. But c'mon, this wasn't a series of Cursillo Weekend planning sessions.

These were pre-negotiations on the fate thousands of members in good standing of the Diocese of Virginia and the disposition of tens of millions of dollars worth of real and other property.

At this point at least, that the stakes were high, has become all too obvious.

Again, if the tone offends, my apologies,
-miserable sinner

BabyBlue said...

You bet it was done prayerfully - it was a listening process (remember those?). TEC loves to talk about "the listening process" and this was an extraordinary listening process where the parties really heard each other and together developed - through that listening process - a protocol that would provide for amicable separation with the closest communion possible. When 815 (and perhaps others who opposed Bishop Lee in the Diocese) intervened, that process was shot to hell - at least for now.

Cynicism reigns in these 815 lawsuits.

bb

Kevin said...

"Then Hugo Blankingship and Russell Palmore should turn in their bar cards. Any lawyer worth his salt, and I am sure these two gents exceed that standard by a country mile, knew what the stakes were here."

Any lawyer worth their salt also knows a bad settlement is better than a good trial.

However the stakes involve more than just property. Outside TFC & Truro the properties are not stellar, St. Paul's is nice but Church of the Word is in poor location due to development. DioVA can't seem to get Christ the Redeemer name or location correct (paid lawyers can but not DioVA staff) and they hold very little. I know for sure Truro & TFC are corporate entities so there would be no reason to name clergy and vestry in a mere property dispute.

If property were the only considerations, I believe it would be structured differently. Also there was such a radical shift in January, not that it was not warned in Dec. 1 letter, in fact +Lee even send the coded message blaming 815 in it. It was mention at the first of the year that there were property talks with DioVA to all of TFC by Wright+.

I believe other folks have other ideas and maybe for their own purposes. Things changed rapidly in a different direction. Some of the haste can be seen in imposing priest who are not conically resident in VA, merely licensed.

"at least for now.

they were "as" statements, if the Lord has chosen to honor - yet another would be required to confirm.

Kevin said...

Such strange times be these
I am not one to dream.
In day gone by visions
were realm of another.

Yet, so many long since then
and a long silence of sleep.
Awaken quite rudely a time ago,
yet never fully understanding.

What I saw merely a month ago
may have come to pass this evening.
Odd that this morn was another
the director and dad is nonsense
balcony of my worship home

the one who I saw a month ago
tonight makes his appearance.
Seeking Christ, I'm assured
trouble for you I do not know.