Thursday, May 22, 2008

Diocese of Virginia: Short-term Memory Loss?

Once again it appears that the Diocese of Virginia has conveniently forgotten that it constituted a Standstill Agreement with the Virginia churches that voted to separate following the Virginia statute 57-9. Oops.

It continues to be missing from the Diocese of Virginia's website, as if it never existed.

It's existence is a problem for the Diocese and for The Episcopal Church because the agreement, requested by the Bishop of Virginia himself, assured all the parties that no adversarial litigation would be filed. And none was.

That standstill agreement recognized that the filing of reports or petitions by voting congregations in accordance with the Virginia 57-9 did not constitute adverse litigation otherwise prohibited by the standstill agreement. No one sued anyone.

Here is the Standstill Agreement in its entirety, signed by the Diocese of Virginia:

TERMS OF STANDSTILL AGREEMENT
APPROVED BY THE STANDING COMMITTEE
AND EXECUTIVE BOARD
OF THE DIOCESE OF VIRGINIA
DECEMBER 18, 2006

1. The Diocese of Virginia ("Diocese") and The Episcopal Church ("TEC"):

a. will not initiate any attempt to take possession the congregations' property.
b. will not initiate any canonical or ecclesiastical actions against the congregations or their clergy or vestries.
c. will not initiate any civil legal action against the congregations, their clergy, their vestries, or their trustees.
d. will permit the congregations' clergy and stay to continue to pay premiums and receive benefits under the Diocesan health care plan until at least January 31, 2007.

2. The congregations:

a. will not initiate any transfer or conveyance of their property.
b. will not initiate any civil legal action against The Diocese/TEC, but may report their congregations determinations by filing a petition/report with the relevant VA Circuit Courts pursuant to Va. Code 57-9 without violating the agreement. The congregations' Va. Code 57-9 filings will state that notice has been provided to The Diocese/TEC. The congregations will not take any further steps to bring the Va. Code 57-9 filings to judgment. Upon the Diocese's request, the congregations will seek a stay of their Va. Code 57-9 filings. If the Diocese seeks to intervene in the Va Code 57-9 filings, the congregations will not oppose such intervention and upon the Diocese's request will jointly with the Diocese move to stay the filings. In not opposing the intervention, the congregation of course reserve the right to contest the Diocese/TEC's alleged interest in the property.

3. The Diocese/TEC and each of the congregations:

a. will seek in good faith to negotiate with each other an amicable resolution of their differences concerning the property and clergy status.
b. may terminate the agreement by giving 7 days notice to all other parties, but this shall not affect the agreement between any remaining parties unless they independently invoke their right to terminate. This Agreement shall terminate on January 18, 2007 unless renewed by mutual agreement.

The Agreement was terminated by the Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church and their termination was followed by their filing of lawsuits against those the Bishop of Virginia once declared he wanted to remain in as close as communion as possible with.

Even now, that continues to be our prayer. Even now.

20 comments:

Kevin said...

I still think the Protocol is more of the forgotten document than the Stand Still Agreement ... but we've discussed that.

Anonymous said...

Hey BB,

I thought that the agreement "expired" because it was not re-signed. I thought the Standstill Agreement had a deadline for expiration and the Diocese simply did not re-sign another agreement or an extended agreement. If that is the case than the Agreement was not "terminated" it was simply not renewed, which is a different matter.

Could you clarify which it was?


Sarah

Anonymous said...

+Lee gave 7 days notice to all other parties that he was not going to renew the agreement thus it terminate on January 18, 2007, so it expired but with a 7 day warning.

Steven in Falls Church said...

BB--Thanks for keeping the light on this issue. While the Diocese did properly give notice of its intent not to renew the Agreement, it violated Para. 3.a, by which the signatories agreed to "seek in good faith to negotiate with each other an amicable resolution of their differences concerning the property and clergy status." During the effective period of the Agreement, the departing parishes contacted representatives of the Diocese in an attempt to open negotiations and were rebuffed. The failure of the Diocese even to meet to negotiate constituted a violation of the Agreement's actual terms, as well as spirit.

Kevin said...

Steven - Your presentation about being rebuffed is in direct contradiction to what was said by Re. Wright the week before things changed.

BabyBlue said...

The Standstill was created with the expectation that it would be renewed as we went through the Bishop's negotiation process. It provided a framework in which we could go forward. There was confidence that since the Chancellor of the Diocese, the outgoing President of the Standing Committee (and future bishop nominee) and the chair of the Reconciliation Commission along with the Bishop himself had negotiated the Protocol that we were following, that we could trust the process.

The Standstill permitted a sure-footing that we would negotiate in good faith. And it's still not on the Diocesan website. Including it on the website changes the story the Diocese and TEC are attempting to rewrite. It reminds us all that their pants are on fire.

When the bishop called it all off before we'd even been able to renew the Standstill once, everything went south following the Bishop and the Diocesan leadership's meeting with the new Presiding Bishop's chancellor, David Booth Beers - just days before the Standstill was cancelled. It was clear later that the Episcopal Church of Katharine Jefferts Schori had a completely different view than her predecessor under whom the Protocol had been negotiated (remember, the Virginia Chancellor was also a member of TEC's Executive Council - hello?).

Why the Diocese keeps rewriting history as though The Episcopal Church is the victim rather than the fact that the Episcopal Church is a multi-million dollar corporation that has been violating its own canons and mission for years and thousands of Virginia residents voted their conscience to separate from a Church following a protocol designed by the Diocese itself is, well - tragic.

Judge Bellows put it best: "the creation of a level of distress among many church members so profound and wrenching as to lead them to cast votes in an attempt to disaffiliate from a church which has been their home and heritage throughout their lives, and often back for generations."

TEC and the Diocese are not victims. The protection of religious liberty in the Bill of Rights is for individuals - regular people in the pews. It does not constitute a protected and privileged status that a heretical group can hijack a denomination from the inside and undermine its own canons and constitution against those who are seeking to remain in the historic Christian faith sans social renovations that the scriptures call sin. As we've said before, we did not leave the church - the church has left us. If our Virginia ancestors were to rise from their graves and discover what heresy was being preached from the pulpits, would they not be as alarmed as we are? What of Bishop Moore and Bishop Meade - what would they say? No, really - what would they say of the sort of things this Episcopal Church is actively promoting?

What we have a division of the first magnitude, to quote Judge Bellows again, and the idea that TEC and the Diocese are victims is, well, blinking at reality.

bb

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

I still may differ in opinion, but our perspectives are probably very different.

May you have the peace that truly passes all understanding today and this upcoming week.

Kevin

DavidH said...

Keep beating that dead horse, BB. I'll keep giving the same response:

1. The Standstill is irrelevant.

2. You went to court first. Uncontroverable fact. You did not just file "reports". You filed petitions seeking to have a court declare that you have title and control to the property.

3. You fail to comprehend the Standstill provision you like so much. If the 57-9 petitions were not civil legal action (nice attempt to change of the words of the agreement, by the way), there would have been no need for an exception for them. And yet, such an exception appears.

4. Judge Bellows repeatedly calls you the plaintiffs in his opinion. That's what you are. Deal with it.

And finally, to Steven, no one violated the Standstill. It does not require any specific negotiation steps. As I understand it, the Diocese concluded, both from its discussions with TEC and from its interactions with your side, that a settlement was not going to be possible. So the Diocese decided not to renew it, something it was entirely entitled to do.

DavidH said...

No one disputes that the property used by 8 of the 9 CANA churches with property is held by trustees elected locally. That's how the Diocese of Virginia and many other groups have decided to arrange things. The question is: who are they trustees for?

You went to court because you wanted the court to declare that they were trustees for you and only you. Whether that's a change is the issue, I suppose. But don't go on about even more irrelevant stuff like whether there's been a transfer -- no one's saying there has been.

BabyBlue said...

Hi DavidH, thanks for posting. As the Standstill says, we "may report their congregations determinations by filing a petition/report with the relevant VA Circuit Courts pursuant to Va. Code 57-9 without violating the agreement." And so we did.

The Diocese - at least then before 815 intervened and dramatically changed strategies with the election of Bishop Schori and her punitive approach - agreed that our filing the results of our votes was not a hostile act. Now they act as though they want us all to forget that fact and so we keep putting up the Standstill. You see, it poses a problem for the Diocese's timeline. We never transfered the property because the property is in the hands of our trustees - not the Diocese, It's not been necessary. Let me say that again, our property is held by our elected trustees, not the diocese or the bishop. So there was no need to transfer the property.

This is very important.

It was the diocese that intervened, taking the view that the property is theirs. And then in addition to that, they filed suit - not just against the church trustees, but personally against 200 lay volunteers and their rectors. And then, in addition to that, TEC also filed suit and did the same thing.

The Diocese/TEC first tried to assert that the property had been abandoned and we were trespassing in our own church, but the courts said, forgetaboutit.

So that went up the flagpole.

Later the judge questioned TEC and the Diocese about why they had sued all the lay volunteers and their rectors and so that was dropped from their lawsuits.

So that went up the flagpole.

The court decided to take on the 57-9 filings first (which as the Standstill illustrates, was not a hostile act according to the Diocese) and whether we had satisfied the statute instead of dealing with the Diocese/TEC lawsuits. That didn't sit well, so the Diocese/TEC objected and that is why they are called "defendants." But we are the defendants in their lawsuits. The petitions are not lawsuits, they are the recording of our votes and according to this standstill that recording, at least on the date of the standstill, was not hostile. Are we clear?

Since I was there, I can tell you that the Standstill was meant to be renewed for at least three months. It gave breathing space to what was a very difficult time. Judge Bellows noted that in his decision. This wasn't a time filled with glee, it was sorrowful. Many tears were shed, at least on our side of the divide.

I remember it clearly. We were instructed by the bishop after our vote and filing to elect two people to his Property Committee (he had originally called it his "Let's Get On With It" Committee but decided, I guess, that wasn't the best name for a committee. Each church were to elect two representatives to begin the negotiations. We hadn't transfered property - we still haven't. IS THAT UNDERSTOOD? The property remains in the name of our trustees.

So we did as Bishop Lee requested, we elected our two representatives. This was following the "test case" that had all ready been done with All Saints Dale City. All Saints had gone forward as a test for how we all could conduct negotiations. So there was a model for us to follow. It was a good model, it showed us that we could move forward with grace.

So we elected our two representatives on a Sunday evening. We called a special Vestry meeting to do it. We elected our lawyer and our former Senior Warden who is the head of Justice Fellowship and who works full time in reconciliation and justice issues. That was on a Sunday. We hadn't even had one meeting yet with Bishop Lee's Property Committee. We were still under the Standstill Agreement.

The next day, David Booth Beers met with Bishop Lee, the Executive Board, and the Standing Committee. That was Monday.

On Wednesday, we were called together for yet another emergency Vestry meeting and informed that the Bishop had cancelled his Property Committee, we were notified that the Standstill would not be renewed, and that our two elected representatives were left out in the cold. I remember that night very well.

I learned through reading a blog called "The Llama Butchers" (which is in the links section on the front page) that one of the bloggers there was serving on a Vestry at a Episcopal Church in McLean. That church included one of the Bishop's appointed negotiators. That "negotiator" made no secret at his church Vestry meetings that he was going to do everything in his power to sue us instead of negotiating, agreeing with David Booth Beers. This blogger was alarmed by what he was hearing, and so he posted what this member was saying and I read that online. Something was very wrong.

Sure enough, we were soon sued by not only Bishop Lee (and that still boggles the mind) but also Katharine Jefferts Schori. But we still hadn't done anything but file our votes and elect our representatives to the Bishop's Property Committee as we all had agreed to do. It was the Bishop's incentive to create the Standstill and it was the Bishop's incentive to create the Property Committee. We agreed to all of it.

But something funny happened at those meetings with David Booth Beers on that Monday in January 2007. Later Beers would be seen screaming at one of our trustees that he would spend millions to destroy us. Not exactly inspiring.

I suppose it's no wonder that the Diocese does put up the Standstill up on their website. It is a, to coin a phrase, inconvenient truth.

And so we do, whenever the Diocese releases another one of it's selective memory press releases, put it back up. For me, it represented a good faith effort and a sincere hope that somehow, through prayer and faith and trust and hard work, we would find a way to remain in as close a communion as possible and offer as a gift to the the rest of the Church a better way, a Virginia way, a Christ-honoring way that would not bring more injury but could lay a foundation that some day, God willing, we could be reconciled.

bb

BabyBlue said...

Sorry, I was editing my comments and it got reposted after yours. Actually the Diocese continues to maintain in public statements and at church councils that we were transferring the property when we filed our petitions. Others have said we were suing the diocese to take their property. The standstill makes it clear this is, to put it kindly, untrue.

That is an option, by the way, when you file petitions. But we didn't do it because our property is held by our elected trustees. It was not necessary.

As for understanding the historic relationship of the parishes to the Diocese in the Commonwealth of Virginia - it was the parishes that created the diocese, not the other way around. It was a senior rector who was sent to London to be consecrated after the Revolution. He didn't do much when he got back, just went back to his parish. He never stopped being a rector. Virginia was never a missionary diocese. The Church used to be the established Church of Virginia, modeled after the Church of England. There was no separation between the House of Burgess (which I have ancestors who served in that body) and the Church. When the Brits were run off, that left the parishes on their own. With the institution of religious liberty, the Anglican Church lost it's privileged status (how ironic it now seeks to have a privilege status again over the People's individual religious liberty and the right to vote).

Frankly, they'd been on their own from the beginning because the Bishop of London never bothered to come visit. So that bred a certain type of Anglican Church, one with a robust lay leadership and an active Protestant oriented Morning Prayer and rarely Eucharist (it's only since the renewal in Virginia that evangelical parishes have started to do regular Eucharist - The Falls Church still does it only once a month, last time I checked). Anglo Catholics were forced back over the Potomac, not welcomed in Virginia as I learned from the rector of St. Mary's and the son of a leading Anglo Catholic priest who suffered much.

The property belonged to the parishes. Some of the parishes elected to go with the American Anglican entity after the revolution, and others did not. In my family home in Virginia, Buckingham Court House, the historic Anglican parish - with the buildings still standing today, even as the Civil War marched right through - elected not to remain Anglican but became Baptist, which is remains to be to this day. In fact, their property was only transfered at the end of the 19th century. The Episcopal Church just ignored them all those years. Chose your battles. My great-great-great-great-etc. grandfather is buried at the church, Capt. John Flood.

Since the Vestries originally ran the government, the Episcopal church in Virginia has been decentralized for most of its history. The parishes planted the diocese, not the other way around. Never did the diocese require that all the deeds of the parishes be transferred to the bishop. And one can only imagine what would have happened if a bishop dared.

As we've seen, 815 is selective in how they observe the canons and the constitution of the church. The most recent House of Bishops meeting was a travesty of justice, where the canons were not even followed in such a gross way that charges are being raised against the Presiding Bishop and several dioceses and diocesan bishops have called for an investigation. That they could selectively take one of their acts at a General Convention and then impose it without consent on the local parishes is exactly what we spent all those years getting rid of the British over.

Now we have the Presiding Bishop this week poo-pooing the democratic process of voting as being so passé, a questionable process that produces winners and losers. Sorry Dr. King. It's frankly outrageous. They are constantly moving the goal posts and changing the rules. Well, that doesn't work in a court of law.

Now we see that the Episcopal Church has decided that their religious freedoms are being denied, even as they deny the sacred act of liberty of 7,000 Virginians and their families voting their conscience to separate from an organization that no longer upholds its own charter and mission.

It is then no wonder then that 815 pressures the diocese to suppress their own Standstill Agreement, an inconvenient truth.

Where will the goal post go next?

bb

DavidH said...

Your posts are full of detail BB, but that that doesn't make them accurate.

The Diocese says your petitions sought a transfer because the Diocese believes that it was the rightful owner of the property before the votes. You say there's no transfer because you always owned the property. That's why you're both in court now. Don't pretend surprise or dismay at the fact that the Diocese's press releases express its legal position.

Parishes and vestries were governmental organizations in the timeframe that you're talking about (the formation of the Diocese). In fact, Episcopal congregations in Virginia have never been independent.

"even as they deny the sacred act of liberty of 7,000 Virginians and their families voting their conscience to separate from an organization that no longer upholds its own charter and mission"

Give me a break. No one says you can't vote your conscience and leave. The Diocese and TEC just say you have to leave the property behind.

No one says you can't conclude that TEC has departed from its charter and mission. The Diocese and TEC just say you can't ask the courts to enforce that by giving you the property.

Anonymous said...

Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Pray for her - pray for us all. Uncle Bill

BabyBlue said...

Again, the Diocese continues to struggle with the inconvenient truth that it held one position when Frank Griswold was Presiding Bishop and that position was radically changed when Katharine Jefferts Schori took over. The position my Vestry took after our vote is that we would negotiate, as our sister church All Saints Dale City had all ready done (and believe me, TEC tried to intervene in that deal at the very end, but it was too late, the ink was all ready dry). The inconvenient truth is that the Virginia Churches were left alone at the negotiating table. The actions we took, as difficult as they were, were not considered hostile by the diocese - they were expected. After all, the bishop had created his committee to design the protocol for us to follow to do this in a reasonable way, avoiding acrimony and attempting to take steps toward remaining in as close as communion as possible. It was the bishop's protocol, the report written by his chancellor who also served on the Episcopal Church Executive Council.

For what ever reason - perhaps we'll never know - every thing changed when Schori took over and handed the reigns to her chancellor. It was the Diocese and The Episcopal Church that chose to take this through the courts instead of coming together reasonably and with charity. The rhetoric that now is directed at our churches and our people is so diametrically opposed to all we hoped for.

The day may come when we'll walk away, now up to 12,000 Anglicans and perhaps more in Virginia. Where we'll leave our home churches behind and the Diocese and TEC will have to figure out what to do with it all. That day could come. Who can know what the future holds but the Lord?

But it appears from the actions that TEC and the Diocese take that they are quite worried, quite worried indeed that this is not what's going to happen and the ramifications, that the division in The Episcopal Church is real and the property will be divided will illustrate that in fact, what happened at General Convention in 2003 was not God's will after all.

bb

Kevin said...

Davidh -- Neither are you completely accurate either, BB presentation of name on title is correct. DioVA is making a claim to the title, but in strictest sense their name never was on the title therefore it is the Diocese which is seeking a claim to the way you are presenting is plainly wrong.

Kevin said...

Uncle Bill -- I thought the performance fair, some of the interpretation not my favorite, but considering how much we paid, it was wonderful ... Oh, you weren't just being excited about opening night Free for All version of Hamlet?

;-p

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it seem logical that if the DioVA and TEC were sure of their position that all documents would be laid out for the world to see?

Fortunately, we are blessed with a judge who seems thorough in his efforts to get to the facts and the truth.

Tyrants always tell the big lie; unfortunately, the blogosphere is hard for tyrants to control. bb, you draw the ire and protestations of DavidH because you present facts, and your understanding of the history of the dispute is accurate.

RalphM

DavidH said...

Kevin,

BB hasn't presented the name on the title. More to the point, as I said earlier, because what's in dispute is the holder of the beneficial interest in the property, the legal title holder (the name on the title) is not the critical issue. It will be considered by the court, sure, but it is neither entirely clear nor determinative. BB probably disagrees about clarity, but she's not dumb, and neither are her lawyers, so she won't try to tell you that the name on the title is all that matters under Virginia law.

BabyBlue said...

The property is held by the trustees (we have a lot of titles - there's not just one title, there are many, many titles). The Commonwealth of Virginia does not recognize implied trusts. The titles of all the Roman Catholic church property is in the name of the Roman Catholic Bishop. Since Real Estate law is state law, it behooved the Diocese to require the parishes to transfer the titles over to the Bishop of Virginia. One can only imagine what would have happened if he'd done that. We don't even have assessments in Virginia, how could the bishop then take the titles of all the properties? He does have title over some of the properties - for example, Church of Word bought land to build a new church, but that title was in the name of the bishop and so they have walked away from that land. But this is not the case in most of the properties which continue to held in trust by the elected trustees.

Fascinating release from the brand new "secretary" of the Diocese of Virginia, litigator Henry Burke. Again, you see the rewriting of history continue in his letter today when he writes that we sued to have the property transferred to us. I wonder if his pants were on fire when he wrote it. That is false. And that is why the Diocese cannot put the Standstill Agreement up on their website. It shows that when we filed our votes with the court, the Diocese did not see that as a hostile action. It wasn't until after the Standstill was abandoned by Bishop Lee that our relationships deteriorated.

Henry is rewriting history when he writes, "They used a little-known, Reconstruction-era statute of the Virginia Code - the §57-9 "Division Statute" - to sue for court-approved transfer of Episcopal church property in violation of the Episcopal Church's faith-based structure, or polity, and its Constitution and Canons, which order that polity."

The Virginia Protocol is indeed based on that statute! The voting procedures agreed to were based both on that statute as well as on the canons of the diocese itself! We all agreed! The chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia wrote the report! The Standstill Agreement, which was drawn up through the initiative of Bishop Lee illustrates that our filing of our votes with the court was not a hostile action. We certainly did not "sue for court-approved transfer of Episcopal church property" because we don't need to! Hello! As we know from sworn court testimony, David Booth Beers and Katharine Jefferts Schori intervened and worked hard to shut the whole thing down until they finally did it, just days before we would begin formal talks.

Another pants on fire moment is when Henry writes, "It is important that we remember that at the center of this dispute are our faithful sister and brother Episcopalians who wish simply to return to their church homes and worship there as Episcopalians." Well that's false. At Truro we are all together. At Truro (and believe me, the Diocese is still trying to form a shadow - they have priests calling our offices asking for names of those who voted to remain in the Diocese so they can ring them and woo them, an effort that continues to fail). Those who voted to remain in the Diocese remain in our congregation, part of our community life. It's not easy for them - but we love them. We need them! They are precious to us all. They are part of our family. I have known many of them for twenty years, they are part of my life.

When we voted there was a larger majority of our super majority that voted that the majority should retain the property (which was part of the Protocol). In other words, those who voted to remain in the Diocese cared more about keeping our church family together than jumping ship into a shadow.

Also, as we prepared for the Bishop's Property Committee, we had arranged for a priest who would remain in the Diocese to conduct Episcopal services in our chapel for anyone who wanted them. Again the door would be open. The Falls Church did the same. In fact, Bishop Lee initially inhibited the priest who was designated to be the Episcopal priest at The Falls Church - oops.

Bishop Lee has now prohibited our Episcopal priest from participating in leading worship now - he's banned by Bishop Lee from celebrating the Eucharist - even in the Chapel. That would not look so good for these press releases put out for the Diocese if in fact we extended that right hand of fellowship, as we intended to do. That Episcopal priest continue to remain in our fellowship.

Now we learn that 815 is paying the salary of the shadow priest for the shadow congregation in the Falls Church. This is an 815 dominated effort, though we still do not know where they are getting the millions to finance all of this litigation. If Schori and Beers had not reversed the position of Schori's predecessor that these issues are matters for the local diocese, not for 815 (and remember, the Virginia chancellor who wrote the Protocol was also an elected member of the Episcopal Church's Diocesan Board). Everything changed when Schori moved in.

It is then no wonder that the Virginia Protocol, the Standstill Agreement, or Bishop Lee's own personal contribution to our voting process - a video he made - is not on in the list of the resources at the Diocesan website? There's no mention of the Reconciliation Report or the Bishop's Special Committee. They do not fit the "revised" history. That's why they are called "revisonists." Have picked out the troubling bits out of the Bible and Anglican doctrine, they now seek to do the same with history and the law.

Episcopalians are welcome at our churches. They are members of our churches. If the church doors are locked, they are locked on the TEC side, not ours. We did not leave - the Episcopal Church left us.

bb