Monday, October 20, 2008

The Last Day in Court (at least for now)

Today was the last day of the trial in Fairfax Circuit Court and while Judge Randy Bellows said it was possible that he might call in the attorneys after he's read all their upcoming legal briefs, the trial portion appears to be complete (unless there's some kind of an October Surprise).

We heard from Joan Gunderson's co-collaborator, historian Edward Bond, who interestingly enough were commissioned by the Diocese of Virginia to write a "history" of the Diocese of Virginia with Gunderson right after the diocese sued the eleven churches. Publicly announced that it was commissioned for the the celebration of the 400 years since Jamestown (which isn't actually in the Diocese) and with a history all ready written here, it still is fascinating that Bond's collaborator on the project was activist Gunderson, who leads Progressive Episcopalians in Pittsburgh and is at the forefront of opposing the vote by the Diocese of Pittsburgh to separate from The Episcopal Church. Not exactly impartial history, as it appeared in the testimony today.

One highlight of Bond's testimony this morning comes to mind where he had made it a point that following the American Revolution (when British Loyalists - who filled many of the Virginia parish pews - fled the Commonwealth for safer ground - which of course Bond never mentioned perhaps because Bishop Lee and Bishop Schori like to refer to their own allies as "loyalists" - in fact, the term "Loyal Episcopalians" was actually said in court today) the historic Falls Church saw other types of preachers in the pulpit pass through, including the dreaded Baptists and Methodists and riff raff like that. There may have even been a few Presbyterians.

Gordon Coffee of the CANA Churches brought this up again in his redirect when he recalled for the court Bond stating that at a certain point one could actually find "animals roaming through" the Falls Church in those difficult years after the American Revolution and when Bond readily agreed Coffe continued, "And even Methodists were roaming through."

It appears that there is still no love lost between Episcopalians in Virginia and the Baptists and others who were the ones who rose up after the American Revolution and petitioned the Virginia Legislature to force the now disestablished Episcopalians to sell off their unused glebe lands and cease living off the taxes they could no longer collect. The Episcopal Church had to then figure out, as Bond said, how to raise their own support. As we know, it took a long time and Bishop Moore finally had to get on his horse and ride around the Commonwealth trying to figure out which of the old congregations in the Virginia parishes still existed, which parishes had empty buildings with no congregations, and which parishes had buildings that were taken over by the dreaded Baptists (which is what happened in what is now Fairfax City with the old Payne's Church of Truro Parish - and they are still there).

Other highlights was the diocese's repeated attempts in court testimony to ignore the votes of The Falls Church to separate from the Diocese of Virginia in December 2006 and go right to the shadow congregation that styles itself The Falls Church Episcopal as though the votes were just a nuisance and certainly The Falls Church didn't really leave. The Diocese's witnesses would constantly refer to The Falls Church as The Falls Church Episcopal and that The Falls Church Episcopal remained after the vote in 2006 and did not actually separate from the diocese, but just moved down the street. But each time that attempt was made, there was an objection.

With the word "they" being bantered about it started to get rather confusing. Both Bond and the witness that came after him, kept talking about The Falls Church Episcopal when they were talking about The Falls Church and then talking about The Falls Church Episcopal when were they talking about the shadow congregation.

Finally the judge said, "I want to get a better understanding of what 'they' is." And that sort of shut the whole strategy down. Christ Church Alexandria was never established as having shown any interest at all in The Falls Church. Certainly the vote that was taken yesterday at Christ Church Alexandria never came up.

In fact, we learned St. Paul's in Alexandria had tried to get Christ Church Alexandria to show them some interest and help them out in the 19th century and Christ Church Alexandria said nope, that St. Paul's (which was also in Fairfax Parish and completely ignored by Bond in his original testimony) had nothing to do with them. Zing.

When that became clear, the judge was consistent in locking down the attempts - made over and over - to move this trial away from the 57-9 petitions and into the TEC and Diocese lawsuits that are now on hold pending the outcome of the 57-9 litigation. The Diocese had more witnesses waiting in the wings (Patrick Getlein, former Secretary to the Diocese being one of them and perhaps Henry Burt, current Secretary to the Diocese, who was also on their list of witnesses to call as well as another current member of the shadow congregation set up by the diocese) who were never permitted to testify.

Bill Deiss, Parish Administrator of The Falls Church opened the portion on the endowment fund. He testified to the link between the endowment fund and The Falls Church, indicating that there are reports each year in the Annual Report and that it is The Falls Church Vestry that appoints members of the board for the endowment fund.

The one member of the shadow congregation who was allowed to testify was the treasurer of The Falls Church endowment fund who voted against separation and went with the shadow congregation. I'm sorry, I didn't write her name down (which is probably for the best as it all turned out). She constantly referred to The Falls Church (which is how everyone refers to the church, just as we refer to Christ Church Alexandria as Christ Church Alexandria or Truro as Truro or Church of the Apostles as Church of the Apostles or Church of the Epiphany as Church of the Epiphany and St. Stephen's Heathesville as St. Stephen's Heathesville. The word "Episcopal" just isn't used in polite company most of the time in Virginia, because, for heaven's sake, it doesn't need to - it's implied, the Baptists and the Methodists have to disguish themselves, not the Episcopalians (until just recently) - pass the gin and tonic. But in her testimony, this witness constantly called The Falls Church - The Falls Church Episcopal and when she would attempt to go beyond the December 2006 vote and talk about The Falls Church Episcopal (which was actually the shadow congregation and not The Falls Church) after the vote - as though there was no vote - there'd be a clear objection that was most often sustained by Judge Bellows.

The redirect of this last witness was filled with drama. The witness, who had been the treasurer for The Falls Church Endowment Fund for many years, was trying to maintain that the endowment fund was not for the ministry and outreach of The Falls Church but was some sort of separate independent fund that basically seemed to work out of her attic. Don't quite understand that, but it seems all the past documents and records of the endowment are up in her attic, though the mailing address and the in-house mailbox are located inside The Falls Church. Unfortunately, during the redirect she was shown a past tax return for the Falls Church Endowment that she had signed as treasurer. It clearly stated that the mission of the endowment was to support the mission and outreach of The Falls Church. She was clearly stunned - big time oops and with the threat of perjury now over her head, she cried out "I don't want to go to jail."

Sadly, it was clear that she's a volunteer who disagreed with the majority vote of The Falls Church and now the diocese (and the Shadow Congregation) are very interested in a million-dollar endowment fund. Whether it will be ruled as part of the 57-9 petitions or litigated separately, the judge will decide. That day could still come.

The judge requested a very tall pile of briefing papers - we can expect that over the next month the attorneys on both sides will be writing, and writing, and writing, and writing some more. We could have some orders from the judge even before the final ruling after the deadline for all the briefing papers passes in mid-November and he may call the attorneys back into court. But it did seem clear that this judge will issue his final ruling before the end of the year.


Scott Hankins said...

Well, there it is, then. Thanks, BB, for confirming my intuition that, all along, it's the southern Baptists who are at the heart of the matter. Is the judge a southern Baptist, by any chance?

BabyBlue said...

Actually, the judge is Jewish.


Scott Hankins said...

LOL! (Yes, the Jews were there at the beginning, too, but I hardly think they passed through...ocicbw.)

Thanks, BB.

And then, is it the southern Baptists who are at the heart of the matter?

Anonymous said...

The part where one of their witnesses cried out "I don't want to go to jail"... you made that part up, right?

That really did not actually happen, right?


BabyBlue said...

Alas, it did happen, NBS.

Scott, I'm not sure if the Southern Baptists are at the heart of the matter. The Baptists in Virginia do find their roots in the Anglican Church - I frankly don't know the history of all the Baptists, including the Southern Baptists to be serious. Many of the Baptists actually continued the Morning Prayer style of worship (I went to a Baptist wedding not long ago and the minster actually used the Book of Common Prayer for the marriage vows), they rejected having a bishop, though. And those that did become "Episcopalians" limited the powers of the bishop severely just to get the remnant to buy into it. The memories of the American Revolution in Virginia were pretty fresh.

What do you mean the "Southern Baptists?"


Scott Hankins said...

A few years ago I began, finally, to read biographies of the early leaders. It's amazing to me that these United States exist. There is no reason but grace that it should be so.

Honestly, bb, I think this whole conflict is cultural in nature. I know how powerful the southern Baptist Church (contemporary; I mean no characterization or disrespect, I mean the existing institution) is, so I can't help but wonder about the politics of this painful time.

But mainly (I'm going to bed now, so I may not catch your response), I thank you sincerely for not blowing me off. You have my respect, and I continue to link you at my blog. It's important to me that all voices stay at the table.


Anonymous said...

Oh dear. The judge must think we (and by we, I mean both sides) are nuts. I didn't realize he was Jewish and he is presiding over this lawsuit over religious lands. I wonder if he's ever really thought about that? We'll never know, of course.

As for the poor woman's testimony... how terrible that the Diocese of Virginia/TEC would put such a timid person in such a difficult position. I guess I shouldn't be too sympathetic though, to someone who wants to decamp with the Falls Church's Endowment Fund. But I do feel sorry for her. Glad you didn't catch her name.

If the Christ Church Alexandria vote from yesterday wasn't brought up, what was the point of it?


BabyBlue said...

Scott, always glad you drop by. God bless you.

Yes, I think it's better just to leave her name out of it. I wouldn't say she was timid, though, she was confident when she took the stand and was trying hard not show any anger. But I think her sunny "what's for dinner?" cheerfulness on the stand (until the endowment tax return was revealed) was a bit over the top (and take it from someone who's been there). She was just too golly-gee for the reason she was in the courtroom which had to do with the million-dollar endowment. Therefore, it was quite a contrast when she was confronted with the endowment's signed tax return.

I don't know - yet - what the point of yesterday's vote at Christ Church Alexandria since the testimony today was never able to get that far. It may come up in the briefs though. Or the impending appeal.


Lynn said...

BB, I didn't know about that Baptist connection, that's interesting. I did know about the Methodists, of course - having been one as a young adult (our Associate Pastor loved church history, and the parables, and was great for conversation on both topics). I'll find some reading on the topic of the Baptists. But right now, I'm studying the church in the Middle Ages - Virginia is only a side interest.

Anonymous said...

Any word on whether the ADV will post transcripts again from this month's trials?

Kevin said...

I think I know who the nameless lady may be and I'll say this shows how little prep DioVA lawyers have done.

I only get to be in court or depositions as a witness and it's nothing like on TV, I hate it. The CANA lawyer did a careful job of deconstruction this witness, I have a feeling there is about minute of dialog BB is not including as her lie is exposed then a careful explanation of the seriousness of being caught in a lie under oath.

It seems the judge is tired of the courtroom performances at least by what BB has written, if he'd rather end this phase and cut down a few more trees worth of writing.

It'll give other lawyer around the nation following this case something to read I guess.

Kevin said...


You should read up on Anglican history in Virginia, I'll bet much presented to you is not that accurate. Remember at one time CoE and the Government where one, in fact the separation in Virginia happened some time after the Revolution (in New England was completely different, much more like the contemporary US).

What BB writes is true, basically there was a minority government, as Episcopalians made up the upper class but the voting block were Baptists and Methodists, so it lead to great tension. It sounds as if the DioVA guy was reading history he wished had happened.

However there are plenty of good books and articles written before the current unpleasantness which are far more objective. Not a great book, but you can read David Lynn Holmes' A Brief History of the Episcopal Church online which references some of what we're bantering about above (the book leans a little to the propaganda side than a solid history text [he deals with the English Reformation in one chapter and conveniently drops mentioning the ugliness], but it's copyrighted 1993, so before the mess)


Steven in Falls Church said...

My comment from yesterday's posting (A Bridge Too Far) may be irrelevant as CCA's quitclaim deed vote never came up. If the vote is invalid due to procedural irregularity, then the right to TFC's property (to the extent it exists) would remain with CCA, but I assume CCA would rather not remain attached to this litigation, which was the reason for the quitclaim deed vote. I am sorry the good people of CCA have been brought into this mess.

Lynn said...


I share your interest in neutral sources of history, or perhaps let's say I look for them, and sometimes by default it's several biased sources.

I have a copy of David Holmes' book and have read it - and Rev. Slaughter's History of Truro Parish. I grew up in Bethesda so I am amazed at how much more religion is tied into local history here in Alexandria. I might add that Maryland's history of religious freedom isn't quite as pure as we learned in school...but for the original 13, not bad.

Grey Beard said...

For those of you who have not seen it yet, there is an article on Monday's testimony in today's Washington Times.

Kevin said...

The Holmes' book brings up the Glebe act of 1802 (that's how I discovered it's online), it really glosses over it, but does raise a little of the tensions in Virginia at the time. Thus why BB keeps raising the issue. Now, in Alexandria, you'll not have that part of history as important because at the time you were part of the District.

There is a huge amount of irony when +Lee clams religious liberty when dealing with property. 200 years ago, there were group who claim the exact same thing but to separate property from the diocesan control (which also was at that time government control).

Somehow I'm guessing this expert historian didn't bring that part up in his testimony.

Anonymous said...

As an ecumenical partner to TEC (ELCA pastor), it's like watching a really had Law and Order, only the original cast of L&O rarely filmed something as smelly as all this.

What a terrible witness to the larger unChurched community this is making. My hopes and prayers continue to rest with the CANA pastors and their congregations. It's bad enough our "partner" in ministry has lost their theological way, but to subject fellow believers to this level of legal oppression is simply evil. There, I said it.


Joan R. Gundersen said...

I would be nice if BB could at least spell my name correctly. It is "Gundersen." Secondly, Ed Bond and I signed a contract with the Diocese of Virginia to write the 400th anniversary history in April 2005, a full year and a half before the parishes currently involved in litigation voted to separate from TEC. As for why the history starts with Jamestown, that's simple. Jamestown was IN the Diocese of Virginia until the Diocese of Southern Virginia was formed from the southern half of the Diocese of Virginia in the 1890s. Perhaps BB ought to actually try reading the history. Ed Bond and I had no communication about his testimony and, in fact, I did not even know he had been asked to testify until after he had finished in court.