Tuesday, April 19, 2011

BREAKING NEWS: Church of the Word reaches a settlement with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia

This is the second Virginia Anglican parish to reach a settlement with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in recent weeks.  From Robin Adams and Church of the Word:


GAINESVILLE, VA – Church of the Word (COTW), one of a handful of Northern Virginia churches embroiled in a four-year long lawsuit with The Episcopal Church (TEC), will retain its church property after an out-of-court settlement signed Monday, April 18, released it from the pending litigation.
The leadership of COTW, which is a multiracial congregation made up of predominantly young families, is relieved to have achieved their major goals of separating from TEC, retaining their property, and preserving their tradition of worship and ministry.

Church of the Word is one of a number of formerly Episcopal congregations that had severed ties with the denomination over matters of doctrinal drift and novel pastoral practices. Upon breaking away from the denomination in December 2006, TEC filed a lawsuit against eleven Northern Virginia churches in an attempt to keep them from retaining their property. Currently, the next phase of this litigation will continue for the remaining seven churches with the commencement of a late-April 2011 trial in the Fairfax County, Virginia, Circuit Court.

COTW’s settlement allows it to keep its property, and now free of litigation, may concentrate on its vision, which is to ‘Encounter and Share Jesus Christ’. It does, however, require that COTW sever its affiliation with the newly established Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), and the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV) for a period of five years.

COTW’s pastor, Rev. Robin Adams said, “This settlement allows us to keep the church building that was paid for by us, not the Episcopal Church. It also allows us to put this painful experience behind us and move on with ministering the love of Christ to a broken world. We will not lose our Anglican identity, though we may have to rethink how we do church in the short term.

Adams said the requirement to temporally disaffiliate from ACNA is one of the more difficult aspects of the settlement, but he remains positive.

“Our goal is to return to the ACNA fold when the disaffiliation period is completed as a stronger Christian body,” he said. “We’ll continue to worship in our accustomed manner, and for most of our members, this provision will not even be something they’ll notice in our day-to-day church ministry.”
Adams called the disaffiliation requirement “a failure to ‘respect the dignity of every human being,’ as the baptismal covenant says, and is certainly unchristian.”

“It is heartbreaking that The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia were unwilling to explore out of court settlement options with Church of the Word unless it severed all ties to its orthodox Anglican family,” ADV Chairman Jim Oakes said. “Church of the Word and all within the ADV have been seeking the Lord in prayer as we search for the best path forward. In spite of the separation mandate, we support the members of Church of the Word and they will remain our dear brothers and sisters in Christ.”

Church of the Word has believed all along that its property belonged to those who paid for it – the local congregation. The Episcopal Church, on the other hand, believes that all church assets within the denomination are held in trust for the national church, regardless of state property laws. An earlier court decision sided with the breakaway churches, but was then reversed upon appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. The suit was returned to the circuit court for re-trial based on a different body of law in June 2010.

“We originally voted to leave the Episcopal Church in 2006 over theological and pastoral issue,” COTW’s former senior warden Dane Swenson said. “We felt the denomination had drifted away from basic Christian belief and practices. For example, Anglicans are supposed to hold that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life, as opposed to just another possible option among many. And we believe that the Bible is the guiding authority for Christian doctrine, and must not be subservient to or shaped by the culture of the moment.”

Initially the denomination had provided a process by which the congregations could leave the denomination and maintain ownership of the properties they had purchased and maintained.

“Had the Diocese of Virginia stuck to its original agreement in its official ‘Protocol for Departing Congregations,’ then four years of expensive legal action could have been avoided,” Adams said. “Nevertheless we are thankful to have reached settlement with the diocese today.”

While Church of the Word is relieved to be able to keep its property, the congregation actually outgrew its facility long ago and has had to put building plans on hold during the years of uncertainty due to the litigation. Robin Adams says the church will develop its modest site to the best of its abilities, and will refocus on planning for the future.

“Any financial resources we might have saved toward expanding went toward our legal fees in this case,” COTW treasurer Robert Miller said. “Maybe there are people out there who think our stand against biblical compromise was worth the cost. Maybe they’ll help us raise the funds we need. You never know how God will work.”

With faith that God will supply the church’s need, Adams says it will establish a fund for anyone who might like to donate. He’s hoping like-minded friends still in the Episcopal Church might pledge a gift to help Church of the Word, even while they work for reform within that body.
“You never know unless you make your needs known,” Adams says.


Official Statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia:

April 19, 2011

Today the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church announced a settlement with Church of the Word (COTW), Gainesville, the second reached with one of the nine congregations that left the Episcopal Church in 2006 and then sought to retain Episcopal church property.  Church of Our Saviour, Oatlands reached a settlement on February 20.  "We are pleased to have reached another settlement, an important step toward enabling all involved to focus our shared energies on our important ministries," said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia.

"This settlement has a set of unique circumstances that led the Diocese to allow COTW to retain Episcopal property," stated Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the Diocese of Virginia.  "Changes in the immediate vicinity of the church, namely massive construction along Route 29 that eliminates direct access to the church, create significant challenges for any congregation in that space. Should COTW ultimately decide to relocate, the Diocese of Virginia has given them the certainty and control they need to determine what is best for the congregation and the day school they offer to the Gainesville community."

Under the agreement, the Diocese will retain $1.95 million from a payment by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for loss of value to the property as a result of the construction.  In exchange, COTW will retain the church building and personal property, and will be responsible for the mortgage on the property.  COTW will also retain $85,000 in cash from the VDOT payment and be permitted to negotiate for additional monies from VDOT.  In addition, COTW will voluntarily disaffiliate from the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV) and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) for a period of five years.  The pastor of COTW will be allowed to remain in the CANA healthcare plan and retirement plan, if permissible under the conditions of these benefit plans.

"This is a welcome and appropriate resolution for all involved," said Bishop Johnston. "It allows everyone to continue their important work while we will continue to preserve and expand the legacy of the Episcopal Church for future generations."

The trial on property issues for the remaining seven Episcopal Church properties will begin in the Fairfax Circuit Court on Monday, April 25.

Official Statement from the Anglican District of Virginia, which calls the settlement "heartbreaking":

FAIRFAX, Va. (April 19, 2010) – Anglican District of Virginia member parish Church of the Word in Gainesville, Va., has voted to take a settlement option presented by the Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church in the matter of their property. The settlement results in Church of the Word’s outright ownership of its property for future ministry. However, it will require Church of the Word to disaffiliate from the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV), the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), and any other Anglican entity for a period of at least five years.

“It is heartbreaking that The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia were unwilling to explore out of court settlement options with Church of the Word unless it severed all ties to its orthodox Anglican family. Church of the Word and all within ADV have been seeking the Lord in prayer as we search for the best path forward. In spite of the separation mandate, we support the members of Church of the Word and they will remain our dear brothers and sisters in Christ,” said ADV Chairman Jim Oakes.

“There’s no question: This litigation is a distraction from our mission and the good work our churches are doing every day to change lives. We never wanted a court battle in the first place and were saddened when amicable negotiations over properties that were purchased and maintained by our congregations were abruptly cut off.

“The litigation, which now involves seven parishes, does not define ADV and has not hindered our growth. In fact, we have grown to 32 member congregations and nine mission fellowships. We will continue to pray for a quick resolution to this matter as we look forward to the celebration of our Lord’s resurrection on Easter morning,” Oakes concluded.

39 comments:

Grandpa Dino said...

DioVA: "In addition, COTW will voluntarily disaffiliate from the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV) and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) for a period of five years."

Voluntarily??? My, oh my. Words fail me.

RWK said...

If temporary disaffiliation is what it takes for the Diocese to proclaim "victory" and save some face, I guess I can leave with that. It strikes me as petty and vindictive but ultimately, like many such actions, unimportant. If this is an effort to strangle ACNA in its crib, all I can say is Herod had a similar plan. Five years in Egypt...not that big a deal.

Anonymous said...

RWK: "It strikes me as petty and vindictive..."

Petty and vindictive is the marching order of 815...

RalphM

Anam Cara said...

Why is it that anytime I hear about the litigation (or some settlement like this where the Diocese of VA gets to call all the shots) I feel sick to my stomach?

Kevin said...

Okay, now DioVA has gone off the deep end ...

How can they defend removing robin+ from any oversight? Robin+ is an Evangelical, so I can understand the Episcopate is maybe less as important and Anglo-Catholic, but the whole nature of 815 argument is hierarchical ecclesiology, so to say we settle but no affiliation makes no sense.

Anonymous said...

If they have left TEC and cannot affiliate with the ACA, what denomination will they belong to? Which bishop will come for Confirmation, if any?

Chazaq said...

The final negotiating positions indicate pretty clearly what each party wanted most and cared about least.

The Episcopalians wanted the money. The Episcopalians didn't care much for the people or the building (from the photo, who could blame them; looks like an old seafood restaurant).

COTW wanted the buildings and the people. They didn't seem to care much for Anglican ecclesial tomfoolery or the money.

IMHO

Steven in Falls Church said...

Money grubbing -- what your present-day TEC is all about.

Anonymous said...

Both sides achieved objectives that were important to them. Seems fair enough. No one has to accept anything in a settlement that he doesn't want or doesn't feel is better than the impending results of litigation. Had Church of the World not settled, they strongly risked ending up with absolutely nothing but debts. There was no up side for them to continue the litigation.

Scout

RWK said...

Scout,

I understand that is the nature of the settlement - but the "withdraw from ACNA clause" - especially when you limit it to five years, seems to serve no purpose except revenge. I'd be open to hearing how demanding congregations to leave ACNA serves any other useful purpose. The requirement, as I said before, still strikes me as nothing more than an effort to destroy a rival, which is not justifiable, especially from a group of Christians.

Anonymous said...

RWK - I think there is an important principle that explains why this type of provision is cropping up in these settelements, both in Virginia and in other locations (e.g, Pennsylvania). It is important that there be no thought among restive parishioners, whether be over current controversies or future ones, that they can encourage discord with a view to getting sufficient votes on a given day (under processes entirely within their control and not contemplate by the governing documents of the church) to declare a majority favoring their viewpoint and (and this is the key element) consequent legal rights of ownership under secular law. My speculation is that both the Diocese and the national church perceive ACNA and CANA as having intentionally and knowingly provided a structure within which to receive properties for the benefit of persons who decided to depart the Episcopal Church and that that pattern should not be seen, for present or future purposes, to be rewarded by precedents in which people leave, seize physical control of properties, wait out expensive litigation, and then achieve their designs through settlement.

I personally think it a good policy to insist upon and one that will discourage such actions in the future, to the benefit of the larger Christian community.

Scout

Anonymous said...

A Parable:
There was an increasingly dysfunctional family that included several children. After years of asking the parents to reverse course, the children fled to loving homes where they received the good parenting they had been denied.

The dysfunctional parents were enraged and sought to punish the children who had fled. They found one, took money the child had received from the government and forced the child to leave the home of the new, loving parents. “If we catch you in the loving parent’s home, we will come after you and hurt you again!” was the warning left with the child.

The dysfunctional parents were very pleased as they now had money to help hunt down and punish the other children.

RalphM

John said...

RalphM
How mean spirited and factually distorted is your parable.
Unlike the parables of Jesus that are intended to uplift and inform.

Carolyn said...

RalphM, great parable. Sums up TEO's MO very well. I know this because It upset John.

Anonymous said...

Parables, if well crafted, can be very useful teaching devices. It's a pedagogic form that most approach warily, because the standards of the Best of the parable masters were so terribly high. Moreover, a flawed parable can be powerfully misleading, just as a clever one can be marvellously illuminating. If I were to try to pull Ralph's out of the weeds a bit, I'd probably mention that the fractious kids left home, but (and here's the twist) threw the parents out on the street and then reclaimed the premises and argued that they owed the parents nothing because there were several kids and only two parents.

Scout

Anam Cara said...

Okay, Scout, I can see your point. Except that I would add that the parents had inherited the church from their parents who got it from their parents. Each generation was expected to follow in the footsteps of the previous generations (not just one, but all previous generations). When the parents decided to walk a different way, the kids, who had been taught what the grand and great-grand parents believed, took the house back for the sake of the teachings of the previous generations (something those previous generations expected would continue).

Ralph said...

Putting religious restrictions on the recognition of property rights, such as the 5 year clause not to affiliate with CANA or the ACNA, seems to me patently against federal fair housing laws--which say you cannot discriminate on the basis of religion (or race, color, sex, national origin) in a sale of property.

Sounds a lot like the deed restrictions (forbidding the sale to blacks or Jews) still on titles in old neighborhoods which are now illegal and unenforceable.

So if COTW makes a religious affiliation with other Anglicans in that time....TEC will then come back again at law to take the property? It will expect the court to support one side of a purely religious-based dispute?

That's not the kind of First Amendment interpretation that is American, whatsoever.

Ralph said...

Scout and Anam Cara: A better parable would be of persons which helped the establishment a chapter of an association in a town, say something like the Rotary or the Lions Club. The XYZ club seems great for a while, and then this new chapter sees the national XYZ club going way off the tracks in multiple ways. The local club had spent years of time and their own sweat and money to build their chapter, and had a very nice meeting hall they built with their own hands, to which the XYZ club national had contributed nothing. Then the national club votes that all club halls now belong to them in trust....majority rule, after all...(even though totally contrary to all established Trust law...). The local chapter, fed up after many years, finally leaves the national organization--and XYZ national sues for the property--even though XYZ national is nowhere on the deed, and, the legal principle that one party cannot create a trust from another parties property--as trusts must originate with the titled owner.

THAT really is what is happening with TEC, and the only reason they are getting away with it, is that they can afford to pay lawyers for a very long time.

I'm not there, and probably shouldn't judge, but I'd have a hard time being a part of Church congregation which acquiesced to theft.

John said...

The tuth is that CANA had a plan to take over Episcopal churches for their own benefit. For those who have not read the Chapman letter go here- http://wildernessgarden.blogspot.com/2008/02/chapman-letter.html

Cana, the Vestry, the Rector,, the and then the Rev Anderson took our church for several months. They faithfully followed the program in that letter and only strong and quick actions saved our church for future Episcopsalians.
We were inundated with CANA handouts and no contrary literature was allowed.

Anonymous said...

John,

CANA did not exist in 2003, so implying the Chapman Letter was CANA's plan is (to put a polite spin on it)"misleading".

RalphM

Anonymous said...

Maybe they were not called CANA in those days but it was the same people- Anderson, Mims, Duncan, Iker etc. All backed with IRD money.
That's another interesting track- following the money from IRD.

Anonymous said...

None of those listed above are members of CANA unless by "Mims", you are referring to Bishop Minns.

Credibility takes a hit when you can't even spell the name of the person you are accusing.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

I have never found that credibility and correct spelling are particularly linked. I have seen very true statements badly spelled, and very false ones spelled with splendid precision.

Scout

DavidH said...

One presumes that "Mims" was indeed meant to be "Minns," although there's a Virginia Supreme Court justice named "Mims" who used to belong to a church that broke away from TEC and who proposed a change in the law in 2005 that was designed to enable the CANA folks to leave and take the property.

Carolyn said...

Bishop Iker is going to be delighted to know that there is an IRD check waiting for him.

Anonymous said...

When accusations are made that include inaccurate dates, non-existent group affiliations, and misspelled/mispronounced names, it adds up to an accusation that is unsubstantiated. It is not just a spelling error.

I will assume that the Chapman letter is legitimate (following the link in this thread presented it to me for the first time). It was never presented to the vestry or used as a plan in my CANA church. If it had been, I would have known.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

I don't think the Chapman Memo has much to do with this in the specific. By contrast I think that it is the Allison Barfoot strategy memo that is far more relevant and the "secret memo" from +Robert Duncan to the Global South steering committee indicating that the churches (in this case I an unsure if he is referencing only the network, and, subsequently of course CANA would be included as "dual" citizen in ACNA in which he clearly stated it was the intent to leave with the property. Both of these documents became available in the renewed discovery process when Calvary Pittsburgh revisited the courts for enforcement of the 2005 settlement.

Anonymous said...

Ralph M. I suspect that none of these documents made by leadership were ever made available to vestrys etc. On the Chapman memo, I believe it was the Washington Post who got a hold of that first and it may have been that that commenced the Calvary suit that was settled in 2005. The Barfoot memo, I believe, was written in 2004, and interestingly, every single male recipient is now a CANA or ACNA bishop. Barfoot, of course, is not eligible.

Anonymous said...

For Ralph M. ....On the Barfoot Memo, she specifically mentions her conversation with Martin Minns:
http://www.thinkinganglicans.org.uk/overseasAEO.pdf

Anonymous said...

David H. You will be able to clarify as my recollection is rough. This article states: "An earlier court decision sided with the breakaway churches, but was then reversed upon appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court. The suit was returned to the circuit court for re-trial based on a different body of law in June 2010." My memory is that the Va Supreme Court determined that, without addressing the constitutionality of 57-9 at all, since CANA (and I assume the Virgina Anglican district) were not "branches" of TEC, 57-9 did not apply and they reversed the lower court. What exactly does the the above comment reference by a "different body of law" ? On first glance, it would seem that TEC/Dio of Virginia now holds all the legal cards unless something re trust law or contracts etc. comes into play? EmilyH

Anonymous said...

The Barfoot memo is specifically about Alternate Episcopal Oversight. While it acknowledges that there may be property disputes, it is not a plot for retaining property ownership.

"Secret" Duncan memo? Why would it need to be a secret that people wish to retain their property?

Anonymous said...

How much money will the DVA want for Truro Church? And will they insist that the parish disaffiliate from CANA?

Anonymous said...

RE the question in the 2023 comment: I assume no more than Fair Market Value if the departing group is going to be permitted to purchase the property. However, I doubt that Truro or the Falls Church will be sold to departing factions. These properties are too intimately connected to the history of the Church in Virginia for the Diocese to give them up. Some type of lease may make sense in Truro, where there is not a strong continuing Episcopal congregation. Based on the settlements that have already occurred, I would think that the non-affiliation provision is going to be a standard component of any settlement where departing parishioners are granted use of the buildings as part of the settlement. That may not be acceptable to some of the groups, in which case there probably won't be a settlement that involves continued occupation of the premises.

Scout

Anonymous said...

On the secret memo...that was its title header by its author that is the title I used. I assume he titled it so (I believe it was bishop Duncan,) because he wanted it kept private. It was one of the .most damaging documents revealed in the discovery during Calvary's effort to have the 2005 decision imposed as they argued Bishop Duncan was in violation.

Anonymous said...

A further concern... Duncan had consistently denied in the 2005 action it was his intent to take Pittsburgh out of TEC, although this document was not written until 2007,it was clear that by that time when the settlement was in effect a d presumably based on the assumption that Duncan would not try to do so, that was not true a
and cast doubt on whether it ever was true.

BabyBlue said...

The Virginia churches were very public in their decision to separate from The Episcopal Church. Judge Bellows noted that fact in his original ruling supporting the vote to separate. Not sure why Anons are posting about the Diocese of Pittsburgh - if they want to throw stones why do they post anonymously? Doesn't that seem rather secretive?

bb

Anonymous said...

BB - you're of course right that the Virginia departing groups were very open about their intentions to leave. I think it fair to say also that they were very open about their intentions to lay claim to the Episcopal properties. In Virginia, my guess is that the "Division Statute" had some people convinced that they could pull it off overtly. In other jurisdictions, however, where one had nothing to go on but past legal precedent, there was a rather complicated stratagem to hold on to the "Episcopal" brand as a way of clouding the property issues. This was why in Pittsburgh and in Ft. Worth sees these parallel "Episcopal" structures. I think the references in the comment thread are to that kind of activity.

Scout

John said...

RalphM. In my own defence I meant no disrespect when I wrote Mims instead if Minns. My eyesight is not great annd that was how I read it.
I have no idea when CANA became CANA and now ACNA and I do not really care. My first knowledge of that group came in 2006 when our church went through turmoil and split. I know what they did to our church with all their secret underhand messages and methods.

Anonymous said...

John and Ralph: my understanding (I welcome correction) is that CANA pre-dated the 2006 defections and was essentially an outreach by the Nigerian Church to expatriate and emigre Nigerians in America. My experience in my church is that some folks who were trying to engineer the takeover of the property by departing parishioners latched on to the CANA structure as useful in squeezing the situation into the "branch" and "division" language of the Virginia statute, later held not to apply. But for that objective, I don't think any of us would have heard much about CANA. I believe it is for property control reasons that CANA became the structure held onto by the Virginia groups, as opposed to full embrace of ACNA. Once the Division Statute was taken off the table by the Supreme Court, CANA had not further utility and now it appears that the departing groups are rolling into the ACNA structure.

Scout