Sunday, February 20, 2011

Breaking News: CANA Church reaches settlement with The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia


The Church of our Saviour Oatlands (Virginia) has reached a settlement to end litigation with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church.  The congregation voted today to take the settlement offered by the diocese and the Episcopal Church and will surrender their property to the diocese.  They will then lease the property back from the diocese, but they must also disaffiliate from the Anglican District of Virginia, CANA, or any other Anglican entity.  The Diocese of Virginia also announced that the church w"has agreed that no bishop will visit the congregation without the permission of the Bishop of Virginia." All other claims made by The Diocese and the Episcopal Church against the Church of Our Saviour will be dropped.

“For many months, we have encouraged our congregations to pray for an end to this costly litigation,” said ADV Chairman Jim Oakes in an official statement.  “There has been a great deal of discussion and soul searching and we will continue to pray that His will be done. No matter the path Church of Our Saviour has chosen, they will remain our brothers and sisters in Christ and we pray for the opportunity to have continued fellowship together.”

“It is truly heartening for us to come to an agreement,” the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, Bishop of Virginia said in statement released by the diocese. “This settlement ensures that the legacy entrusted to the Episcopal Church continues, while providing a clear way forward for the Oatlands congregation.” 

The Church of our Savior was built in 1877 and consecrated in 1878 on land deeded by George and Kate Powell Carter of this historic Oatlands Plantation. Before the erection of the church, the small congregation worshipped in an abandoned blacksmith shop nearby. In 1903, Mr. and Mrs. William Corcoran Eustis built the parish house adjacent to the church.  The Rev. Elijah B. White has been rector since 1977.

The trial over remaining church properties is currently scheduled for April 25th in the Fairfax Circuit Cour, Judge Randy Bellows presiding.

UPDATE: Here is The Rev'd Elijah White's informative and heartfelt letter to his parish sent today that fills in more details of the settlement:
Dear Members and Friends of Our Saviour,

Today, February 20 in the Year of our Lord 2011, Septuagesima, our Parish voted for a future as significant as our initial formation under Oatlands Plantation's oak grove during the War between the States, construction of our church building in 1878 and parish hall in 1906, independence as a separate congregation no longer subservient under any larger parish in 1973, and our first full-time Rector in 1980.

With the unanimous endorsement of our Vestry, Officers and clergy, and a 10-1 endorsement by our voting members, we have this day settled the lawsuits filed against us by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in Richmond and by the national Episcopal Church in New York City.

I am not glad about this, but I heartily endorse these decisions, have spoken out in favor of them as the best arrangement obtainable in our current legal situation, and look forward to working energetically for our ongoing Christian mission together free from the burdens, distractions and costs of continued litigation. This frees us to put all our efforts into God's work.

Loudoun County appraises our property at $314,500. We have already spent some $400,000 in our own legal defense and contributions to our joint efforts with ADV-CANA.

Given an unfavorable decision by the Supreme Court of Virginia last June, and their sending our cases back to the Fairfax County Circuit Court to be retried individually under a different set of legal standards and criteria, our alternatives were either to negotiate the best settlement we could now or to spend another third of a million dollars and another 18-20 months in new litigation with a dubious chance of success when any Fairfax decision is sure to be appealed to that same Supreme Court of Virginia.

Recognizing that every agreement contains some points that each side likes and some that each side does not like, the terms of this settlement include the following:

· neither side admits to the validity of the other side's arguments, contentions, claims or assertions

· the Diocese of Virginia gains title to the real property and certain older items of personal property

· our Parish gains a lease of up to five years of full and free quiet enjoyment of all real and personal property, the Diocese being bound by this up-to-five-year agreement but our Parish being free to terminate it at any time upon thirty days notice

· our Parish will pay $500 per month while we occupy the premises {these payments will not come out of our Parish offerings nor budget - the full cost of a maximum five-year lease, $30,000, has already been paid into a separate account by an anonymous donor}

· our Parish will retain all our 1928 Prayer Books and 1940 Hymnals - our church organ and parish hall piano - all Eucharistic vestments and Altar hangings - all other clergy vestments - our Paschal Candlestick and Advent Wreath - our processional Cross and its accompanying wall plaque - our inlaid table in the entranceway - the big lectern King James Version Bible - the American flag Col. Mike Sweeney brought to us from Camp Fallujah in Iraq - the two cemetery benches given in memory of Anita - the silver lavabo bowl - and all of our Parish funds: no cash will go to the Episcopal Diocese nor to the national Episcopal Church

· any donor or contributor of a hand-worked kneeler, or any family member of such or of an individual in whose honor it was given, may identify and claim such a kneeler and take it

· anyone who wants a member moved from our cemetery or memorial wall can do so at any time until we leave the premises - the Parish offers to pay for such moves

· anyone who has a reservation in our cemetery or memorial wall and wants to use it can exercise that right at any time

· our congregation voted today to disaffiliate with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America under the Province of Nigeria and its local Anglican District of Virginia, and may not affiliate nor serve under any other Anglican entity so long as we remain on our present premises - once we leave we are free to affiliate with whomever we may choose

I send this summary to you right away - more information will follow by e-mail and newsletter.

If you participated in the meeting after the 9.30 service last Sunday the 13th you saw that, although 26 people had attended the 8 o'clock and many were not at either service, we quite literally had standing-room only, the parking lot was full, the lawn half-full, more cars lined to dirt road out front, and one could hardly move in the parish hall afterward. If everyone were to come, we could not possibly accommodate them.

The fact is that we are in the process of outgrowing our beloved buildings - this is the Lord's own work, God giveth the increase, which is a growing problem for us but a very godly problem to have. Our Vestry and many knowledgeable members have been actively looking at potentially-suitable properties, and will continue to do so.

I love this place, these buildings I've served since 1948-49 when Janet Cobb's father brought me down as his Altar boy when he was Rector of S. James' Leesburg. Leaving them will hurt me very much, as I know it will many of you, but I am confident that we are doing both the best and the right thing in our complex circumstances of ending litigation and planning for growth.

Please pray for us all, as individuals for whom Christ died and rose again and as a congregation committed to His godly worship, His service, and the Faith once and for all delivered to the saints.

May the God we strive to serve bless, guide, guard, direct and prosper us all.

Faithfully yours in His service,

Lige

37 comments:

Wilf said...

What profound ugliness (terms of the settlement), I am at a loss for fitting words.

Wilf said...

The terms of this settlement seem to indicate that TEC sees no future unity with the ACNA, and is nearly certain that the ACNA to be a part of whatever Communion it will be a part of in the future; this is truly burning bridges.

I am guessing that the game plan is "Us plus most of the western provinces plus a few of the other provinces." With this action, they are seriously wounding any with a desire for greater unity.

It would have been easy enough to offer terms without this condition.

I am also wondering about the "five years" here. With the Pittsburgh church, it seemed that after five years, they would again be free to associate with the ACNA. Is that the case here? Bishop Johnston says: "We have a long-term view that looks forward to an Episcopal presence in that area in the future." Perhaps that's 5 years to build up a TEC presence in the area, wanting exclusivity as "the only Anglican" parish. Nonetheless, very ugly terms.

Steven in Falls Church said...

“This settlement ensures that the legacy entrusted to the Episcopal Church continues, while providing a clear way forward for the Oatlands congregation.”

So, Bishop, that legacy is basically to serve as a landlord, collecting rents? I don't get it. Either you can use the building for the purpose of a church (which your spokesmen have proclaimed all along), or you can't, in which case you just sell the place.

This may be good for the good folks of Christ our Savior, but I would not support it for my church. TEC can either maintain the property or it can't--this settlement suggests the latter. Let's make TEC put its money where its mouth is.

Grandpa DIno said...

"The congregation voted today to (...) surrender their property to the diocese"

So OSO gives up its property, its right of free association and still pays DioVA anyway.

Why not just walk away and use their money to start up in a new location?

Anonymous said...

It's about the franchise. TEC has a franchise that is declining in value. ACNA has a franchise that is rising in value. TEC desparately wants a no-compete clause in any agreement.

Any time a no-compete clause is written into a contract, it means that one party believes it cannot compete. Any guesses as to who that is in this case?

If the congregation of Oatlands believes this is the best way forward, then I wish them well.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

This strikes me as a very generous settlement. Let's see if the other groups who left the diocese reach similar arrangements. I have said here before that a lease-back to the Truro group might be a good move for both sides, as long as Episcopalians have access to the property for worship. It sounds like things are going that way.

Scout

James said...

Does anybody know what the length of the non-compete clause is? I assume that it will continue in effect while the parish leases the property.

I will say that the inclusion of these non-compete clauses in recent TEC settlements tells you all you need to know about the apparently significant fear that TEC has of competition from the ACNA.

Anonymous said...

I had just been reading an article about how PB Browning tended to describe "conservatives" in TEC as motivated by fear and hatred.

That made me think of this clause.

Anonymous said...

Grandpa Dino: Excellent point. You nailed it, although several years too late. All of the people who, for various reasons, many of which are perfectly understandable, decided to leave the Episcopal Church should have walked away and started their own church. That has been my rallying cry for more than four years now. That their leaders sucked them into these schemes to claim property on the way out the door has been the source of enormous loss and waste on all sides. The result was foreseeable, predictable, and avoidable. That so many fell into this is one more example of the depth and breadth of human folly, particularly in mass settings where emotions get stirred up and displace intellectual analysis.

Not to obscure the larger wisdom of your point, but the group here gave up nothing in terms of its property or right of association. It gave up a lawsuit that it initiated and had sunk a lot of valuable resources into (some of those resources arguably belonging to the Church they departed). They gained surcease from that burden and, for a period of years, a place to worship. That they agreed, as a condition of use of that place, to not affiliate with other denominations is simply a choice that apparently they felt was reasonable in terms of what they gained.

Scout

Anonymous said...

My sense is that the diocese expects that the parish will pay its assessment to the diocese for the next five years through rents, then the existing leadership will have changed, at which point they will vote to reunite with the Diocese of VA rather than vacate the property.

Grandpa Dino said...

Scout:

Lest you think that I agree with OSO's decision, I do not. I have no knowledge as to what went into their decision.

My issue with ECUSA & DioVA is their departure from the Christian faith, as exemplified by their promotion of homosexual behavior and abortion, and their intolerance of orthodox Christian belief and practice.


We may have lost the Battle of Oatlands, but the Battles of Truro/TFC et al are yet to be decided and I stand ready to defend them all.

Anonymous said...

I was agreeing with your point that it would have been far wiser for those who wanted to leave to simply leave and build a new place of worship. No battle was lost. The parties simply decided to cease conduct that was harmful to both and to their work in spreading the Good News.

I have noticed absolutely no intolerance of orthodox Christian belief and practice in my parish or diocese. As practicing orthodox Christians, I can't imagine how such a thing could manifest itself among us.

Scout

Anonymous said...

The Washington Times reports that the church had spent $400000 on legal fees for a building worth $314000. With the lawsuits now going back to the start essentially it was a wise move to cut the losses and move on.

It also reports that the church is looking to move as soon as possible and that the no compete clause only lasts while they are in the building.

I agree everyone should settle on whatever terms are available, by the sounds of it both sides have now spent more in lawyers fees than the buildings are worth.

TEC is a dying body, attenders are fleeing. Follow the bible. Rather allow yourselves to be wronged, but make sure you widely proclaim the unjust terms imposed during that exit. People are not stupid, TEC may win the buildings but every time this happens they lose far more in people across the whole country.

ACNA grows faster with persecution. Which means they will win in the long term. Allow yourselves to be persecuted. It will unite your churches like never before and lead to massive growth.

Why is it so easy to follow the bible when it comes to homosexuality, but so hard when it comes to money?

Anonymous said...

The more TEC wastes on litigation, the less it has for manipulation of the Instruments of Communion and attractive offers for clergy in Global South provinces - reminds me of TEC Bishop Barbara Harris's famous quote on "chicken dinners"

Anonymous said...

The no compete clause / prohibition against free association raised a question... Where had I seen something about that....

Oh! Now I remember:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof....

Set forth by the founding fathers, many of whom were COE/Episcopalian. The leaders of today's TEC are a far cry from those men.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

When you are evicted from the buildings, make sure you invite the local press and television news organizations to the deconsecration ceremony, and that you have long term members on hand to explain how they contributed to building that building or maintaining it over the years and how you are now being evicted with nothing to show for all that you invested in that church over many years, and are being forced to leave behind cherished items. Make clear the implications of the no compete clause. Basically make sure that people understand just how the leaders of the supposed 'church' of TEC put the gospel into action. Don't overdo it, don;t lie or exaggerate, just speak the facts. Show them for what they are.

Wilf said...

I've read elsewhere on the clause and no longer find it quite as ugly as I found it initially - that this is part of the "owners' rights" to the property, and that TEC can not in good conscience allow an ACNA congregation rent.

I wouldn't want to compel a Muslim congregation to permit a Christian group to rent their property, either.

This does, however, demonstrate how far we have drifted - the congregation which built and paid for the building (and I believe, hold the title) now being compelled either to leave it, or to pay more money and switch affiliations. It's also a bit of a foretaste of what might come in the future if we are to allow TEC to manipulate our Instruments of Communion.

Anonymous said...

I think the lawsuit costs are small change as far as TEC is concerned. What will break the TEC bank is losing members. The quickest way for a church to lose members is to stop acting like Christians. When they throw long term members on the street with nothing, they are not acting like Christians. When they prevent long time members from worshipping together they are not acting like Christians. That has been the path they have followed for the last 7 years.

The results of that policy have been an unprecedented union of breakaway Anglicans in a way that many thought was not possible, the recognition of those breakaways by most of the Anglican communion in a way they was previously unimaginable and a massive decline in the attendance of TEC churches to the extent that most TEC churches have no prospect of survival past the next 2 decades as they can no longer afford clergy or maintain their buildings.

Keep the faith, follow the bible, allow yourselves to be wronged, proclaim the gospel and grow. Act like Christians, allow yourself to be wronged and you will grow even quicker and stronger. In 2 decades the surviving Anglican presence in the US will be ACNA. TEC and all who align themselves will be a footnote in the history of a failed church and a lesson for all other churches that abandon the bible for the wisdom of the age.

Look to the long term.

TJ McMahon said...

The headline is wrong, the parish ceased to be a CANA parish by putting its signature on the document. And if you disagree with me, don't make your case too well, or TEC will throw them out on the street for reneging on the agreement.

Wilf- as we have seen, had this been a Muslim congregation, TEC would have imposed no clause restricting their affiliation. TEC only refuses to rent or sell to other Anglicans, anyone else is OK.

It is a pity, but hopefully the congregation will survive TEC's rather obvious manipulation. No doubt, should the rector retire, TEC will install their own in hopes that the congregation will stay with the building and abandon their faith. We will have to pray that the Lord will guide and protect them.

Anonymous said...

TJ, I think you missed the update by Rev White.

"our congregation voted today to disaffiliate with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America under the Province of Nigeria and its local Anglican District of Virginia, and may not affiliate nor serve under any other Anglican entity so long as we remain on our present premises - once we leave we are free to affiliate with whomever we may choose"

"The fact is that we are in the process of outgrowing our beloved buildings - this is the Lord's own work, God giveth the increase, which is a growing problem for us but a very godly problem to have. Our Vestry and many knowledgeable members have been actively looking at potentially-suitable properties, and will continue to do so"

Note the word actively.

For some reason you see this as a defeat. It is actually a victory. Rather than spending more hundreds of thousands of dollars on a lawsuit to keep try and retain a building which is too small for the congregation anyway they are actively moving on to what a church is supposed to be doing - not raising funds for lawsuits, but adding new disciples.

Anonymous said...

Ralph - how is the First Amendment implicated in this? No Congressional action was involved. No governments are telling citizens how to worship. The reference seems jarringly out of place in describing a private agreement. The restriction on the use of the building seems appropriate for the Diocese to request. Had the departing parishioners not thought it a reasonable condition that they could live with, they would not have agreed to it.

From the outside looking in, this seems to be a fair and reasonable settlement for both sides. It seems to leave both parties better positioned to do God's work. We can hope that this kind of atmosphere extends to settlement of the remaining disputes in the Diocese.

Scout

Anonymous said...

Scout, the free exercise of religion is a basic human right in this country and to make it a condition of a settlement is jarringly out of place.

That TEC would insist on such a prohibition shows much about the mindset that infects the upper reaches of the denomination.

Aside from that ugly condition, after reading the Rev. Wood's letter, the agreement seems to fit what both sides need.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

You need to review the facts, Ralph. The condition does not attach to free exercise of religion. The Diocese has quite simply and reasonably conditioned the lease of one of their properties on affiliation with CANA or ACNA. The departing parishioners are free to affiliate with anyone they want to.

Scout

TJ McMahon said...

To the "anonymous" who responded to me- I didn't miss anything. My point was exactly yours- it was not a CANA church (as in bb's headline) that reached an agreement, but a non-aligned Anglican continuing congregation- it had to cease being a CANA church in order for the agreement to be reached- ergo at the time of the agreement, it was not part of CANA.
I don't see this as a victory or a defeat for CANA or ACNA. The congregation chose settlement and a congregational structure over membership in either TEC or ACNA. For all I know, they will join the Ordinariate.
I was just pointing out that the headline should be edited.

Carolyn said...

Looks like the Diocese of Virginia got all that mattered to them - property that can be sold to continue to feed the lawyers, and a non-compete.
How proud and happy they must be!!

Anonymous said...

I guess we're not reading the same facts, Scout. When a group is prohibited from affiliating with a denomination, that denies them religous freedom. That the group was forced to do this to end the litigation brought by the opposing party doe not make it any less ugly.

RalphM

Josh Hagquist said...

The ecusa is bankrupt (Spiritually, Theologically, Morally)...and the people that run it are ONLY concerned with property, and their claim at the name-brand of "Anglicanism." I say let them keep the property...don't be a congregation that is STILL giving them money through a lease. Find another place to Worship...be done with them. If only this congregation had been a Muslim group...since worshiping a False God is quite acceptable to ecusa leadership, but affiliating with another Anglican group IS NOT?!

I'm quite blessed that my Priest left the building behind and our congregation could start anew. I'll choose Jesus over a building owned by heretics...

Anonymous said...

Ralph - I have no doubt that if another denomination were considering leasing their building to some group, they would exercise discretion about affiliations. It doesn't strike me as remarkable or a restraint on religion that judgments would be made in this area. For example, in the current environment at least (I would hope that this is not always the case), ACNA might not wish to lease one of its buildings to an Episcopal congregation. If you doubt this, read the preceding comment by Mr. Hagquist. To extend the reasoning a bit in a less extreme example, I'm sure that there are protestant groups to whom the Roman Catholic church might not wish to lease property. The group seeking the lease can always go elsewhere so there is no restraint on their religious practice. It's just a matter of finding an arrangement with which both parties are comfortable. Here, the parishioners who left, for reasons well described in BB's updated post, thought the settlement terms to be reasonable for the near term. They anticipate that they will quickly outgrow the leased premises and go elsewhere. The settlement appears to permit that.

Settlements are never reached unless both sides see advantage in settlement over continued litigation. Remember that this litigation was initiated by groups like the Oatlands congregation, who left the church, but claimed the property. As time went on and the state law on which they relied for their claim was found inapplicable, they rationally re-assessed the wisdom and value of continuing legal contests, as did the Diocese. This is the result, and I certainly can't say that it is worse for either side than continuing to feed lawyers.

Scout

Josh Hagquist said...

Scout,

I agree that some discretion would be made...maybe my Parish wouldn't lease a building out to an uber-liberal ecusa church...maybe they would. Would I? Probably not since I would have a really hard time knowing that I was leasing to a group that supports abortion-rights and whatever the hip liberal cause of the week is. Having a no-competition clause implies "brand protection" to me. And since when was a "Church" supposed to be competing with other churches? We are called to preach Christ, not compete over numbers/names/stuff...correct? ecusa wants to protect it's "brand" (Anglicanism in the US)...and if this church was to switch denominations I'm sure that ecusa would gladly lease them the building. It's an "Anything-But" clause...and that's what I find disgusting.

I also agree that throwing money at lawyers is a waste as well in many instances, and for either side to continue the legal battle would be a bad idea.

I was merely stating my opinion of what I think they should do...which is to leave all associations to ecusa behind. To each his/her own...all we can do is pray for them. God is Sovereign...

Anonymous said...

Scout,
Sure, and TEC didn't sell a church to Muslims in NY rather than to the congregation they evicted...

Also, plaintiff = the one filing the suit = TEC/DioVA. It's a matter of record.

RalphM

Steven in Falls Church said...

"Remember that this litigation was initiated by groups like the Oatlands congregation, who left the church, but claimed the property."

Repeating that canard 100 times doesn't make it true. Standstill Agreement anyone?

Anonymous said...

Scout,

I would love your comment on this scenario. TEC and DioVa are not worried about filling an empty Falls Church. If they prevail in court, they will sell off the Southgate property, tear down the new sanctuary and sell the property off, and concentrate a 50 person congregation in the Historic Church. It's all about brand management. They need to maintain this brand image of a viable Episcopal church and, like the Rich Young Ruler, place that aboove the Kingdom of God.

- John

Anonymous said...

Ralph - the court documents I'm looking at show the Diocese as a defendant in an action filed by this parish and others in late 2006.

John - the Southgate property is problematic whether viewed from the perspective of the occupying group or the Diocese. I suspect that a settlement might find ready agreement from both parties that the Southgate property should be sold and there might be some agreement on distribution of those funds. I see no reason why the Diocese would raze the existing worship facilities or limit worship in the Historic Church to a size that's less than the present membership roster of The Falls Church (Episcopal). I also think that, just as a number of people who did not have strong views on secession or Gene Robinson continued to worship at the Falls Church even after the occupation by the departing group, many of those people will continue to worship there when the Diocese regains possession.

Scout

Anonymous said...

By the way - BB, the images of the Oatlands Church are lovely.

Scout

Anonymous said...

Scout,

I'll take you at your word that currently the plan is only to sell Southgate because you hope that enough current TFC members would return to keep the Main Sanctuary viable. With an ultra liberal Rector running the church, I don't think that would be likely. We have such a strong group of young priests starting new churches, that I think an historically faithful Anglican presence at other locations would be a stronger draw than a building. From Acts 5, "if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”

- John

Anonymous said...

John - please don't "take me at my word" about any "plans." I have no idea what the "plans" are or even if there are any plans. I just have opinions, like everyone else. The Southgate property acquisition was a visionary plan, but it took its validity from another time and other circumstances. I can't see either the departing group or the continuing Episcopal parish being best served by continuing to carry that property. But I have no special insight. I guess another option would be for the Diocese to sell the CANA group that property as a site of a future church.

I do think it unlikely that The Falls Church would ever have "an ultra liberal Rector" whether Episcopalian or any other affiliation. Even allowing for my oft-stated reservations about the utility of terms like "liberal" and "conservative" in this context, The Falls Church (Episcopal) has not been and is not now a "liberal" parish. It is a Christian parish in the Anglican tradition. You may be right, of course, that parishioners would find other churches, other clerical leaders more interesting, but that is always the case, is always something that every parish must be aware of and confront, and is never a bad thing. I don't think it has any particular import for the current situation in which we appear to be on the verge of a return to Episcopal worship in the buildings of the Church at the Falls.

Scout

Anonymous said...

Breaking news! CANA is no longer part of the any province of the Anglican Communion.
http://www.vanguardngr.com/2011/02/cana-no-longer-a-nigeria-mission-says-archbishop-okoh/