Loudoun Episcopal rectors have been at the forefront of the split in the Episcopal church since 2006 when the Rev. Phil Ashey of the South Riding Church and Clancy made history by being the first and second congregations in Virginia to leave the mainstream Episcopal Church and realign with the Anglican church in Uganda. The congregations disagreed with the 2003 consecration of V. Gene Robinson as the world's first open homosexual Episcopal bishop. Also, Ashey and Clancy alleged at the time that some Episcopal churches had been denying the divinity of Jesus.
Jim Oakes, vice chairman of the churches of the Anglican District of Virginia, an association of Anglican congregations in Virginia, gave the following response: "We are sorry that Bishop Lee would seek to make such a public announcement when the clergy are no longer under his jurisdiction. The clergy he seeks to depose include a bishop-elect in the Province of Uganda, as well as a number of other ordained men and women who have faithfully carried out their pastoral duties as priests in the Church....This announcement from the Diocese of Virginia is like an employer trying to fire someone who has already quit."
Nixon of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Ashburn echoed Oakes. "It's a little bit like saying, 'You can't quit; I'm firing you.' I quit a year and a half ago," Nixon said. "The only thing this does is that it says I can't have the same benefits that other priests do or other health care and pension benefits.
"He has the power to do that and that bothers me, yeah. I wish he hadn't felt it necessary to do that. We were partners in ministry for many, many years, and I don't see the need for him to deprive me of assets. What's up with that?"
Nixon said Ashey of South Riding was not on the list because he was the first priest to leave.
"Lee dealt with him under a different canon. That one deprived him of his orders in one step. Lee received such poor press for that, he decided to go another route with the rest of us," Nixon said.
"I wish they would stop suing my friends," he added. "It's ridiculous. We had a long process worked out over years and at the last minute the bishop pulled the plug."
White of the Church of Our Saviour at Oatlands said his congregation voted 131-4 to leave the American Episcopal Church and join a diocese of the Anglican Communion Province of Nigeria.
In a two-page prepared statement, White wrote, "We are among many who are loyal to the wider Communion and the teaching and practice of Christian Church throughout history. We are loyal to a higher authority than whoever had the most votes at recent meetings of national or diocesan entities...Of course I am still a priest in holy orders. I'm just serving in a different diocese of the Anglican Communion."
White said the bishop's decision would "be appealed and appealed," with the first trial taking place Nov. 19, three days before Thanksgiving. These trials, White emphasized, would deal only with real estate issues and in no way would concern canon law. The appeals will be made in Fairfax Circuit Court under the jurisdiction of Judge Randy Bellows.
"Moving against individual clergy who have already left the Episcopal Church anyway is simply ecclesiastical, routine," White said. "Attacking the properties of whole parishes of lay members is quite different, vindictive, [meant] to intimidate. It's only when church executives have lost their spiritual authority that they have to resort to secular courts and rule by threats."
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