Sunday, February 21, 2010

Diocese of Virginia nervous over drop in pledges as litigation costs continue to mount; plans to sell church properties if they win in Supreme Court

Once again he's on the beat. Report from Intrepid:
(1) Donald Cady of the Executive Board reported on the "litigation against those who have tried to appropriate Episcopal Church property" and stated that the Diocesan staff had "made prudent use of the line of credit." I'm not entirely sure what that means, and of course there was no time to ask.

Things at a Diocesan Council meeting in Virginia are tightly controlled. Mr. Cady explained in rather optimistic terms that the "line of credit will be retired at an appropriate time when sale of unconsecrated property takes place", all based on a change in the market when such properties will be more valuable. Perhaps we could call this the "new property for old" program.

I must say I have been severely tempted to ask for an addition to the budget of a line item for say $250,000 to cover the utility and property management costs for maintaining the properties at Truro and Falls Church, among others, should the Diocese actually win the court cases and regain the property. One does wonder if they know how they will pay the bills on such large properties with no congregations to maintain them.

Mr. Cady then said they were working hard to "minimize ongoing litigation costs on the program of the diocese" and wanted to stress in no uncertain terms that "parish pledges have not and will not be used to underwrite litigation costs." Phew, that's a relief. Though again I admit this last line sounds a bit odd when you consider how strongly the Diocese has made the case that we must protect the legacy of faith in these buildings, or something like that. It's clear that while someone at high levels believes litigation to be very important, there must be enough others in local churches who believe using pledges for litigation is a bad idea. And you know, pledges to the diocese from parishes are at a very low point, making the Diocese of Virginia one of the lowest rates of parish support in the country. Go figure.

(2) Bishop Jones gave a short address in which he mentioned that there have been hurt feelings and "issues" around the younger congregations that left the church but that we need to stay faithful nonetheless to the Great Commission. He devoted a large part of his address to encouraging delegates to Council to return to their parishes and explain to their Vestries how important the Diocese is, especially when budgets are being discussed. The lack of funding coming into the Diocese seems to have everyone nervous.

(3) Various resolutions had the usual attention to a word or phrase here or there that needed to be changed for reasons more apparent to those discussing them than to the rest of us. Do any of these resolutions telling us to work for peace and to pray for something or other make a difference in the long run? It seems to this observer that resolutions at Diocesan Council are a lot like smoking a pipe ... in the way in which Anna Russell described it when explaining how to play a bagpipe ... there's simply more fiddling with it than actually using it. You know, this report is simply not all that interesting, because what we did wasn't very interesting. The normal suspects were walking about huffing and puffing or saying the sky was falling, but on the whole it was procedurely boring and theologically bankrupt.

Which brings us to the great annual boondoggle that appears at every Diocesan Council when the Rev. James Papille and the good folk over at St. Anne's, Reston lead the charge for an extreme makeover of procedures and teachings around sexuality.

This year there was a large-scale revision of the motions originally presented at the Council meeting in Richmond. Due to a major snowstorm the Council reconvened weeks later with something totally new, written by the Resolutions Committee. It seems to have magically appeared from who knows where. I can understand why the authors of the original motions were not amused.The substitute resolution looked, sounded and proposed very little of what the originals had wanted. This lead to a lively discussion for the better part of an hour on the floor of Council. One side wanted to return to the original, carefully worded resolutions that asked the Council to state their support for what amounts to rewriting all of the sexual teachings of the church ... from how we handle same-sex blessings, to ordination, and employment issues. The focus was to get the house to show their desire to support these issues.

Those supporting the original motions seemed to fail to see the irony of their position, as so often happens in these situations. In order to get a resolution to show we are tolerant of alternative lifestyles, there was a desire to pass a resolution by majority vote and then explain that the Council and the diocese support this decision, which makes it sound like all of us were united in the position. We're not. And the rush to be able to say the Diocese officially supports something seems like an intolerant position to take towards those of us who do not have the votes in our favor any longer.

Well, the original motions failed to gather the needed support. The substitute resolution was a totally different thing, proposing that the Bishop empanel a group to determine consistent policies for implementing same sex blessings if (but more likely when) the bishop approved them. (Note: He's on record as saying he personally approves of blessings, and of the ordination of people in same sex relationships). Since this substitute was a narrower thing than the original resolutions, that made for some fuss. Personally I found the new resolution to be very odd. It asked for the group to be made up of lawyers and canonical scholars (who?) who would determine such things as the degree of kinship allowable in same sex blesisngs, how economic issues would be resolved in case of dissolution of the relationships, whether testing for health conditions should be mandated and whether clergy would be allowed to have the choice of whether or not to officiate without penalty. Scary stuff ... to think we should have a group discussing whether half brothers can have their sexual relationship blessed by the church, or whether we should limit things to first cousins, or second?

Who died and put us in charge of this stuff? Whoever it was, I am sure it wasn't Jesus.

In the end, the attempt to get the original resolutions considered again failed. By that time people were so tired of the discussion we moved and passed the substitute resolution so we could all go home. Well, not me, I voted against that one too, but you get a feel for how things are going after listening to the debate.

So once again we have asked for some group to study something and report back. A friend in my parish who is a systems analyst has asked what we expect to know differently after another year of study. Is any new data going to come forward? If not then what, he asked me, are we waiting for? Oh but I know that answer. It's in the Bible. We're waiting for enough people to die off, wander off, or just get so tired of things that the votes start going the way they are supposed to go. Then we can enter the new and improved promised land. Until then, we can look forward to at least one more year of studies and reports and another fine debate brought to us at next year's Annual Council. Mark your calendars now and make your reservations for a room in Reston. You won't want to miss the next thrilling episode of "As the Diocese Spins".
Intrepid is a member of the Annual Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

31 comments:

Anonymous said...

I suspect that the Diocese of Virginia is and will remain a fairly conservative diocese within the Episcopal church. Some parishes are more obviously enthralled with events in the national church than are others, but I think they are largely out-liers. LIttle or none of the more unusual "New Age" stuff coming out of New York and other places has ever penetrated into our worship in this Diocese. It simply was irrelevant to our views and our worship. Schism was all the more regrettable because of the fact that we have always been a conservative parish. A lot of folks just allowed themselves to get very spun up over things happening elsewhere and soon the idea took hold that one couldn't be "in communion" with the more extreme (I almost wrote "goofy", but that would have been wrong) elements that had attached themselves, with varying degrees of success, to the church in other places.

To a significant extent, parishioners follow properties. Perhaps that should not be the case, but there are a number of people who just continue worshipping where they are accustomed to worshipping. That is a primary reason that so many people who have left the church have worked so energetically to lay claim to properties that they are leaving. A certain proportion of parishioners will continue to worship in the same buildings when the properties are returned, just as they continued to do so when secessionists laid claim to them. Certainly in the case of the Falls Church, the Falls Church (Episcopal) continues in operation waiting to return to their historic property.

The reference to sale of property was to unconsecrated property held by the Diocese. This property is not used for worship and in some cases is unimproved land. It has value, but it does seem to be prudent stewardship to see if the general market will provide a better time to sell that off.

Scout

Anonymous said...

Scout,
The vote to leave TEC was better than 80% in the departing congregations. You are correct in saying that some percentage of parishioners will continue to worship in the buildings regardless of who owns them. I suspect that is no more than 10% of the original pre-split congregation.

It would be on the level of a miracle if a number equal to 30% of the original congregation could support the buildings and necessary staff, given that most of the remnant TEC congregations cannot even support a priest without subsidy from the DioVA...

RalphM

Anonymous said...

No surprise to see a misleading headline & intro at the Cafe. You're clearly implying that the Diocese plans immediately to turn around and sell the properties of the breakaway congregations. As Scout points out, that's not what the Council was talking about -- they're talking about the unconsecrated properties that the Diocese used to get the line of credit.

Bill C said...

I find Scout’s assertions impossible to argue against, but this is solely because they are unfounded assertions with no apparent factual basis. I can only speak for myself about my vote that Truro remain orthodox Anglican by separating from TEC and the Diocese of Virginia:

1. I said before the vote that if Truro did not dissociate from TEC I would leave Truro in order to dissociate myself from TEC.

2. I also agreed that we should seek to retain our buildings and campus, not for emotional reasons or because I had some sort of habit of driving to that location every Sunday, but because the facility was (and is) a useful place in which to carry out the ministries with which we as a congregation involved.

I know of many others with similar understandings. I know of nobody that fits the habitual “drive to the same address for Eucharist no matter what the church’s faith and practice is” that Scout seems to be describing. Perhaps they exist, but I just do not attend the same serivce, the same home group, or am not involved in the same ministries as any of these.

Truth I. See said...

"Things at a Diocesan Council meeting in Virginia are tightly controlled." But you know what? At no time must anyone sign a McCarthian loyalty oath like CANA, AAC, etc. required for the Plano meeting.

Babyblue, we didn't see you there. Why not?

BabyBlue said...

I've been dealing with a family death and burial. I'm sorry I wasn't able to be there.

I don't recall signing an oath when I went to Plano Dallas - I just showed up. Are you're talking about A Place to Stand??? Heh.

As for the properties - if you know the parishes involved you know the significant properties involved. We aren't talking about backwater country churches. If the unconsecrated properties (and some consecrated, it's hard for me to imagine they will hold on to at least one in particular - there are also properties that have been purchased by the people of the churches for future church locations - as in Church of the Apostles) will bring in a pretty penny to pay off their litigation debts. There are no endowments, for example, at Truro to raid to pay the monthly bills - the snow removal alone has been a whopper. The parish is supported fully by the generous pledges of the people to the glory of God.

bb

Anonymous said...

In my church, folks, the vote to depart was between 55 and 70 per cent (the range is attributable to how one defines the eligible voting population - the rolls were organized by those urging departure and significantly pared back prior to the vote). While those are distinct majorities (how could it have been otherwise given how hard the clergy and vestry were pushing for that result, and how one-sided the run-up presentations were - Our rector even openly urged secession), that left hundreds who did not vote to leave. I suspect many of those hundreds continue just to go to church as usual. If those who left actually leave, I am sure that a large number will continue to go to church as usual.

Of course, had those who departed actually departed, I have no doubt that some parishes would not have been sustainable and that a reasonable disposition would have been to sell the properties to those who left at some point. Their helping themselves to the properties makes that kind of disposition highly problematic in the near term.

Scout

Anonymous said...

PS - I don't take lightly BB's point that those occupying the properties are sustaining them with pledges. I would think that the fair thing to do is to credit the departers with the value of those contributions against rents if the properties are returned.

Scout

Fr. Daniel Weir said...

Drops in pledges to dioceses - not just Virginia - may be as much a consequence of the recession as of diocesan disputes.

+Ed said...

Regarding your rhetorical question about letting gay first cousins marry: I should point out that the Commonwealth of Virginia specifically permits first-cousin heterosexual marriage. (So does New Jersey, which helps to explain both Mark Beckwith and Louie Crew. But good old New Hampshire does not!)

The restriction to the "third degree of consanguinity" is, as far as I can tell, a Roman Catholic law.

It would do more good for your cause if you didn't rely on the argument from fear. There seems to me a clear case for a legal distinction between consanguinity and elective affinity; and there are many reasons besides genetic ones to apply it both to straights and gays.

cotsva said...

Ed:

The point I got from the article (and the resolution, for I too was there at Council) was that it did not seem to be the business of a small group of un known folk appointed by the Bishop of Virginia to determine degrees of kinship for ssb's. Not a question of fear but of process and logic. Let's try to stay on topic here, hmmm?

Red Herrings always smell funny and add little to the discussion.

Anonymous said...

IMHO, these reports make more sense in the context that SSBs have been quietly tolerated in DioVA for some time.

For example, in 2006 the Times Dispatch reported that SSBs were conducted by the clergy of St Paul’s Richmond as far back as 1994.

Tired

jschwarz42 said...

"In order to get a resolution to show we are tolerant of alternative lifestyles, there was a desire to pass a resolution by majority vote and then explain that the Council and the diocese support this decision, which makes it sound like all of us were united in the position. We're not. And the rush to be able to say the Diocese officially supports something seems like an intolerant position to take towards those of us who do not have the votes in our favor any longer." This was not the intent behind original R-3 and R-4 (or the amendment I unsuccessfully offered to the substitute monstrosity R-14s). In a democratic process (except apparently in the US Senate!), it is understood that a resolution that passes simply reflects the stand taken by a majority. It does not imply that there is not great disagreement. In the church we are often too much concerned with seeking "consensus." On important issues, we are NEVER going to all agree with one another. I frankly am sick of being told that we are "not a congregational church", and therefore everything we do in our our diverse communities has to be subjected to a rigid, narrow lock-step conformity imposed by a set of legalistic rules or uniform guidelines (which is apparently what R-14s as passed wants to do). We do not need more canons to institutionalize single one-size-fits-all answers to the (largely) petty concerns in the Resolutions Committee's "laundry list". We need a "generous pastoral response" to a situation in which some wonderful people in some of our parishes are living blessed lives, and are overwhelmingly recognized by those of us who share community with them as living lives just as blessed by God as (and morally indistinguishable on any rational theological basis from) our own "straight" marriages. These are not (in any case I know in my parish) "alternative lifestyles." These are good people (many married in other states), living ordinary loving domestic lives, doing the ordinary things, facing the constant struggles, offering one another mutual love and support, often raising children together, displaying so many of the Biblical virtues of faithfulness, compassionate love (both as chesed and as agape) etc that God asks us to exhibit in our lives (and that reflect the qualities God shows in God's own gracious relationship with us God's People). These are "sacramental" unions and marriages - in any meaningful sense. The only thing different is that we as a parish community are "not allowed" - in a simple liturgucal and pastoral ceremony together as a community - to recognize the blessedness of these relationships (and the "blessing" they are for the couple and for us) and to bless them (as we bless countless other blessed and good things and relationships that come to us and bless our lives through God's bounty). If there are conservative parishes that disagree and do NOT want to do this, nothing in anything proposed would EVER have forced such parishes, priests and persons to participate in something they disagree with. So why cannot WE similarly be "permitted" to follow our mission and serve God and God's loving call to do justice, faithful to the way that God has called us? How is asking for that being "intolerant" of those who honestly disagree with us (but who on their side obviously have no interest in being "tolerant" - or lovingly respectful - toward our parishes)?

Fr. Daniel Weir said...

+Ed? A bishop? Probably not. However, was there any real point to the swipe at my friend Bp Mark Beckwith? I don't know how well he has done as Bishop of Newark, but during his tenure as Rector of All Saints Church in Worcester, MA the parish was featured in Excellent Protestant Congregations, by Paul Wilkes.

SometimesWise said...

jschwarz42
"If there are conservative parishes that disagree and do NOT want to do this, nothing in anything proposed would EVER have forced such parishes, priests and persons to participate in something they disagree with."

This sounds familiar...oh, right. This was said about a number of other changes made - a conscience clause. Now, where did that get to - the one regarding the ordination of women to the priesthood...no one would EVER impose that on a diocese that didn't want it, would they??

Forgive me if I don't trust those words, my friend.

Fr. Daniel Weir said...

The conscience clause for the ordination of women was intended to respect the consciencesof those who did not believe wome could be ordained. However, it came to be used as a way for Bishops' convictions to trump that of everyone else in their dioceses. In 1988 in the Diocese of Albany, a vestry wanted to consider women when they were searching for a rector, but the Bishop wouldn't allow it. I disagree with Bishops who won't ordain women, but I respect their right to refuse to ordain a woman. I do not, however, think they should have the right to prevent a parish from calling a women to serve.

Anonymous said...

"In my church, folks, the vote to depart was between 55 and 70 per cent (the range is attributable to how one defines the eligible voting population - the rolls were organized by those urging departure and significantly pared back prior to the vote)."

Interesting... If there were widespread manipulation of the voting procedures, why did TEC/DioVA drop their claim of an unfair vote after demanding documents and taking depositions?

Being unhappy with the outcome does not justify an implication of wrongdoing.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

I suppose one advances the legal arguments one thinks sufficient to prevail. Legal arguments are more cost-effective to advance than factual arguments.

I personally think the process was entirely one-sided and loaded in one direction. If the Commonwealth of Virginia has a statute that determines property ownership based on these kinds of votes, the State Board of Elections should supervise the process, absolutely ban control by one faction (in this case the secessionists, and ensure that the process is scrupulously fair (Where's Jimmy Carter when you really need him?).

Scout

Anonymous said...

Votes were taken according to the Protocol endorsed by Bp. Lee(later withdrawn) and also in accordance with VA statute.

If TEC/DioVA believes the votes violated the law they should have pursued it instead of dropping challenge.

This horse is dead.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

The diocese chooses which arguments it pursues in court. I don't. The process was completely cooked from beginning to end whether or not that raises a viable legal claim. I'm not making the point to say that it's a wonderful idea to sue over. I'm making the point in response to those who act like the large majorities tell us anything at all other than that those who wanted to leave controlled the content of the debate and the mechanics of the poll from the top down. There was never the slightest question of the outcome. If you had been there, Ralph (I thought you were there, as a matter of fact), you would have noticed that. The Virginia statute if virtually silent on how these polls are to be run. It could be show of hands or voice vote. That's one of its major problems. It merely defines an age limit (which differs from the age limit defined by the canons) for voting.

Scout

Robert said...

Fr. Weir,

If a bishop believes, as he states during his ordination vow, that he will defend his flock from error, as a good shepherd would, then forbidding ordained women is a logical action for such a bishop. In fact, not doing so would be a betrayal of his pledge.

p

Fr. Daniel Weir said...

I appreciate the argument that refusing to allow ordained women to serve in his diocese can be seen as defending the flock from error. It is, however, not one that I find persuasive for it places the bishop's judgment above that of the General Convention and of vestries within his diocese. If the bishop feels that he cannot in conscience make any compromise on this issue then I think he should be prepared to suffer the consequences, as those who have committed acts of civil disobedience have always done.

Anonymous said...

"I'm making the point in response to those who act like the large majorities tell us anything at all other than that those who wanted to leave controlled the content of the debate and the mechanics of the poll from the top down."

I guess I have greater faith in the intelligence and integrity of the clergy, vestries and voters than you do. Your assertions mirror those of TEC/DioVA: If you can't win the vote, attack the procedure and the integrity of your opposition.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

Ralph = I would have had no reservations about the integrity of the clergy and the vestry if, when they had formed the intention to leave, they had left and then invited others to join them. Many would have followed, I'm sure, and I would have admired them for their principles, even while disagreeing that their departure was good for God's Church on Earth. However, I believe it to have been starkly unethical for them to have stayed inside the church for months or even years organizing departures, "votes" and property transfers after they had made up their minds that the proper step for them was to leave.

Scout

BabyBlue said...

Scout, as you recall, we were following Bishop Lee's own protocol, written by his own chancellor, which spelled out the procedure according to the laws of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the canons of the Diocese of Virginia. As we may yet again recall, it was Bishop Lee who formed the Property Committee that we voted reps to as he requested and would have moved forward until Bishop Schori's attorney came into the diocese and within days, Bishop Lee had cancelled the Standstill Agreement (you don't mention that either) as well as his Property Committee. Let's just be clear - the Bishop of Virginia and the Standing Committee were a part of the process of discernment at my parish - Bishop Lee recorded DVDs for us and the Standing Committee President came and spoke to the entire parish.

Your post seems to give the impression that the diocese was not involved in 40 Days of Discernment, or that Bishop Lee's own chancellor wrote the protocol that we followed.

bb

Anonymous said...

In our parish, BB, the chancellor of the diocese was allowed to present a seven-minute presentation very late in the game, and he was escorted into and away from his presentation like a prisoner under guard. He was not allowed to take questions or engage in dialogue with the parish. The process went on for months and was completely one-sided. It was a sealed system that started from a position that separation was the right result. The Bishop had been banned from the parish for quite some time even prior to the last year of the process. I attended many of the meetings and heard clergy and vestry openly advocate for departure both from the pulpit and from the position of leadership of the meetings. No alternative point of view was offered from positions of leadership. Other than the short presentation by the Chancellor after weeks of one view being presented. I saw no sign of a sustained Diocesan presence in any of the processes leading up to the split. No effort was made to present the issue in any objective context.

Scout

BabyBlue said...

It sounds like you didn't show Bishop Lee's video (it's still online by the way)? And the Standing Committee didn't come and take questions from the congregation and meet with the Vestry? I'm surprised by that because I know they were making the rounds - we received the Standing Committee President and another member. It was really important that we have small groups where the whole parish could meet and bring their questions and have conversation. It sure doesn't sound like you were able to take advantage of these resources.

It sounds like there were people who had alternative views but did not feel like their views were heard. We should never be afraid to hear alternative views to our own in our quest for the truth. We had rather robust exchanges in our small groups and at the Vestry table on Sunday mornings, as well as the opportunity for the congregation to question the Standing Committee. Bishop Lee was never banned - he chose not to come and sent the DVD instead which was uploaded to the 40 Days of Discernment website.

It was important to have real and deep heart-felt conversation and discussion ("come, let us reason together")- we had that in the Vestry as well, with lots of tears. It was one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made.

bb

Anonymous said...

Scout's description of the presentation at the Falls Church is accurate. It was 7 minutes - and a Standing Committee member also spoke. They were whisked from the room during the discussion and watched over by wardens and lay leaders of the church. Just in that day alone, John Yates preached on this subject for 30 minutes. And those hammering messages had continued for weeks, months, years, and even decades. Perhaps Minns was, ironically, more straightforward, but there was no fair debate at the Falls Church. I know. I was there. And it is a lie to say otherwise.

BabyBlue said...

Can you also describe the 40 Days Of Discernment process as well?

bb

Robert said...

I was at TFC as well. I went to the 40-Days seminar. People weren't shut out. The discussion was open and frank. Neither was this was a topic preached on for years or even months. I disagree with your assessment of the situation.

FWIW - When we set about to raise funds for the new sanctuary in the early 1990's I asked John Yates about the "troubles" within the Episcopal Church during a small group meeting and he spoke highly and confidently about Bishop Lee's willingness to stand up for the diocese and orthodoxy against the national church. This was long before Bishop Robinson. I guess Rev. Yates was wrong.

Steven in Falls Church said...

Let's be careful who we call a liar, a very strong word. I believe as late as 2005 and maybe into 2006, until GC, the Rev. Yates at TFC was not in the disaffiliation camp, and actually stated this in a sermon--trust me as I was there. I was also there at the 11 a.m. service in late 2006 when the diocesan representatives spoke, and they were not escored in and out. They took seats in the front at the beginning of the service--I was sitting just two or three rows behind them--and participated in the opening hymns. After they spoke they departed, I believe to go give the same talk at the concurrent 11 a.m. service in the Historic Church, or it may have been because the Protocol was interpreted as requiring this, but at any rate they were not "escorted out."