Friday, November 12, 2010
Just back from court - after a bit of a litigation hiatus, the legal teams have returned to Judge Randy Bellows' court in Fairfax, Virginia. Today saw the debut of Mary Kostel, the special counsel to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori for property litigation at the plaintiff's table representing the Episcopal Church (they just want Judge Bellows to issue a summary judgement). Also present in the front row sitting next to Russ Palmore (author of the Virginia Protocol for Departing Congregations) was David Booth Beers, Chancellor for Bishop Schori.
There was far more pleasant "camaraderie" between the counsels for the Virginia churches and the Diocese of Virginia (engagement for which Virginia is rather famous) then there was for the DC-based Episcopal Church lawyers who seemed far more stone-faced and grim. Except for David Booth Beers and Russ Palmore (the two of who seemed somewhat surprisingly positively chummy - but then Russ did serve for a time on the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church, in fact while the protocol was being written when Frank Griswald was still Presiding Bishop), there was very little high-fiving going on between TEC and the Diocese. It seems clear they have a business relationship - one can't really imagine that they all headed over to Chucky Cheese for some rowdy fun.
The Diocese however was quite excited about receiving their reimbursement check for attorney fees - perhaps too excited - that was ordered by the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth Virginia from the CANA Churches who lost on appeal there last summer. Happily, the check was presented to them today during the hearing before Judge Bellows so that can be checked off the to-do list.
But for one parish, the Virginia churches remain unified as this next part of the litigation journey unfolds. The exception is Church of Our Saviour Oatlands (located on the Virginia Plantation Oaklands) which seems to have some issues that they would like to have resolved separately. Whether they will be permitted to do that will be a decision of Judge Bellows. Otherwise, the remaining eight churches are hanging together to respond to the separate lawsuits filed by both The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia against the churches and nearly 200 lay volunteers. The lay volunteers have been removed from the litigation without prejudice (which means - theoretically they could be reinstalled in the litigation and a reminder of this can be found in the courthouse lobby ticker of cases which lists all 200 names throughout the day). It was good to see George Peterson and Gordon Coffee back at the attorney table and representing the CANA churches before Judge Bellows.
Today's hearing focused on a couple of issues - the first being the scheduling of the trial next year and the second being whether the trial will be before the bench or before a jury. The CANA churches (with the exception of Church of Our Saviour) favors a jury trial while the Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church oppose a jury trial.
The next hearing will be December 17th. In the meantime the opposing counsels are preparing briefs and have been ordered to resolve any issues as may be possible before Thanksgiving. This might be a good time to pray that there might be more resolution than conflict in this period leading up to Thanksgiving when all the final briefs are due on November 24th.
Had the opportunity to meet some regulars from the Cafe - from both sides of the aisle as it were - who hang out here at the cafe from time to time swapping howdies and ordering pies. It was a pleasure to meet everyone, including one member of the continuing Episcopal church congregations. We were reminded that while we may disagree at this point - we will, by God's grace and mercy - be spending a long time praising God in heaven. Would it not be advantageous to begin the praising here, again by God's grace and mercy? It was Bishop Lee's prayer that we might remain in as close a communion as possible - is it not time to pray that prayer again?
When I got back to my car in the parking lot, I could not find my car key. I looked everywhere for it and even started walking back to the Courthouse when I found it in a little compartment in my purse as I got off the elevator. As I walked back to my car, feeling tremendously relieved, I was reminded that in many ways that is what it felt like today - like we have the lost the key to resolution, that it seems hidden or lost, but perhaps it may be closer than we can even imagine, if we just - in humility - seek it out.