Monday, August 11, 2008

Back to the Court House

The next round in the litigation between The Episcopal Church/The Diocese of Virginia and the congregations in Virginia that voted to separate following Bishop Lee's protocol and the statute 57-9 (which has been found to be both applicable and constitutional on all counts but one that has yet to be ruled) is today in the Fairfax Court House.

Judge Randy Bellows will be hearing arguments concerning the property clause of the U.S. Constitution and 57-9. The Attorney General of the Commonwealth of Virginia has re-entered the case to defend the constitutionality of the statute. In addition, the Diocese has now thought up a new strategy and that is to assert that the eleven congregations "waived" 57-9 - which is sort of odd since they've never mentioned that before now. Guess we'll see what that's all about.

Again, please keep the events today in Judge Bellow's court in your prayers. I understand that millions have been spent over the last month or so by the diocese in preparation for today. Please keep your powder dry and your prayers unfurled.

NOTE: And for the record, the congregations did not sue anyone. They filed their votes with the court following the law of the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Standstill Agreement made it clear that this was not a hostile act or that the congregations were suing anyone - hardly. It was the Diocese and The Episcopal Church that called off negotiations and filed not one but two lawsuits against the eleven congregations and nearly 200 volunteers and their rectors. Let's just be clear about that.


TLF+ said...

I pray about the litigation daily, whether or not it is in the news... but so appreciate your updates and will certainly be praying with this focus throughout the day. God bless you all.

Paul said...

BB, please don't get me wrong here. I really, really want the CANA congregations to win this, but I can't see any reason for optimism.

I posted a comment on the Christianity Today Liveblog and asked for someone to give me reason to hope, but no one did.

I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that this first has to be tried at the state level before going federal. The state law has been upheld. Understood. But at a federal level, I, for the life of me, cannot see 5 Roman Catholic SCOTUS justices allowing states to enact laws that would effectively do away with hierarchical denominations, not to mention the liberal justices who would have no reason in the world to support the CANA congregations.

Can you help me here?

Anonymous said...

Because it would not be a problem for the RC. They maintain the deeds in the diocese name, so there is no way a parish could leave with the property since they don't own it. The judge in this case made specific reference to that fact and how TEC could have avoided this whole problem by requiring the same. But they didn't so now they pay the price.

BabyBlue said...

First of all, the Roman Catholic church is hierarchical. The Episcopal Church in Virginia history is not hierarchical, it has been (until recently) fiercely Protestant. The influence of the Oxford Movement was severely resisted - why Truro didn't even have Processionals to start the Sunday worship until the mid-late 20th century. And we only did Eucharist once a month until the mid-1980s - I believe The Falls Church still only does Eucharist (which we would call the Lord's Supper) once a month.

As the Diocese admitted in court, the Bishop is dependent on the charity of the laity to support him - he has no authority what so ever to compel the laity to give him money. He relies on the laity to support him, not the other way around. Not exactly a hierarchical denomination, is it - at least in Virginia. At this rate - all Protestant churches could claim to be hierarchical denominations. The deal is - who's name is on the deeds? The Bishops of Virginia were charged with knowing their own commonwealth law and if it was necessary under the Virginia law for the bishop to transfer all the property to himself, he should have done it to comply with Virginia law. But he did not - and with reason, because he could not.

In fact, in the Diocese of Virginia our lay founders made darn sure to limit the bishop's power and to strengthen the power of the lay vestries. In addition, Virginia has a history of being extremely anti-Anglo Catholic (which Bishop Lee tried to take advantage of early on by releasing press releases that talked about "foreign prelates" - alluding to the anti-Roman bias in Virginia even to this day).

The Diocese of Virginia is possibly one of the most low-churched dioceses in the Episcopal Church. The idea that a Presiding Bishop would suddenly tell the Bishop of Virginia what to do is just so historically out of bound it has to cause some consternation amongst the Great Cloud of (Virginian) Witnesses. In Virginia the power of the bishop had to be limited in order to get those churchmen who were willing to have an Anglican-style church in Virginia sign off on it. The great majority of the former churchmen in Virginia could not and did not, as I said before, including in my own family's hometown of Buckingham Court House Virginia where the Anglican building went Baptist and is still Baptist today. Virginia Anglicans never saw the Bishop of London for the first two hundred years of its founding and so for two hundred years the Anglican Church in Virginia had done just fine without the presence of a bishop. That history runs deep - even with those Episcopalians who finally assented to having a bishop, but with greatly limited power.

The premise about the Diocese of Virginia (and its own relationship to 815, which is supposed to be a charity - remember?????) as a hierarchical denominations is incorrect as we learned in the court room. As we learned in court, the bishop does have properties in his own name (he has to list and account for them every year at Diocesan Council), but he does not control the great majority of the congregations - and that's intentional. He could have tried to order the transfer of the property at any time to match his Roman Catholic counterpart, but he did not because he didn't have the authority to do that. As the Diocese admitted in court, there would have been a revolt of the laity if he had even suggested it, making the point for us that he does not have the title of our properties. Of course the laity would have revolted because the property is not deeded in his name - and this is on purpose.

So the premise about hierarchical denominations is flawed. That is the argument 815 had been trying to make, but when the facts were established in court, the Diocese of Virginia could not establish that they were hierarchical before the law - in fact, we learned the United Methodists are far more of a hierarchical denomination than we are.

All the Roman Catholic property is deeded in the name of the bishop. That is not the case - and that's on purpose - for the Diocese of Virginia. The laity have been in charge of the purse and the property - not the bishop (we have something called the Virginia Plan, the bishop can not compel askings or assessments - the vestries decide how much they will give (or not give) to the Diocesan budget - the bishop cannot compel and he can't even ask (he did try once and was defeated). And that's not only because of our long memories, but because of our low church theology. Our heritage has been as parish-centered, not bishop-centered and in my opinion that was a chief reason why the Diocese of Virginia was the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church until the eleven congregations voted to separate.

The Roman Catholic justices will also see that the Diocese of Virginia is not like the Roman Catholics in polity and practice. This is not the Diocese that 815 should have put up as an example of a hierarchical denomination - we were able to vote for a reason, a vote that was initially supported by Bishop Lee, by the way. As Rowan Williams wrote to Bishop John Howe of Central Florida, each Diocesan bishop is in direct communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury - NOT the Province. But as Rowan keeps reminding us, he does not have direct authority over those bishops. They are a communion of equals. This is theologically important and it is important for our polity. When Virginia decided to get a bishop, they went straight to London and sent over their candidate who, after he was consecrated, came back to Virginia and just went back to being a rector.

The Bishop of Virginia at the time of the Oxford Movement was vocally and firmly opposed to the Oxford Movement - in no uncertain terms. He gave speeches against it and his legacy lasted deep into Bishop Lee's tenure. In fact, in the beginning Bishop Lee used the Low Church argument to actually make his case of why he voted for Gene Robinson. He said he viewed that Gene was the Bishop of New Hampshire, not a bishop for all the church (a Catholic point of view). If New Hampshire wants him, fine - that has nothing to do with Virginia, again, a very Protestant or Low Church view. But that was Bishop Lee's argument. We shouldn't care what New Hampshire does - he's not a Bishop in Virginia.

That was the argument he used to defend his actions at General Convention 2003.

So for 815 to come riding into town with a Primate in tow, no less (I mean, there must be Virginia Churchmen just spinning in their graves over that, never mind Bishop Moore and Bishop Meade) is so outrageous in the history of the Diocese of Virginia that the facts simply could not be established in court on the matter that it is a hierarchical denomination. It's a Protestant Church with a bishop in communion with other bishops - but a bishop very limited in scope and power in Virginia. Schori, limited perhaps in her understanding of the Diocese of Virginia, may not have realized this when she threatened Bishop Lee, I don't know. And perhaps Bishop Lee, recognizing that his power was indeed limited, welcomed her intervention as a way to stop the freedom of the laity to vote their conscience, as he once labored to allow us to do until the votes did not go his way. I am more inclined to think that was so - a very cunning move on his part, at least at first. But the facts do not support such a contention. Bishop Lee does not have title to our property and he relies on the charity of the laity to pay for his budget. If the laity don't give, he cuts his budget. That's how it works in Virginia.

It took the bishop decades - deep into the 19th century before the bishop even knew which parishes remained in the Diocese and which ones went Baptist or fell into ruin after the Revolution. Truro Parish's original building was one of those that went Baptist (the property is still Baptist to this day) and then fell into ruin. That Bishop - Bishop Moore - finally had to get on horseback and go look for the congregations himself. They did not go looking for him.


ettu said...

BB- One comment and one question - firstly, I do not understand why it is important that the laity support the Bishop. Isn't it always thus? How does this distinguish/seperate TEC from the romans??
Secondly, do you see this going Federal -Supreme Court -route and, if so, will this affect how the court sees the unique Virginia situation as it attempts to incorporate the broader nationwide situation? I really don't have a personal opinion on these matters so would appreciate your "insider's" viewpoiont.

Kevin said...

Well, Baby Blue, I was going to write a nice note of support, but reading your ire and hatred of your Anglo-Catholic brothers and sister, I may know why the could be Lord is allowing so much refining fire in the life of the VA 11 CANA

In short your history is skewed and very biased, I'd say heavily flawed.

One does ponder if you'd not be happier as your own little non-denominational churches after reading your comment above.

More I think you should maybe not spend so much time going to the Fairfax County Courthouse if it's putting a stumbling block for you.

ettu said...

Kevin I do feel the "lady doth protest too much" but history will write the epilogue - not us

Paul said...


Regardless of commenters to the contrary, I am encouraged.

It looks like this is going to be a royal/Canterbury/815/SCOTUS mess. To God be the glory.

BTW, do you know that some congregationalist denominations (such as the Assemblies of God) are now arguing in court that they are hierarchical?

Unbelievable. It may that this is going to end up being a train wreck for all of American denominational Christendom.

And maybe that's what we need and what God desires.

Thank you.

BabyBlue said...

This is a history of the Low Church Diocese of Virginia, this isn't my history. Anglo Catholics suffered a lot - I have heard stories of that suffering from the rector of St. Mary's who's father, an Anglo Catholic in Virginia suffered a lot. The Bishop of Virginia exploited several prejudices in the diocese by calling his fellow Anglican bishops abroad "foreign prelates" and by calling our eleven congregations "Nigerian Congregations." Believe me, if it had been the Anglican Church of Norway instead of Nigeria he would not have referred to us as Norwegian Congregations. That he would call his fellow Anglican bishops "foreign prelates" again denotes the anti-Roman and therefore anti-Anglo Catholic bias still in the diocese. This is a fact - that I am a member of the Order of the Daughters of the King - an Anglo Catholic order - and that I have often been a guest at the Anglo Catholic Convent All Saints denotes that my sympathies have become somewhat more catholic over the years, so much so that I could never go back to a purely Protestant church - no, not even back to my beach in Hawaii.

Recently I found myself in the rather strange place of passionately defending my friends at Truro who have gone to Rome while in conversation with my own aunt who is a (liberal) Roman Catholic when I stayed with her in London. She could not believe anyone would actually chose to become a Catholic and there I was defending their choice as scriptural and reasonable. Now that was a moment that should have have been taped for You Tube.

And by the way, I was not in court or at the Court House yesterday. Just so you know. Dum spiro, spero, nil desperandum, veni Sancte Spiritus. Amen.


Anonymous said...

So, what happened in court yesterday? I can find no mention
of it.

Kevin said...


I could nit-pick at many items, debating history (DioVA not been as you portray but frequently the cross-over state between North and South, which also is a cross over of different stream or to TFC current 1992 habits after John Yates+ desire the Big Evangelical approach to how is was before Yates+ arrived) but there one glowing inconsistency, by definition we are a hierarchical denomination, the Presbyterians are hierarchical, just it stops at the local presbytery. We have such a thing as bishops, we automatically become hierarchical.

That's not the problem, in fact if DioVA were obeying it's hierarchy none of this would be a problem!

The US would obey Lambeth 1998 1.10 because it was the mind of the Communion. VGR would not be consecrated because all 4 Instruments of Unity said "Don't!" This court case would be dropped because the primates in DeS said so.

If congregational, none of this troublesome oversight would be necessary, Truro would just do their own think, like Ravensworth Baptist just decided they didn't want to belong to the SBC any more so their not. Truro waited and waited, for the Windsor process to fissile and GC06 to reject it, for Martyn Minns' election and CoN to establish CANA, for the 40 Day process, the whole thing proves that there is a hierarchy and Truro submitted to doing it properly.

A flawed legal argument by DioVA does not negate that Anglican are hierarchical, in fact CANA is actually proving this by following the proper methods and DioVA is actually bring in doubt because they ARE NOT submitting to any form of hierarchy (though ironically DioVA is making this a whole lot easier +Pitt, +FW +DioSJ).

About the stumbling block ... I've noticed that around court time, you tend to write high and mighty about Evangelicalism and trash Anglo-Catholics and specifically around court time after DioVA makes some off the wall argument (NOTE: I'm pretty tired of everyone using catholicity as their excuse to say we should submit to error and a path that's leads away from the Church Universal). Problem at the moment is the adjective "Evangelical" does not mean white hats anymore, most Camp Allen bishops fit in the Evangelical camp but compromised and NOLA was a disaster, it's the FiFNA that joined +Duncan in spearheading the charge, if for no other reason than there just "no room in the inn "for them anymore (not the best reason, but Acts 8:3-4 did cause the Church to obey Jesus' words found in Act 1:8).

When someone listed Nazir-Ali and Iker as heroes together in the same sentence (written as one might +Minns and +Anderson), I do think you should be more careful if +Lee errant logic is not causing you to lash out. If there were true submitting to authority, NONE of this would be happening, I think the error is in selective use of concepts.

I applaud CANA for acting with methodical caution and truly giving +Lee every chance before acting to preserve the faithful.

Kevin said...

"Truro would just do their own thing, like Ravensworth Baptist just decided they didn't want to belong to the SBC any more so they're not."

Much better!

BabyBlue said...

Alas, I'm not talking about my personal feelings - but the history of the Diocese of Virginia. I am far more High Churched now then perhaps I'm letting on and my time at Lambeth has only increased that. Remember, half my family are Roman Catholics.

And remember, I shook hands with Bishop Lee inside Canterbury Cathedral. It was a warm greeting by the way. Hope springs eternal. Or Dum spiro, spero, nil desperandum, veni Sancte Spiritus. Amen.


allen said...

Any way that you look at it Ms Schori, and Messers Bruno, Chane, Andrus, et al have lost. Two reasons:

1. If the CANA churches win their property they will have demonstrated an irreparable wound in TEC that can't be negotiated into healing. Property goes where the congregation goes.

2. If the CANA churches lose their property they just quit the premises and leave the keys (and massive debts - and white elephant properties - to Schori et al. The embarassment and the headaches will not go away....

...either way they lose the people.
...which means that either way the TEC loses.

Couple this with the Diocese of Ft. Worth and others leaving...and you'll see a lot of wrangling at next summer's General Convention. I wonder how many Mark Harrises, Louie Crews, and Susan Russells will get a sympathetic ear from delegates when they find that large portions of their Church are now missing.

You won!

Lapinbizarre said...

A clearer indication of how this is going to work out across the US is the ongoing litigation between the diocese of South Carolina - of all entities - and All Saints, Pawleys Island. This case is greatly complicated by a 1745, pre-revolutionary, pre-Episcopal Church, deed of trust, but on the issue of property - including physical property, monies and the name "All Saints, Pawleys Island - not covered by that deed, the judge has ruled in favor of the continuing TEC congregation.

The judge based this decision on a 1973 case involving the First Presbyterian Church of Rock Hill, in the north of the state. The judge said - I quote from "The Coastal Observer" - that "the majority of members withdrew from the Presbyterian Church and united with another denomination but still wanted the church property.

"He said the [1973] court ruled the remaining minority members owned the property and that the majority had no right to the property because they severed their relationship with the First Presbyterian Church."

"When a division occurs in a church," Cooper [the judge in the current, Pawleys Island case] said, "the congregation is answered by who is the representative of the church before it split."

The principle that "the congregation is answered by who is the representative of the church before it split" will almost certainly hold in the 49 states which do not have Virginia's 57-9 law, BB, and will very likely be the Federal courts' last word on the Virginia case.

Anonymous said...

Not certain how on earth Baby Blue's recounting of the historically and quite well-known LOW CHURCH history of the Diocese of Virginia makes her hostile or full of "ire and hatred" towards Anglo-Catholics.

What a bizarre perspective.

Maybe when BabyBlue recounts the history of the Anabaptists we can claim also that she has "ire and hatred" towards Anglo-Catholics then as well.

Or when she recounts the history of some other low-church group, that's "trashing" Anglo-Catholics.

Just strange.

Recounting the history of the Diocese of Virginia and coming up with anything other than "yep, they were low church and blatantly congregationsl" would involve amounts of revisionist history that would be challenging for even Beers or Schori. So why we would want BabyBlue to attempt that, I don't know.