April 4, 2008
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
In this Easter season, we celebrate the power, hope and joy of our Lord's resurrection and the diversity of the gifts we share as one.
Life in the Diocese of Virginia is vibrant. Churches are gearing up for summer mission trips. Shrine Mont is preparing for another session of campers. Clergy and lay employees will soon gather at Shrine Mont for our annual Clergy and Lay Employee Retreat. Your bishops are witnessing the essential mission of the Church by visiting our sisters and brothers in the Episcopal Church in Sudan. I returned today from Sudan where I officiated at the opening of a new secondary school funded by members of the Diocese, and preached to a congregation of 1,400 in the outdoor cathedral in the Diocese of Rumbek. Bishop Johnston will be there for the enthronement of long-time diocesan mission partner Bishop Daniel Deng Bul as Archbishop and Primate later this month. I spent two days with Bishop Daniel, who continues to be grateful for his partnership with the Diocese of Virginia. The Virginia Theological Seminary will award an honorary degree to Archbishop Daniel in May of this year.
In the midst of living out this mission, the Circuit Court of Fairfax County issued an opinion in our case involving departing congregations who are wrongfully occupying Episcopal Church property. While the Court decided it was appropriate for the CANA congregations to file their claims under Virginia's division statute, it recognized the importance of the constitutional questions surrounding that statute, and will consider our position at a hearing set for May. It is essential for all of us to recognize that this was not a final decision, and the Court did not award any property or assets. We remain hopeful that the Court will recognize the right of the Episcopal Church--and all churches--to govern ourselves according to our own faith and doctrine.
The Diocese is proceeding with its efforts to preserve Episcopal Church property. Beyond May, the Court has scheduled the second part of the trial concerning property rights and an additional constitutional issue for October of this year. And while it is with regret that we continue these legal proceedings, it is also with the conviction that we are ensuring an Episcopal legacy for years to come. Four Episcopal congregations continue to worship in exile from their home church buildings, and we remain fully committed to offer continued support during these lengthy proceedings. Particularly on this day, please hold the clergy and congregations of Epiphany, Oak Hill; The Falls Church, Falls Church; St. Margaret's, Woodbridge; and St. Stephen's, Heathsville in your prayers.
The legal proceedings can be confusing, lengthy and frustrating, but your prayers and messages of hope provide the vital support needed by those most affected by this regrettable controversy.
Peter James Lee