Friday, November 12, 2010

And so it begins again ...


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.

32 comments:

Kevin said...

May the Lord's will be done and the peace that surpasses all understanding be granted to His children.

Annie Patterson Rothgeb said...

Thank you for this Mary. Here we go. Again.

jmoss said...

Mary, I don't know about Virginia, but in Tennessee, if a party is dismissed with prejudice, the party is out forever. The lay volunteers can not be "reinstalled"

Anonymous said...

Kostal should be Kostel, and jmoss is correct -- you meant "without prejudice"

BabyBlue said...

Fixed - thank you so much. :)

bb

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid, bb, that there is no possibility of resolution.

For three years the CANA churches have held out the offer to negotiate a settlement, and for three years, 815 has slammed the door. (Apparently, Indaba does not apply here)

With the exception of perhaps one or two churches, the remnant Episcopal congregations cannot possibly support the buildings TEC claims to want to preserve for future generations of Episcopalians. Plain and simple - these will never again be viable Episcopal churches.

It's clear that 815 wants to stamp out any other brand of Anglicanism in North America, but that effort has already failed. One can only conclude that since there is little to be won and much to be lost, it is vindictiveness that drives the Red Queen.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

BB, good job in covering the hearing, as I was there, observing through a slightly different prism. I join you in praying that there be more resolution than conflict during the coming weeks/months. I am saddened by RalphM's statement that there is no way to resolution. And he is completely wrong that should the Diocese regain the properties, the churches will not be able to remain Episcopalian. As a member of one of the strongest continuing congregations, I am quite sure that the Diocese and the continuing Episcopalians will do all they can to preserve these churches for the generations of Episcopalians to come.

Anonymous said...

Ralph - I don't have any inside line on what goes on in the heads of "815", as you refer to it, but I doubt strongly that they are motivated by a desire to "stamp out" other forms of Anglicanism. Had the departing groups simply gone out and started up their own congregations in their own facilities, I doubt that there would be any litigation anywhere. I do believe, however, that the motivating principle is that one cannot gain property rights simply by firing up a bunch of people to leave the Church and then lay claim to the physical premises. I realize that you and I differ on whether that sort of behaviour is a good thing, but I hope that we could agree that those who stay have a legitimate interest in that kind of philosophy not gaining any credibility. While it might cut against me this time around on a given issue or set of issues, it is an essentially injurious doctrine that could cut against you or someone else when another issue is heated up in another context. Generally speaking, the concept of departing people starting their own religious groupings and not taking church property with them is a sound one worth contending over.

Scout

Always hobbits said...

Scout--

Mostly I stay away, but then sometimes your perspective on life and the world so "bugs" me that I feel I must respond. We do see this with profoundly different eyes. I am going to put this with a certain firmness. Do you agree that the hermeneutic of kill-and-destroy is uniquely Schiori? That Griswold saw this differently, and that that had been the opinion and practice of TEC, before Schiori? And that until Lee became weak-kneed with the advent of Schiori, he too saw a peaceful separation as right and possible? In your gentlemanly way, you (and TEC at-large) seem unable to acknowledge this history of hard-hearted hermeneutics that has come with Schiori and company. It is very hard to see this as anything in the church or the world to do with Jesus and the gospel. But that is why I continue to argue that she and TEC (in its official decision-making now in place for years) is more Hinduism with an Enlightenment face, than historic Christianity.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 12:30 PM,

There is no way to resolution because TEC is not interested in a settlement.

Some worshippers will stay with the buildings, either because they think the church is the property or because they see God's hand in determining the outcome (that would probably be less than 10% of the pre-split membership). The maximum "remain Episcopalian" vote was about 20%. If these two sets of people happen to coincide you have at most 30%. Do you honestly believe that fewer than 1/3 of the former congregation can keep the lights on in these buildings?

RalphM

Anonymous said...

Scout,

So if 815 is not interested in stamping out the competition, why did they refuse to sell the Binghamton church back to the departing congregation, but rather sold it to the muslims for reportedly less than the offer from the departing congregation?

Why did KJS state in a deposition that any churches won in litigation could not be sold to the departing congregations?

Why does TEC sue the volunteer lay persons who vote their belief, even when TEC knows they cannot get a judgment in court against them?

As the issue is now in the courts, ownership rights will be decided on neutral grounds, such as who paid for it and whose name is on the deed.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

To RalphM and Always Hobbits.

You are basing your comments on revisionist history. As early as 2004, Bishop Lee advised several churches that were considering leaving the Diocese that he could not envision releasing property rights under any conditions. And prior to the vote at both Falls Church and Truro, the Standing Committee of the Diocese stated that "there is no protocol". Those are facts which can be proven through press releases and other recorded statements.

Your continued accusation that Bishop Schiori is behind this mess is simply not true. She is certainly involved now, but she wasn't even in her position in 2004

I know this is disappointing to you, and these falsehoods have been repeated by the leaders of the CANA congregations so much that they have been taken as truth. They are not.

Always hobbits said...

To Anonymous--

Not tit for tat, completely, and yet... I have seen the correspondence with my own eyes that supports "the revisionist" reading of history. Words were said and written that you obviously have not had access to.

Bishops Lee and Schiori et al are not reliable and trustworthy voices about matters of faith-- revisionist clerics if ever there were. Why would we expect otherwise in matters of the law? They spin as they will, and call it history-- just as they do about the creeds and confessions, and call it Christianity. No, it is Hinduism with an Enlightenment face. That is a respectable position, in its own lights, and I do understand it; but it is not the faith of the prophets and the apostles, mere christianity.

To draw upon the much-loved childrens' story, against the p.r. campaign from the highest authorities, the emperor really was naked-- and a little one finally had the moral courage to say aloud what everyone, in their heart of hearts knew: the emperor has no clothes! That is the story, and the reality, of The Episcopal Church in the year of our Lord 2010.

Anonymous said...

Ralph and AH: my comment was much narrower than what you invite me to address. My narrow point is that I think it a morally, legally and ethically rootless idea that people who leave a church get to take things with them. I've stated it before in various ways here and elsewhere, and I've never heard a very compelling counterstatement as to why I should not be concerned about that kind of behaviour. Ralph's intimation, also stated before, that it should swing on "who paid for it" doesn't get me very far, given that his purse and mine both paid for it and I can't figure out how, when I decide to stay, I lose my dollars, at the same time that he, who has decided to depart, gets the whole shooting match. I also haven't figured out how, over the course of three centuries, one disposes of those "who paid for it" when a goodly number of them passed on without expressing a view on the hot issue of the present moment. I also have a care for the prospect that, under Ralph's theory, a sufficiently motivated group with sufficiently charismatic, but ethically untidy leaders, could take property with them to a non-Christian home, something I would not much care to see at my church. Which leads to AH's query about the TEC leadership's attitudes and motivations.

I think it a valid principle that one would not sell properties to secessionist groups. It would simply encourage that kind of behaviour. It seems a perfectly responsible stewardship position that, as a general rule (I'm pragmatic enough that I have not ruled out the notion that there might be exceptions), a Diocese would take the position that it is not going to sell properties to departing factions. I am, frankly, troubled by the idea of the properties being sold to non-Christians. I don't know very much about the situation in Binghamton, but if it was sold to a Muslim group to spite the departees, I would distance myself from that kind of action.

Vestry members who sit around plotting ways to take over property after they have reached a decision to leave the church have violated their oaths and their fiduciary duties. I don't know that it is a good policy to sue them for such breeches in the secular courts when property rights become a secular legal issue, but I would consider it a valid cause of action. Vestry members can quit if they are no longer comfortable being members of a given parish or diocese. They are way out beyond any defensible limit if they continue to serve but are actively planning methods for separating parishioners and property from former alignments.

Finally, AH, a perfectly peaceful outcome (except for a lot of hot air, no doubt from both sides) would have been possible if those who had lost patience with the Church had simply left. All the issues that have found their way into the secular courts are directly traceable to efforts to take over property. In my mind, none of this has much to do with Hinduism, Unitarianism, or anything else. Regulars here know that I am not a KJS afficianado. But I would find it more than passing strange that any Presiding or Diocesan Bishop could simply acquiesce in these radical claims that departure vests property rights. As I said to Ralph, that kind of claim may work to my detriment now, but it could just as easily work against you or him if a large number of your fellow worshippers decide to convert to Islam in the near future (to use a didactic hypothetical).

Scout

John said...

I will repeat what I wrote on another blog.
Go build your own church. You will be calmer and spiritually fulfilled.
You cannot steal property and ask for forgiveness without atonement.

redleg82 said...

If you paid for it ain't stealing. If you didn't pay for it, it ain't yours.

Using the First Amendment as an excuse to take what you do not own is a violation of the 5th and 14th Amendments.

Even for a church.

Anonymous said...

Scout,

"Vestry members who sit around plotting ways to take over property after they have reached a decision to leave the church have violated their oaths and their fiduciary duties."

Were you there personally to observe this "plotting"? If not, please refrain from smearing 200 people.

RalphM

RalphM

Anonymous said...

Ralph - my remark was in response to your reference to suits against "volunteer lay people." I don't know that anyone who decided to leave the church stayed on as a vestry member and participated in plans to wrest control of property. But I strongly suspect it happened and, to the extent it did, my opinion is that it is a clear breach of fiduciary duties of a vestryman. I would hope that the number of people who would have behaved that way is zero or close to it. Your comment indicates that the number is 200. That's very discouraging. I'm not sure why you regard my opinion as a "smear." It's just an opinion.

Scout

Anonymous said...

200 is the number of defendants on the suits. It would be more like 110 for vestry members. The others are clergy and trustees.

My issue with you is that you paint the process as some group of scheming people plotting to steal property.

In most of the churches, the voting question to the congregation contained two parts: whether to leave TEC and whether to seek to retain the property. Whether to leave was by far the more painful question to decide.

I didn't sit in every vestry meeting of every church, but I can tell you that the decisions by the vestries was painful and done with much prayer and examination.

That is why I consider your statement of "plotting" as a smear.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

To Ralph M and others,
I was there and yes there was "plotting". It went on for years, but particularly in the last 15 or so months leading up the vote. This may or may not come out in the hearings. It is another of those "truths" that have been shoved under the carpet.

Ralph, you are very naive to think that this had not been planned carefully for many many years. Scout is right. It was a definite case of "fiduciary irresponsibility".

The vestry of my church did indeed plan for this separation with much thought and prayer, but it was not painful. It was a "fete accompli" years before it actually happened.

Anonymous said...

Substitute the verb "planning" for "plotting", Ralph, and my point and conclusion would be the same.

Clergy are subject to the same obligations as vestrymen, Ralph. In fact, I would think their duty to leave the second they determined that they could not stay on would be, if anything, more stark than for lay members. So, again, it may be that bringing suit against them for their actions is not an optimal policy, but it certainly is not the kind of thing that lacks substance in law. Everyone could have been out the door and busily building new churches in a process that would have involved no lawsuits if folks had not been so keen on taking property when they departed. My own view is that there was a strong sentiment among departing clergy and vestry that it would be an easier "sell" to the general congregation if they could be convinced that they could continue to worship in familiar surroundings. But that's just my opinion.

Scout

Anonymous said...

To Sout and Anon above,

Correct - it is just your opinion.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

The part that's just my opinion -or surmise - is my conclusion that a primary reason that so much effort was expended on trying take control of the property was that it was assumed that a larger proportion of the congregation would agree to move if they could do so relatively cost-free, i.e., simply continuing to occupy the physical plant of the Episcopal Church that was being left behind. The part of my comment that I believe to be fact is that many clergy and lay leaders stayed in place without formally resigning or departing for many months after they made an internal decision that they would not stay in the Diocese of Virginia. Anon at 2136 seems to confirm my view of that and I have not heard anyone, including Ralph, dispute it.

Scout

Anonymous said...

At this point, we have arrived at the infamous stalemate. Too many electrons have been propelled in the cause of speculation and opinion.

Till out next discussion - peace be with you.

RalphM

Steven in Falls Church said...

Wow, I'm just trying to protect my church from the apostates like Schori, who has called Christ's sacrifice superfluous for means of salvation, and from the Muslims, who appear to be TEC's favored customer for recovered church property, and for that I'm called a "thief." I'll gladly bear that label.

Anonymous said...

The word "thief" was not used in this thread. It has been suggested here and elsewhere, however, that the claim of departing parishioners to legal title of Episcopal properties lacks firm grounding in law, ethics, or morals. A clear standard that does not depend on unilateral labeling of those who choose not to leave has not emerged from your side of the discussion, Steven. None of the people dispossessed by the occupation of your church by departees is a Muslim or an apostate. Not one. In any event, I submit that your criteria for taking title are not particularly useful. If I find a desirable church property somewhere, by your standards, I simply declare the occupants "apostates", and it's mine. Do you think that's superior to the idea that when a person leaves a church for whatever reason, he refrains from taking things with him?

Scout

Anonymous said...

By the way, BB, I very much liked and appreciated the allegory of the lost key. Nicely done.

Scout

jschwarz42 said...

It is all well and good to talk about "reconciliation" and a settlement. But what would a settlement acceptable to both sides look like? Is there a "way" forward that both could live with. Although I read a lot here from those in departed congregations about the obduracy of TEC, my sense is that, if one scratches beneath the surface, the only solution any of you would agree to is: give us everything, go away and leave us with the property and forget the lawsuit [which, in actuality, was initiated by the congregations by their filing with the Court under the statute] ever happened. That is not a settlement.

For the Diocese (assuming they are interested in settling - and my sense is that they now think they have a very strong case with the issue of the statute gone), ISTM that there would need to be two approaches to any "settlement" with different congregations: one for those where there is a "continuing" Episcopal parish community waiting to be "restored" to (what it and the Diocese see as) its rightful church property (e.g., Falls Church); and one for those where there is not (e.g, Truro). Now, whatever the Diocese might decide it could live with regarding Truro etc, nonetheless as regards Falls Church etc, after all the encouragement that the Diocese has given to those "faithful Episcopalians" in the continuing communities currently worshiping in borrowed space by the grace of others, and after all the hope that has been held out to them (as anyone could tell who has worshipped and talked with members), it would rightly be seen, not just by the continuing parishes, but by I think almost all of us around the rest of the Diocese with a sense of decency and justice, as a total act of BETRAYAL for the Diocese to then go ahead and "negotiate" away their hope of getting their church back, as part of some settlement. It would be different if the Diocese fought and ultimately lost. But to give up, at this point, as regards THESE churches (and there are, I grant you, only a few), would I think be not an ethically acceptable course for the Diocese. There is a bond of trust which would be broken.

Many in these continuing communities have been treated quite shabbily by those congregations which left - in some cases making clear that they are not welcome even to re-visit "their" church or, if they do, told not to take communion! Maybe there can be a kind of reconciliation later, in which the restored Episcopalian community acts more graciously than they were treated. But they are the ones who remained as a "faithful remnant" - and, if legally possible, they need to get their churches back.

John

Anonymous said...

"Many in these continuing communities have been treated quite shabbily by those congregations which left - in some cases making clear that they are not welcome even to re-visit "their" church or, if they do, told not to take communion!"

John - since you are presemably talking about the VA churches, please provide facts and names, because without them, your assertion is just another ugly smear.

Since the continuing congregations are, with perhaps one or two exceptions, unable to support the physical plants they left, one possible solution is to pick up where the talks left off prior to TEC filing the suits. Those talks revolved around a sharing of facilities, such as with The Falls Church, where the use of the historic church was offered.

Personally, if my CANA church (where all are welcome)prevails, I would actively promote such a sharing as makes sense for the two congregations.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

Actually, Ralph, the first big problem was the filing of the 57-9 actions to claim title by the departing factions. That really kind of put the kibosh on any sort of middle ground disposition, didn't it? If those petitions had been granted, the departing groups would have miraculously held actual title to the property and there would have been nothing to talk about except, perhaps, allowing those who stayed to have access at the sufferance of those who left. Moreover, those who stayed didn't "leave" the premises, Ralph. They were compelled to find other locations. Episcopal services are not offered in those places where departing groups are occupying the property. At my parish, efforts by those who stayed to continue to use the premises for regular Sunday morning Episcopal services have been rebuffed by the occupiers. Short of fisticuffs and altercations, how would one have conducted services in those circumstances?



Scout

jschwarz42 said...

RalphM, My comments were based on conversations some time ago with people I met from continuing parishes, describing their first hand experiences. My memory is not what it was, and I do not remember all the churches or details involved. But I talked to enough people and heard enough first-hand stories that there seems to have been a consistent pattern of what I would call "shabby treatment". Obviously, however, when community relationships are broken, individual people get angry and things are said and things are heard that may not always be properly understood or reflect "official policy".

I think the person who was told not to come to communion had gone to something like a funeral or wedding (I don't remember the church). I did hear from someone at Falls Church Episcopal that there was some early "offer" of use of the church for services, but only on a kind of dismissive take it or leave it basis for a different space or some time-slot that would have been outside the times that people typically worship on Sundays. If true, I would have found that pretty insulting and unacceptable. Maybe, however, a true "sharing" solution might work, if approached in good faith.

John

Anonymous said...

John : Frankly, I'd be very surprised if someone was told that they would be denied communion or admonished not to take communion. I do not understand that the departing groups have a standard for admission to the Lord's Table that is different from that of the Episcopal Church, i.e., that the communicant be a baptised Christian who is eligible to take communion at his home church. I can't see how an Episcopalian visiting one of these departing groups' worship services could or would be waved off from communion. What would be the basis for that?

Scout