Friday, September 26, 2008
The Episcopal Church and Diocese of Virginia relinquishes their challenge to the congregations' votes; releases two non-property-holding congregations
Just back from court where the the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia agreed to recognize the votes conducted by the Virginia congregations that voted to separate from the Diocese of Virginia were conducted in a lawful manner and under the stipulations of the Virginia Statute 57-9.
The first two congregations - one technically a mission in the Diocese of Virginia and the other was a recipient of a dissolved mission's assets - were released from the litigation today.
They did not have any property that applied to the Division Statute.
With the procedures of the votes no longer contested by either the diocese or TEC, TEC and the Diocese of Virginia will now target particular congregational properties - including the land that once was owned by Christ the Redeemer Episcopal (now dissolved) and held in trust by Truro Church, and Church of the Word, Gainesville, as well as The Falls Church Chapel.
This is clearly a change in strategy by the Diocese/TEC - that by conceding that the votes were taken lawfully, they can now pool their energy toward targeting hand-picked church properties instead and attempt to fragment 57-9.
In court we could see the start of this strategy - it was clear that both TEC and the Diocese were seeking to undermine the Division Statute by attempting to divert the attention of the court away from the consolidation of the case and instead signal out particular properties in order to weaken the Division Statute. Their threat of appeal (and the judge hasn't even ruled yet!) is aimed at the judge himself, there was no question about that.
The people in those congregations may have voted fairly and legally, but it seemed to be the intention of TEC and the Diocese that those votes didn't matter because they still claim to own their properties - even though the judge has all ready ruled that if the properties are held in trust for the congregation, they are subject to 57-9. It seems as though the Diocese and TEC are applying the same principles to law as they apply to scripture. The judges ruling applies to properties that are not held in trust and it seems as though TEC and the diocese want to convince the judge that "held in trust for the congregation" doesn't mean what it says it means, as they attempt to to chip away, piece by piece, at the Division Statute.
The judge made it clear on the outset that he wasn't going to rule today on either the property once held by Christ the Redeemer (Episcopal) and transferred to its mother church, Truro, when they dissolved - nor on the Church of the Word property (which was also once a mission but had become a parish - in order to become a full parish in the Diocese of Virginia you must own your own property and be self-sufficient! Hello???).
With the voting issues now out of the way - the trial will focus on these targeted properties by the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church. But it became clear in court today that the real target is the Division Statute itself - that is what they are attempting to dissemble as they prepare for court, starting October 14.
What led the Diocese to forget about litigating the votes?
A major factor may have been that over the past few weeks they have been conducting depositions of the regular folks, the church members who oversaw the voting of their congregations. These are truly regular people and most of them had never been through anything like this, most of them had never been deposed. But over and over and over again, the Diocese could see how painstakingly detailed and serious each congregation was over the votes, how hard each congregation diligently worked to follow the letter of the law in conducting their parishes votes.
In the end, they saw they had no case and the idea of putting these regular church-going folks on the stand would have been a public relations nightmare. The last thing in the world they want is to have the news that thousands of people voted in Virginia to leave the Episcopal Church and it was done legally and justly and by these sweet people. The momentum for congregations would be huge.
So instead, like little nats flying around your head - they will force their concentration onto particular properties and talk over and over about the threats of their appeals - and in doing so, attempt to convince the judge to doubt his own rulings.