Tuesday, January 10, 2012

BREAKING NEWS: Fairfax Circuit Court rules for The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia ...

The Fall Church, Falls Church
‘Here we stand. So help us God. We can do no other.’

Seven Anglican congregations in Virginia that are parties to the church property case brought by The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia are reviewing today’s ruling by the Fairfax County Circuit Court that the property should be turned over to the Episcopal Diocese.

The Circuit Court heard the case last spring after the Virginia Supreme Court remanded it in June 2010. The congregations previously had succeeded in their efforts on the Circuit Court level to defend the property that they bought and paid for.

“Although we are profoundly disappointed by today’s decision, we offer our gratitude to Judge Bellows for his review of this case. As we prayerfully consider our legal options, we above all remain steadfast in our effort to defend the historic Christian faith. Regardless of today’s ruling, we are confident that God is in control, and that He will continue to guide our path,” said Jim Oakes, spokesperson for the seven Anglican congregations.

Truro Church, Fairfax
The Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, a historic property involved in the case, stated, “The core issue for us is not physical property, but theological and moral truth and the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world. Wherever we worship, we remain Anglicans because we cannot compromise our historic faith. Like our spiritual forebears in the Reformation, ‘Here we stand. So help us God. We can do no other.’”

The seven Anglican congregations are members of the newly established Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, a member diocese within the Anglican Church in North America. Bishop John Guernsey of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic has expressed to leaders of the seven congregations, “Our trust is in the Lord who is ever faithful. He is in control and He will enable you to carry forward your mission for the glory of Jesus Christ and the extension of His Kingdom. Know that your brothers and sisters in Christ continue to stand with you and pray for you.”







Church of the Apostles, Fairfax
The Fairfax Circuit Court ruled that the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia have “a contractual and proprietary interest” in each of the church properties.

The court ordered that all property subject to its ruling be turned over to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

Those properties are: The Falls Church, Falls Church; Truro Church, Fairfax; St. Paul's Church, Haymarket; Church of the Apostles, Fairfax; St. Margaret's Church, Woodbridge; St. Stephen's Church, Heathsville; and Church of the Epiphany, Herndon.


UPDATE: Ruling is here.

Here is coverage from The Washington Post:

Truro Church
 Virginia judge has ruled against seven conservative congregations that broke away from the Episcopal Church in 2006, rejecting their argument that they should be able to keep valuable church property that the national denomination also claims.
The case has drawn worldwide attention because it involves a cluster of large, prominent churches with well-known conservative pastors and because the issues at hand — particularly the Episcopal Church’s continued acceptance of same-sex relationships as equal to heterosexual ones — are roiling much of organized religion. Various Protestant congregations, in particular, have wound up in litigation across the country.

The 113-page ruling was handed down Tuesday by Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows. It was not immediately clear whether the seven congregations would appeal. They are part of a movement called the Anglican Church in North America, and all believe that they — not the Episcopal Church — represent true Anglicanism on the continent.

If they decide not to appeal, the seven congregations would have to vacate their churches, including some of the largest and most prominent in the region. Among them are The Falls Church and Truro Church in Northern Virginia, where thousands of people worship.

When the congregations voted in 2006 and 2007 to separate from the Episcopal Church, almost all their congregants sided with the conservatives. Just four, much smaller groups who did not want to leave the Episcopal Church remained together as congregations. They have been worshiping in basements and other temporary spaces during the litigation.

“The core issue for us is not physical property, but theological and moral truth and the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world,” said Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church. “Wherever we worship, we remain Anglicans because we cannot compromise our historic faith. Like our spiritual forebears in the Reformation, ‘Here we stand. So help us God. We can do no other.’ ”

Bellows was charged in this phase of the case with deciding whether the diocese or the congregants owned the property under Virginia real estate law. Evidence included questions about who paid for the property, who maintained it and whose names were on the deeds, among other issues.

According to a news release from the Diocese of Virginia, one of the largest Episcopal dioceses in the country, Bellows ruled that the national denomination and the diocese have “a contractual and proprietary interest” in each of the properties subject to the litigation. The court ordered that all property subject to its ruling be turned over to the Diocese, the release said.

“Our goal throughout this litigation has been to return faithful Episcopalians to their church homes and Episcopal properties to the mission of the Church,” the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, Episcopal bishop of Virginia, said in a statement late Tuesday night.
Read it all here.

And from the Associated Press (AP):
The Falls Church
A judge has ruled that the Episcopal Church should be restored as the owner of several historic churches in Virginia, years after the denomination was essentially evicted by local congregations dismayed with Episcopals' liberal theology.

The judge on Tuesday reversed a ruling he made in 2008 giving custody to the conservative congregations. The Virginia Supreme Court overturned that ruling and ordered a new trial.
At issue is ownership of seven Virginia churches, including two historic congregations that trace their roots to George Washington: Truro Church in Fairfax and The Falls Church, for which the city of Falls Church is named.
The congregations voted to leave the Episcopal Church in 2006 following the Episcopals' consecration of an openly gay bishop and other theological disputes.

The conservative congregations are considering an appeal.

Anglican Curmudgeon has first thoughts here.  He writes:
The opinion is remarkable for its exhaustive consideration of every possible Virginia statute and previous case (including an unreported one) that could bear on the issues at stake. Along the way, it notably holds that the Dennis Canon (and its local diocesan equivalent) were ineffective per se to create a trust interest in favor of the diocese or national Church. But the bulk of the opinion appears (on a very quick first read) to be devoted to arriving at the same result (i.e., as if the Dennis Canon and its local equivalent had established a trust) by other means. It reaches its conclusion in favor of ECUSA and its diocese by drawing upon a minutely detailed analysis of the course of conduct between the parishes in question and the former entities over more than a hundred years (and in the case of Falls Church and a few others, for many more years than that -- but in the case of the Church of the Epiphany, on a course of conduct extending for just the first twenty of the last twenty-four years).

In doing so, however, the court ends up equating what it terms a "proprietary and contractual interest" of the diocese in individual parish property to the functional legal equivalent of an express or implied trust in favor of the diocese (and the national Church). And since it recognizes that Virginia law does not allow express or implied trusts in favor of denominations, the marvel is that Judge Bellows can still conclude, by drawing heavily upon his interpretation of a Virginia statute (§ 57-16.1), that the parishes effectively controlled their own properties only for so long as they remained constituent members of the Episcopal Church (USA) -- which is exactly what the Dennis Canon states, in haec verba.

The result is a carefully-crafted holding that appears (at first blush, at any rate) to be insulated against any federal constitutional grounds for overturning it -- unless it can be argued that the "proprietary and contractual interest" which the court found to be decisive is simply the inherent byproduct of being affiliated with what the Virginia Supreme Court already deemed (without any distinctions) to be a "hierarchical church." If that is the net effect of this decision, one has to wonder whether or not Judge Bellows has given the Episcopal Church (USA) an unassailable preference by the back door, and so thereby "established" it as a specially preferred type of church for purposes of resolving property disputes, in violation of the First Amendment.

Read it all here.  Curmudgeon will update with a closer reading soon.

Here is a summary of the ruling from the Court's opinion:

St. Paul's Church, Haymarket
1. TEC and the Diocese have a contractual and proprietary interest in each of the seven Episcopal churches that are the subjects of this litigation. Specifically, the Court finds for TEC and the Diocese in their Declaratory Judgment actions and, among other relief, orders that all real property conveyed by the 41 deeds, as well as all personal property acquired by the churches up to the filing date of the Declaratory Judgment actions (on or about January 31, 2007 or February 1, 2007) are to be promptly conveyed to the Diocese. (Additional instructions are provided at the conclusion of this Letter Opinion.) 



St. Stephen's, Heathsville
2. The CANA Congregations‟ Amended Counterclaims are denied in their entirety. Specifically, the Court finds that the CANA Congregations, in that they are not Episcopal Congregations, do not possess either contractual or proprietary interests in the property of the seven Episcopal Churches at issue. They are, therefore, enjoined from further use or control of these properties and must promptly relinquish them to the Diocese. Moreover, the Court finds no merit in the CANA Congregations‟ claims for unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and constructive trust and grants TEC‟s and the Diocese‟s motions to strike these claims.    

3. The vestry empowered to elect directors to the Falls Church Endowment Fund is the vestry recognized by the Diocese as the Episcopal vestry of The Falls Church, that is to say, the Continuing Congregation.



The Diocese of Virginia's press release is here:

St. Margaret's Woodbridge
Tonight, the Fairfax Circuit Court issued its ruling in favor of the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church in litigation seeking to recover Episcopal church property.

“Our goal throughout this litigation has been to return faithful Episcopalians to their church homes and Episcopal properties to the mission of the Church,” said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia.

 The court ruled that the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia have “a contractual and proprietary interest” in each of the properties subject to the litigation. The court ordered that all property subject to its ruling be turned over to the Diocese.

Church of the Epiphany, Herndon
“We hope that this ruling will lead to our congregations returning to worship in their church homes in the near future, while finding a way to support the CANA congregations as they plan their transition,” said Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the Diocese and chief of staff.

Bishop Johnston added, “While we are grateful for the decision in our favor, we remain mindful of the toll this litigation has taken on all parties involved, and we continue to pray for all affected by the litigation.”



Hast thou not known?  
Hast thou not heard, 
that the everlasting God, 
the LORD, the Creator 
of the ends of the earth, 
fainteth not, neither is weary? 
There is no searching 
of His understanding.


He giveth power to the faint, 
and to them that have no might 
He increaseth strength.
Even the youths 
shall faint and be weary, 
and the young men 
shall utterly fall;


but they that wait 
upon the LORD 
shall renew their strength; 
they shall mount up with wings 
as eagles, 
they shall run 
and not be weary, 
and they shall walk 
and not faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31







UPDATE: The local "Patch" - an online newspaper - sent a reporter to last night's Prayer & Worship service at Truro and did an amazing job covering what we all know is a complex case. From here:
The Rev'd Tory Baucum
Truro Church members huddled in small groups to pray for the unity and preservation of their congregation Wednesday night. They asked for support for their vestry, the church's staff and the congregation's children in light of the latest ruling in their long-fought battle to keep the church they've cultivated for over a century.

Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows told Truro and six other congregations in the Northern Virginia area on Tuesday to give their church property to the diocese they divorced years ago.

The ruling comes after almost five years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in congregation-donated defense funds.

Now Truro is stuck in a limbo of sorts. The "unfortunate and ungodly" litigation, as described by Rector Tory Baucum, is coming to a close, and not on a good note for Truro's members.

"I was not happy yesterday," Baucum said. "But I was not devastated. I do have complete confidence that we are walking with the Lord."

Truro leadership urged its members to stay positive and show mercy and grace in dealing with the likely loss of their church. Bishop John Guernsey, of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, a branch of the Anglican Church of North America, dropped by the service with a few positive words for members.

"I love you, I love Truro, and you are all so dear," he said. "I'm so thankful we're in this together. Our diocese changed overnight and I can't wait to see what [God] does with us."

What follows is a summary of what convinced Truro and the other congregations to separate from The Episcopal Church (TEC) and what the court decision means for them.

There is more - read it all here. It was a very special informal Evening Prayer service - there will be a time for questions and answers this Sunday at the Rector's Forum.

Jeff Walton writes an informative piece on where things stand right now in anticipating a decision not to appeal Judge Bellows opinion. From here:

The Falls Church main worship space
A recent court ruling in a dispute between current and former Episcopalians has awarded all church properties to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. Reports have focused on the theological disputes precipitating the legal battle. Less covered has been the cost of the conflict, both in finances and church attendance.

If the departing congregations decide not to appeal, the Episcopal Church has won a major legal victory – but one that may prove to be pyrrhic.

Who's moving in?

Framing their litigation as “seeking to recover Episcopal Church property,” diocesan officials have stated that their goal is to “return faithful Episcopalians to their church homes and Episcopal properties to the mission of the Church.”

A majority of members in the seven Anglican churches in 2006-2007 voted to sever their ties to the Episcopal Church and the diocese following disputes over the redefinition and reinterpretation of Scripture. These churches became part of The Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) under the authority of the Anglican Church of Nigeria. They included some of the diocese's largest and fastest growing churches. In some cases, it’s unclear what Episcopalians will now reclaim evacuated church buildings.

The congregations of Church of the Apostles and Truro Church, both in Fairfax, Virginia, departed in their entirety; there are no continuing Episcopal congregations to inherit these buildings.

Other parishes, such as The Falls Church, in the city of Falls Church, and Church of the Epiphany in Herndon, Virginia, have seen small continuing Episcopal congregations separate from the much larger departing groups. These continuing congregations have meanwhile been meeting in nearby rented facilities. The state of these continuing congregations – often by their own admission – can be described as at best poorly prepared to maintain and operate large church properties, or at worst, teetering on the edge of being non-viable.

With an annual budget of approximately $6 million and an average weekend attendance of about 2,000, The Falls Church (Anglican) will be displaced by a continuing Episcopal congregation with an average 2010 attendance reported as 74 persons. Figures provided in the annual report of the continuing congregation list a budget of $249,406 that has the congregation operating in a deficit and receiving special grant money from the diocese.

“It is clear that this deficit cannot be sustained as we move forward,” wrote Jim Councilor, the Episcopal congregation’s treasurer. “Without increased income, our Vestry will need to make some difficult operational decisions to ensure that we operate within our means.”

Since the release of the annual report, the congregation’s priest-in-charge has left to assist at another congregation and has not been replaced. The former assistant now serves as the only paid staff.
While the continuing Episcopal congregation from The Falls Church currently pays $9,000 a year in facility costs to Falls Church Presbyterian Church for worship and office space, the Anglican congregation expends approximately $750,000 a year to maintain and operate the much larger home church campus.

Despite running a deficit, the continuing congregation in Falls Church seems downright stable compared to the continuing Episcopal congregation of Church of the Epiphany. This congregation quickly cycled through three different priests since the split, while a fourth (who serves part-time) is working with a consultant on “refocusing the sustainability of the parish.”

Before the split, Church of the Epiphany reported $800,000 in annual plate-and-pledge income and average weekend attendance of 380. The continuing Episcopal parish now reports plate-and-pledge income of approximately $50,000 and an attendance average of fewer than 20 persons in 2010. The most recent treasurer’s report listed that the church has $36,542 cash-on-hand.

The Epiphany continuing Episcopal congregation has “…fewer people than most people might consider viable…” according to the parish report of the current priest-in-charge.

In a position to subsidize?

Truro Church campus
The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia has itself faced difficult decisions related to finance. At a recent diocesan council, officials reported that they had drawn from a line of credit to fund litigation. Listing the expected sale of “non-consecrated” properties as a method of repayment, the officials implied that they would be selling structures other than worship houses awarded in their litigation against departing churches.

According to officials on both sides of the dispute cited in the Fairfax Times, both the Anglican group and Episcopal Diocese have spent in excess of $3 million each in litigation costs.

“Non-consecrated” properties owned by the churches could include rectories, administrative or education buildings. Both Truro Church and The Falls Church own such downtown properties, which could conceivably generate enough to pay down litigation fees. One-time property sales would not ensure ongoing operating income long-term, however.

While the diocese has provided small grants to the continuing Episcopal congregations, it is not in a position to subsidize them long-term, especially with increasing operating costs that come with church properties. Past Bishop of Virginia Peter Lee began retirement three months early, citing the need to reduce expenses for the diocese. Similarly, current Bishop Shannon S. Johnston has expressed dissatisfaction at the relatively low contribution from parishes in the diocese. According to the bishop, the average percentage of parish funds set aside for the diocese is among the lowest in the Episcopal Church.

It isn’t just a reduced level of giving that the Diocese of Virginia is facing. According to self-reported statistics, the diocese has lost 26 percent of its attendance in the past decade and has ceased planting new churches, despite significant population growth in Virginia. With the rapid increase of the median age of Episcopalians, there may not be "a future generation of Episcopalians" to worship in these properties.

A way forward?

Tens of thousands of dollars were spent in snow removal in '09.
With continuing Episcopal congregations either ill-prepared to maintain properties or altogether nonexistent, paired with a diocese that is stretched thin financially, there are few options for stewarding church properties awarded by courts. With the diocese indicating that the sale of non-consecrated properties will go to paying off legal costs, the only source of long-term revenue is either to grow the size of the continuing Episcopal parishes or to lease their consecrated property to others.

Having abandoned the practice of church planting, Virginia Episcopalians seem unlikely to grow their financially vulnerable congregations. The Falls Church continuing Episcopal congregation lists only an increase of 10 attendees in the past three years, with few baptisms and confirmations. Diocesan officials may be hoping that a large number of former Episcopalians will stay tethered to the property, thus returning to the Episcopal fold. If only 5 percent of the Anglican congregation remains with the property, it would more than double the attendance at the Episcopal parish.

In a press release issued immediately after the court ruling, diocesan officials may have indicated their own short-term proposal for the properties:

“We hope that this ruling will lead to our congregations returning to worship in their church homes in the near future, while finding a way to support the CANA congregations as they plan their transition,” said Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the Diocese and chief of staff.

“Support” for the CANA (departing) congregations has not been a stated concern of the diocese in the past. In seeking to avoid both the public relations discomfort of empty buildings and the financial burden of maintaining such properties, the diocese may seek to enter into short term lease agreements with the Anglican parishes.

Other departing parishes that entered into earlier legal settlement with the diocese, including Church of Our Savior near Leesburg, Virginia, were given the option of leasing their existing spaces from the diocese in exchange for disaffiliation with the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). It remains to be seen if such an option would be presented to the other departing parishes, or if they would accept. It also remains to be seen if the diocese ultimately attempts to sell consecrated properties. Collectively, the value of all properties for the departing parishes has been estimated to be worth as much as $40 million.

Read it all here.



 



Bishop John Guernsey writes to the seven churches affected by the ruling.  
From here:

To the Clergy, Vestries and People of:
Church of the Apostles
Church of the Epiphany
The Falls Church
St. Margaret’s Anglican Church
St. Paul’s Church
St. Stephen’s Anglican Church
Truro Church

Dear Friends,
Grace and peace to you in Jesus Christ our Lord.

As many of you have already heard, Judge Bellows found against our churches and in favor of The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in the lawsuits that TEC and the Diocese filed against the congregations.

I want to convey to all of you who are affected by last night’s court ruling how profoundly moved I am by your bold stand for the Gospel. You are a witness to many as you remain steadfast in your faith in Jesus Christ.

The ruling stirs many deep feelings, yet we know that our Lord is mightily at work. The Apostle Paul knew great hardship and disappointment and loss, but he knew a greater reality, as well. He knew the transforming power of Jesus Christ in the midst of adversity. He testified to that when he wrote, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

As we’ve said all along, the real issue is not property, but our commitment to the truth of the Scriptures and the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Our trust is in the Lord who is ever faithful. He is in control and He will enable you to carry forward your mission for His glory and the extension of His Kingdom.

Be assured that your brothers and sisters in this Diocese and in the Anglican Church in North America continue to stand with you and pray for you.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Faithfully yours in Christ,

The Rt. Rev. John A. M. Guernsey
Bishop, Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic


Read it all here.

90 comments:

Annie Patterson Rothgeb said...

Hebrews 10:32-39

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,

“He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
And if he shrinks back,
I will not be pleased with him.”

But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

RMBruton said...

Pittsburgh has already lost, it looks bad for Virginia and Ft. Worth; how long can a legal battle go on against TEC? The war chests must be quite depleted.

Anonymous said...

.
All those videos, all those 'Here I stand' jokes, all that drama...

I mean, to even pretend that you've got anything spiritual going on, when in fact you and your ortocrazy friends are simply afraid of teh gay.

Well that crap works no more. Get ready for more of the same.

rwk said...

It's beginning of the end for the property. Now we get to see how heavy-handed the departure procedures will be. At least I have prepped my daughters for why they won't be attending the church they have attended their whole lives.

Will the diocese just come in and put locks on the doors or will there be something more Christ-like? Are they going to send the Jobs!, ESOL, Birthmothers, and other ministries packing as well?

I'll have to figure out where I am going this Sunday.

Anonymous said...

Never forget that the church is the people, not the building. These churches (assuming the outcome doesn't change) have received the Blessing of learning that their buildings, which are merely tools, have been limiting their growth, their effectiveness, their understanding of who they are as the bride of Christ.

Anonymous said...

rwk - there's no indication that the Diocese or The Falls Church will be anything but patient and supportive as they assist their brothers and sisters in their transition to new worship facilities. I don't think you have anything to be concerned about.

Scout

Kevin said...

[*Hugs*]

BB, I do not know any words to say, but to trust Jesus. Let me know if there anything I can do.

Kevin

John said...

Is it finally over? I pray so.
From my own experience, here in Georgia, when we recovered our church property from CANA, the same gloom and doom was forecast for us by the departing group.
Four years after the split and we are doing fine. Not as large as we were in 2000, even if we combined our congregations we would not reach those numbers, but growing, paying our bills, praying, worshiping, forgiving and forgiven. People are being Baptized and Confirmed.
The Episcopal church welcomes you all.

Pageantmaster said...

Dear Mary

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your friends and I would confirm from personal experience that He is faithful.

God bless

PM

Anonymous said...

It figures that the evil that is the Episcopal organization found a way to take what they did not pay for. The evil one is at work in the church. He owns the un-churched already. There is no way that the Episcopal cult can fill these churches, play the bills or maintain the buildings. I hope the bills are an albatros around thier neck. Read Philipians 3:19 Both Truro and TFC have historic graveyards that may save the properties from becoming saloons or mosques as other properties taken through legal manipulations. God bless those that have followed 2 Timothy 4:7 - they ran the race, fought the good fight, and kept the faith. All Praise be to God for he provides for his children. Even in the darkest days his love and mercy is there for us.

Tim McMichael
The Falls Church Member 1970 - 2008

Sid said...

Disgusting, both on ECUSA's part and Bellows'. Obscured in 100+ pages of bafflegab is that Virginia has a valid statute that allows the CANA churches to do exactly what they did. Yet Bellows, true to form of the modern judiciary, engages in page after page of sophisticated-sounding sophistry so that the statute simply ceases to have any effective meaning. Or, in other words, a court, once again, chooses to rewrite the laws as it wishes, without the consent of the governed.

Judge Bellows: have the integrity to run for the General Assembly if you wish to legislate. As it stands now, you're a disgrace to the State of Virginia and the ideals of the American republic.

This is why Americans have no trust in their government and, in particular, feel their opinion no longer counts for anything with the elites.

Anonymous said...

Sid, get a clue. Judge Bellows ruled FOR the CANA folks under the statute to which you refer (57-9), and he got reversed by the Supreme Court of Virginia. He has no choice but to obey the Supreme Court, and he does a good job in this detailed opinion (which I'm confident you haven't read) applying what law remains when 57-9 doesn't apply.

Sid said...

Anonymous,

Then I'll include the Supreme Court in my criticism. Does that help?

You're right: I haven't read the opinion. And, whether I read it or not, Virginia will still have a statute on the books, validly passed by the General Assembly, that allows the CANA churches to do exactly what they did, and Virginia will still not allow implied trusts.

The court could, if it wished, write an extensive opinion explaining why the sky is yellow. I won't read that one, either.

I can tell you this, I think ECUSA is morally wrong in its conduct, and I think the Dennis Canon is unfair and repugnant under any construction of the First Amendment as it's been interpreted in recent memory. But, as most states clearly permit it, I expect breakaway parishes to lose, even if they're on "my side." Why don't you show the same intellectual consistency? Do you think your ox can't be gored by the same lawless judges? If not, you need to grow up.

I live in Virginia and don't particularly like the fact that the votes of our delegates and senators can be ignored. This ain't a law school seminar; it's real life and real democracy, or, at least, it used to be. So, Anonymous, you're the one that needs to get a clue.

Anonymous said...

Sid, the problem is laymen do not understand the law. To them the law must be on their side, and any decision to the contrary must be wrong. Consequently any decision that did not support your position is contrary to law, and the court that reached the decision must be corrupt.

While this is not a law school seminar, it is a law school and beyond level legal issue. It requires training in the law to fully understand all the applicable points of law.

Would you expect a newly converted Christian to have the same knowledge and understanding of the scriptures as a Priest. If so, why do we need Priests. We can just make up our minds what the scriptures say and anyone who says we are wrong must be evil.

Sid said...

You're right, Anonymous, when a Harvard Man speaks - Harvard Law, no less - us ordinary citizens should just shut up and know our place. Sure, a law was passed that explicitly permitted "x," and, sure, there's been abundant time for those parties whose interests were negatively impacted by the law to adjust the paperwork such that they would no longer be impacted, and, sure, many private organizations put enormous time and money at risk in reliance upon the validity of the actions of the duly constituted General Assembly, so what could be wrong with a handful of judges deciding, ex post facto, that "x" is prohibited?

In fact, that sounds like a good way to run an economy. Businesses and citizens love uncertainty.

Anonymous said...

Sid, I am the 11:39 Anonymous, but not the 11:59 Anonymous.

In my opinion, 57-9 is an antiquated law that clearly reflects the very different legal world of 150 years ago (when it was passed). Available evidence, which is scant, suggests that the law was passed specifically to help clients of the then-Speaker of the House of Delegates, a lawyer.

In any event, the General Assembly has spoken in many other ways in recent years, in statutes that Judge Bellows carefully consults and applies in this opinion. (You'd know that if you read it. But I don't want facts to get in the way of your rants, so I defend your right to bloviate without reading it.)

The General Assembly's contribution to 57-9 in recent years has consisted entirely of failing to pass an amendment proposed in 2005 by a congregant at a conservative Episcopal church to make the statute even more favorable toward breakaway congregations.

In short, there is no will of the people that is being thwarted here (unless you think the law should simply favor congregational majorities, which raises its own significant logical and constitutional problems).

P.S. I live in Virginia too.

Bill Riggs said...

I think the problem here is basic justice. I happened to be visiting The Falls Church the day they burned their mortgage for the new side of the church complex. What the judge did was to reject all claims on the part of the CANA congregations for compensation for losing their property. As a diocesian delegate, I have seen the leadership of these rump congregations in actions - extremely unimpressive. Our own parish was never part of the CANA revolt, but the AAC came down and talked to us, tried to bring us in. We were still a mission church, and took the pledge to support ECUSA when we "graduated". As it stands now, CANA has a congregation meeting in a Seventh Day Adventist church less than a mile from our church. It is a bad thing when the law does not create justice, and when Christians cannot stand for their faith without compromise. I hope the CANA congregations will stand strong in this time of trial and I pray that our Bishop will find a way to act with the justice that ECUSA trumpets but increasingly does not practice.

Anonymous said...

11:39 Anonymous again, here. (BTW, I should have said I'm not the 12:18 Anonymous before.)

Sid, your 12:22 comment merely proves the other Anonymous's point.

"Sure, a law was passed that explicitly permitted 'x,'"

Except that, in the grand tradition of legislatures, they use broad words and failed to define them, leading no one to be sure what the statute meant. (A statute that had been used a mere handful of times since the 1860s and 1870s.)

"sure, there's been abundant time for those parties whose interests were negatively impacted by the law to adjust the paperwork such that they would no longer be impacted"

Just as there's been ample time for congregations to figure out property issues amicably with church authorities. The remaining 7 decided they'd rather bet on their lawyers' new theories of how to get an outright win.

"sure, many private organizations put enormous time and money at risk in reliance upon the validity of the actions of the duly constituted General Assembly"

You roll the dice, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

More to the point, these congregations bet on one statute above all the others that apply, and above the existing case law.

"so what could be wrong with a handful of judges deciding, ex post facto, that 'x' is prohibited?"

Unless you favor advisory opinions, where judges review every newly-passed piece of legislation and attempt to rule on how it could possibly apply in any situation, EVERY judicial decision applies to pre-existing facts (to use your vernacular, is "ex post facto", a legal term of art that you're applying incorrectly).

BabyBlue said...

We do seem to have a nice turnout of anons today. Perhaps some of you could create a fun name which you have the freedom to do here as well without giving away your RL identity. Just click "Name/URI" when you make your comment instead of Anonymous. You can create your own name.

Putting a few extra pies in the oven and ordering up new rounds of butterbeer for all.

bb

Sid said...

11:39 Anonymous - what you're saying is nothing more than that you don't like the law. For the record, I don't like the speed limits currently in force. In both cases, we're supposed to have to live by those laws, anyway - is that right? And this general idea of speed limits was put into force a very long time ago - is it also "antiquated?" Furthermore, when was a sunset provision added to the Virginia Code, anyway? Please correct me, but I don't think the General Assembly is required to make "contributions" to various statutes in order for them to remain in force.

By the way, if my prior comment was a "rant," and your rejoinder was longer, what does that make yours?

Sid said...

11:39 Anonymous, I don't find that persuasive. Now, really - it's no answer to my point that judges shouldn't be arbitrarily overturning validly-enacted statutes to respond, "You roll the dice, and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose."

Your prior point does no better: every party A acting clearly within its rights can choose to negotiate privately with an opposing party B to avoid the time and expense of going to court. That isn't at all equivalent to party A deciding to press its rights, only to have a lawless judge inexplicably eviscerate them.

As to my terminology, ex post facto has a meaning outside of law ("retroactive"). As to its legal meaning, my understanding has always been essentially this (from Wikipedia): "a law that retroactively changes the legal consequences (or status) of actions committed or relationships that existed prior to the enactment of the law."

Given that Bellows is legislating from the bench, I stand by what I wrote.

DavidH said...

11:39 Anonymous here again (with name this time). Sid, you are admirably firm in your uninformed opinion.

I did in fact answer your points.

First, obviously all kinds of legal matters involve opinions, so it sheds no light to dismiss my comments as such. Feel free to disagree with me about 57-9. Maybe the next time its use is attempted, we'll find out more about the meaning and constitutionality of the law from the courts. What we did find out this time is that it doesn't apply here. You disagree with the Supreme Court of Virginia, as is your right. If ever the legislature decides to provide some meaningful guidance about that statute (or related ones), which it can do via amendment at any time but has chosen not to do so far, we would also find out more.

Second, the age issue is not the caricature you wish to portray. Old laws apply. But how old laws are applied often changes, as a result of other laws and judicial interpretation. In this case, both have happened -- many laws and cases that are highly relevant to this church property dispute have changed in the 150 years since 57-9 was enacted. No doubt you haven't read those either.

As to your point about reliance on a statute, people make bets all the time about how laws will be applied to them. The evidence plainly shows that the CANA folks were well-advised legally and made a deliberate bet that 57-9 would override all other applicable law and enable them to win. A roll of the dice. You persist in ignoring the nature of their bet.

It is revealing that you call anyone who disagrees with you "lawless" and someone "legislating from the bench". I wonder what you thought of Judge Bellows first opinions 3+ years ago, which applied 57-9 in favor of the CANA folks. (I presume you didn't read them either?) Maybe he's only become "lawless" recently in your view?

BabyBlue, thank you very much for hosting a blog that allows for pretty open discussion. I have put a name in now. If I could remember my login info, I could probably sign in with a Google account. Ahh, well, the perils of age.

Anonymous said...

The question now is what do the CANA congregations do. There are plenty of lawyers who view this blog - what's the word on the likelihood of an appeal being heard or this ruling being overturned? Is it time to call it a day, reach out to the Diocese, and find a way to depart in peace?

BabyBlue said...

The rector of Truro has been meeting regularly with the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia and could safely now be called friends. I think this is a good time to pray earnestly, knowing we are all sinners, all in need of the saving grace and love of Jesus, and that we do share compassion for a broken world.

bb

Sid said...

DavidH,

Thank you so much for your consistently courteous words.

Perhaps you should read more carefully. I wasn't the one who made the age issue a "caricature," or even an issue at all. But we can put it to rest, as you've rightly acknowledged: "old laws apply."

I haven't persisted in ignoring the nature of anything. A fair reading of what I wrote is that the statute here is clear enough that no "bet," in the sense that the term is ordinarily understood, took place. It's a "bet" to cross the street, but we don't say, shucks, snake eyes, if a driver speeds across the red light and runs me down. Still less do we exonerate the driver because I was "well-advised" in looking carefully to see I had a green crossing signal and them's the breaks - though, if Judge Bellows moves to Traffic Court, who knows. Obviously, you feel differently, but you really ought to ditch the ad hominem.

Given your precision, hopefully (for your clients) you're not a lawyer. I didn't write that "anyone" who disagrees with me is lawless; and you shouldn't presume that what I choose to spend my time reading now has something to do what I chose to spend my time reading in the past. In any case, your point is a non sequitur. That I see a police officer calmly watch a protester three days in a row doesn't mean, having passively acknowledged his authority, that I have to nod my approval when, on the fourth day, he drags the protester into a corner and beats him within an inch of his life.

1achord said...

You say: "Just four, much smaller groups who did not want to leave the Episcopal Church remained together as congregations. They have been worshiping in basements and other temporary spaces during the litigation." Not so for St. Margaret's Episcopal, Woodbridge. They are alive and thriving and growing, and there is nothing temporary about them!

1achord said...

and all are welcome at St. Margaret's, Woodbridge.

Daniel Weir said...

I have made this comment in other places before, so some of you may have read it. When I was growing up in an Episcopal Church I would never have even thought that the members of that congregation clould vote to leave the Episcopal Church and not leave the church property. The members of the neighboring Congrgational Church could do that, but we were not Congrgationalists. This notion that seceding groups can retain property would not have occurred to any of us then. It occurs now to people who seem, and this may seem a bit harsh, to be unwilling to pay this price for their convictions.

RWK said...

I couldn't come back because the ideological/theological trajectory of the church shows no signs of stopping. All the leadership will do is set me up for more battles but this time the progressive leadership will make sure the deck is further stacked in their favor, much like they plotted Gene Robinson's approval for a convention vice the usual process.

It's easy to "live into the tension" when you know you're going to get your way....

James said...

Daniel:

Before any of this happened, I would have assumed that the rules for ownership of a church property would have followed the same rules for ownership of any other kind of property - that is, you can tell who owns the property based on the name recorded on the property deed. Any organization, including churches, that want ownership of a building can put their name on the property deed if they own the building. Not to do so is, in my opinion, a fraud and a way to escape accountability (I refer you to how a Canadian Anglican diocese cheated First Nations (native American) plaintiffs, who had been abused at diocesan schools, out of their damage settlement by claiming that the congregations owned the parish properties. Then a decade later, when faced with conservative congregations leaving, then argued that the diocese actually owned the property. These are policies which would make ruthless Wall Street lawyers blush, but they are the underlying reason for TEC's and the ACoC's structuring of property ownership. And it is rotten to the core.

Be that as it may, it does seem that the courts are ruling that whatever the property deeds say, the national church retains ownership. That, then, leaves those of us still in TEC with a clear choice about how we financially support our parishes.

So I, for example, made a definitive decision back in 2003 that not a dime of my money would go to support a TEC parish ever again. I would be willing to give to a parish in South Carolina or any other jurisdiction that may reject the majority position. That doesn't mean that I don't contribute to my local congregation - I do. But I will not give any money that goes to the property nor that gets subject to the diocesan tax. I won't do it.

RalphM said...

Who said they are unwilling to "pay the price"?

Perhaps you should ask: if knowing the outcome would you have voted differently? I suspect you would hear very little second guessing.

I just returned from a prayer service and the mood was upbeat - not one bit of recrimination. I heard no one say we made a bad decision.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

After today's clear, unequivocal loss, John Guernsey echoed John Yates today saying "the real issue is not the property." It was "our commitment to the truth of the Scriptures."

Really? Then why bother with going to court in December of 2006 to take the property?

Can one accuse TEC of hypocrisy? Of course. But that cuts both ways.

So spend millions to keep church buildings and then, upon facing a trial opinion that is largely untouchable, it's not about the property.

The arrogance.

sophy0075 said...

Anonymous who posted at 10:24pm,

It is not hypocrisy on the part of Bp Guernsey and the Rev Yates. They and their faithful congregations made their decision because they (1) did not want a false gospel preached at their church buildings and (2) represented the majority of congregants, many of whom had multi-generational family histories of attendance at TFC/Truro, who knew they had paid all of the bills for their church buildings and had not received any funds at any time from TEC.

Sincerely,
Sophy

sophy0075 said...

Dear 1achord,

Perhaps you are implying that Anglicans are not welcoming? It would surprise me if that were true. We are all sinners, and do not hold ourselves to be "better" than others. We do, however, recognize our sinful nature - we have been convicted of our sin by our belief in Holy Scripture, which is breathed by the Holy Spirit. Thus, were a serial adulterer, or a thief, or an ax murderer to seek to join our church, (s)he would be welcomed if (s)he acknowledged his/her sinful nature but sought to cease the sin (and of course acknowledged Jesus as his/her savior). Only the sin of contumacy is unforgivable.

Unfortunately, the leadership of TEC (which the exception of Bp Lawrence, God bless him!), believes that the Bible is a creation of man, that humankind can decide what is right or wrong, and that therefore what is identified in the Bible as sin isn't really sin at all, and that Jesus is merely "a" way. I could identify a bunch more differences, but The Rev Kendall Harmon wrote an excellent essay (which I think is still posted on his blogsite) about the "sexuality" issue being the mere-ist tip of the iceberg of unfaithfulness.

Anonymous said...

James, the court examined the deeds in this case and based its decision in substantial part on the wording of the deeds. Many of the deeds (I think there were more than 100 covering the seven churches involved) included language that expressly stated "Episcopal" congregations held the property. There was no element of the decision that was premised on a disregard of the deed language. The court did observe that there were many ways parties can choose the wording of a deed, but found these documents adequate to describe ownership by Episcopal groups. The question then becomes, by what mechanism could a non-Episcopalian group take title away for its own benefit? There was no such mechanism.



Scout

Anonymous said...

Ralph - you may be quite right that now, in retrospect, many or all of the people who left would do the same thing even knowing that they would not be able to take over the properties. I think the more telling question, however, is whether the votes would have been the same in 2006, if the clergy and vestry who led people out had put the question about departure this way: Should we sever ties with the Diocese of Virginia and leave these buildings to find new worship space? At that point, I think the vote would have been considerably altered under than formulation. That it would have been regarded as a much more dramatic issue explains in my mind why those who led the departure were so keen on keeping the properties, even though they must have known justification for doing so was quite strained. Now, after five years, it may be that moving out can be contemplated with more confidence. The fact remains, however, that this could have been done years ago and the loss of treasure in litigation would have been completely avoided.

Scout

RalphM said...

Scout,

I can Speak only for my church where the ballot questions were:

1. Should we sever our ties with TEC?
2. Should we keep the building?

We always knew there was a possibility that we would not prevail on question 2. Our parishioners were fully informed and made their own decisions. They are adults who care about their children and grandchildren.

The loss of treasure in litigation could probably have been avoided if TEC had not halted the discussion toward a negotiated property settlement, but we will never know.

As it is now, DioVA will have at least 5 of the seven properties to maintain and dispose of plus a $300,000 per year mortgage payment to make on at least one of the properties. Guess they won't be saved for future generations of Episcopalians after all.

RalphM

Anonymous said...

The BIG picture is that TEC continues to close churches at a rate of 5 per month while ACNA is planting 3 per week. Money (and eventually property) will follow vision.

Anonymous said...

The answer to "Should we keep the buildings?" was easy. "Sure, let's keep them". But it wasn't a proper question. If the leaders of the departure had said, we have no clear legal right to keep these buildings, and to do so would work an injustice against those who wish to stay in the Episcopal Church, so the assumption on which we make this decision to leave the Diocese is that we are also leaving the buildings, they would have had my complete respect. But the buildings were and advertised part of the "departure package." That was a very strong incentive to vote to leave.

As for the future, who knows? It will be a challenge for both groups.

Scout

Andy said...

I'll simply comment in saying that The effectual and fervent prayers of a righteous man (or woman) avails much.

ettu said...

@ Daniel Weir Thank you for saying succinctly what appears to be the crux of the matter - Other than that it appears that many of the comments here amount to psychological and emotional flushing for a few disappointed folks who have in-migrated from other faith traditions that have a totally different belief system in reference to obedience to Church law.

Lapinbizarre said...

"ACNA is planting 3 per week" - reliable, detailed source for claim?

Sid said...

Scout,

Re: "The question then becomes, by what mechanism could a non-Episcopalian [which was not the case ante] group take title away for its own benefit? There was no such mechanism."

That is flatly false. There is an explicit Virginia statute which provides such a mechanism, which was followed in this case, and then summarily repealed by Delegate Bellows.

Steven in Falls Church said...

Bellows is a top judge, and while I disagree with this decision, it seems very well-researched and thought through. Remember that Bellows favored us in the 57-9 phase of the litigation, and was overturned only through a dog of a supreme court opinion that, frankly, had to assume facts not in the record to reach its result.

The question now becomes what will happen to these properties. With one possible exception (St. Stephens), I am just not seeing how TEC can put congregants in the pews that will support the facilities. At Truro, there is no continuing congregation. The TFC continuing congregation is minimal (see the first reader comment here for a sober assessment). TEC is like the dog that finally, after five years, has caught the car it's been chasing down the street. So now what? I fear that the best compromise possible is an Oatlands-type deal where TFC could remain pending construction of a new church elsewhere, which would be unacceptable as it (presumably) would come with one of those excommunication clauses, as the WSJ described them recently. Bishop Johnston, get out your credit card as you are about to have a whole bunch of property dumped on you with no way to pay for it.

DavidH said...

This thread has well introduced everyone to the world according to Sid. I submit that any further dialogue with him is simply feeding a troll.

(By way of explanation: Without regard for facts and law, he refuses to consider that the meaning and legal application and viability of 57-9 is not crystal clear, even though 5 out of 6 judges to consider the issue disagree with his opinion. Moreover, he labels as "lawless" and a legislator any judge that doesn't reach the result he desires, even when that judge [Bellows] did before and literally could not possibly do so again.)

Anonymous said...

The Diocese of Virginia has dealt with empty buildings for hundreds of years with great success. It will do so again.

One could make similar claims about the CANA churches: that they will shrink, and some are struggling already, so some could go out of business (as have some of the ACNA church plants). Certainly they will not resemble what they have been as congregations - they will have to devote much more of their budget to acquiring real estate and furnishings, rather than spend it on staff and programs.

The choices that were made had consequences for both sides.

The arrogance of statements like RalphM lack anything like the spirit of the statements of the leaders of both sides made in the days and hours of the ruling.

Steven in Falls Church said...

"The Diocese of Virginia has dealt with empty buildings for hundreds of years with great success. It will do so again."

Thank you, Anon, for your frank honesty that these buildings will, indeed, be empty.

James said...

Scout: What you say makes no sense. Suppose I own a house and at the time my name is John Smith. So the title says "John Smith". Then suppose I change my name to "John Lennon". Would I suddenly lose my home? And what if my cousin - also named John Smith - came by and claimed ownership of my house? Would he get it? No. It is completely irrelevant if the word "Episcopal" appears on the deed. Organizations can affiliate and disaffiliate with other organizations and can often change their names. You have to see who comes out of the chain of custody.

Now if the Episcopal Church is the hierarchical church that everyone claims it is, and if it is as committed to justice as everyone claims it is, then surely it would simply re-title every piece of property to be held by the "General Convention of TEC" and be done with it.

RalphM said...

Arrogant!!! As Mrs Doubtfire (Robin Williams)put it, it was a drive by fruiting by an Anonymous Anon at 4:04...

RalphM

Anonymous said...

Steven in Falls Church - I should have been more precise. Some buildings may be empty. All of them will not. Many will, within a few months or years, be thriving.

My point was only this: underestimating the Episopal Church in Virginia is unwise. We'll do fine.

And I agree with 404 anon. The tone of RalphM's message is angry and borders on vicious.

Anonymous said...

James - if this had been a simple matter of a legal name change, your analogy might be useful. I don't think that's what happened. As I observed events, it appeared to me that a number of parishioners in several churches decided they could no long be members of that church and affiliated with another denomination. I suppose, under different circumstances, they might have become Catholics, Baptists, Hindus or Muslims. In any event, they didn't want to remain Episcopalian. So they left. But, oddly enough from any conservative, legal or ethical perspective, they didn't really leave the property. They stayed on and prevented further worship by the denomination whose members chose not to leave. The deeds (accumulated over time and covering different parcels) made no reference to the people who decided to leave, but instead made reference to the Church they had left. Courts tend to take these things fairly literally, particularly given the necessity of a deed recordation system as part of maintaing order and commerce. Perhaps a more useful analogy would be a situation in which I have adult children living with me in my home, a home that has been in the family for many generations, and the kids decide that I am weird, unhygenic, snore too loudly, have ideas they don't agree with, watch too much TV or whatever (fill in the blanks - it could be anything from serious to trivial). They just can't take it anymore. So they announce with some fanfare that they're leaving. I wake up the next morning and find that they are in the house and I'm out in the street, bumming shelter from the neighbors, and not able to get back in because there are more of them than of me (plus I'm old). They go to court to get the court to enter them as the title holders, pursuant to some old loopy law in the Commonwealth. I lose that fight, but win on appeal. The trial court on remand then has to look at the title documents and the history of dealings between me and the kids. The kids say they are changing their name so the court should ignore what's on the deeds. The court says, let the old guy back in and shove off If you didn't like living there, you were free to leave long ago. I don't have to make a judgment about whether your objections are sound. I just look at the deeds. An imperfect analogy, but much more closely related to what happened here.

Scout

Anonymous said...

For any person who has been part of an Episcopal Parish, and has decided that, for whatever reason, that Parish, Diocise, or the National Episcopal Church doesn't meet their or their families spiritual needs, my heart and prayers go out to you! Your struggle pains me deeply. You are free to leave, and after relection I hope you return! I will support you in your Christian Discernment. Upon your departure, I have some simple requests:
1) Keep me in your prayers, as I will keep you in mine.
2) Leave with a spirit of forgiveness. Remember that while I love you and will miss your voice and position, I do not believe that any of the issues you describe affect my personal relationiship with my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, nor do they effect my most important ministry -that is to my family; nor do they effect my ministry to the greater community. Sorry, but as an Episcopalian I can whole heartedly agree with many of your positions, but do not feel a need to leave my Church (In fact, I believe it is one of the major reasons I should stay!). So go in Peace, and know that I love you.
3) Remember that you are leaving as an individual (or many individuals together), and from the moment you leave there really is no argument that you get to take anything with you, or that you get to take back anything you previously gifted to the Episcopal Church. Please do not attempt to take with you things that are not yours.
4) Read the judge's opinion. It seems fair that since you are leaving, that you leave....leave the Episcopal property (realty), money and personal property which was bought and paid for by generations of loyal Episcopalians; many of them in my family. (The money that you raised after your leaving is yours. I want you to have it with my blessing). It is simple, please do not try to take what is not yours. (If you want to pay the Church for use of the buildings that you previously refused to leave, that would be a really nice gesture).
5) leave with a spirit of humility and forgivenes; as I watch you leave with a heavy heart and also a spirit of humility and forgiveness. There is no place in our relationship on either side for the "you are going to fail" comments I see here. I hope that we will be able to share in mutual ministry as brothers in sisters. No pressure, but if there is a favorite ministry at my Church which you wish to continue to participate in, you will be as welcome as any other person. This is also a wonderful opportunity for you to grow new and wonderful ministries, and I wish you God's blessings on all your endeavors.

Thank you for your prayerful consideration.

BabyBlue said...

Appreciate your post Anon at 9:53 a.m. It is interesting to consider the subtext of your post, though. Been reflecting on it since I read your posting. Bottom line is to perhaps ask the question - what is a Church? What is a community?

It seems to me that the assumption in your posting is that your audience is not a community, in fact, is not a church. So the question arises - and this is no small matter - what is a community, what is a church?

You address your posting - in fact, you make an assumption that people in the parishes affected by this ruling will be making decisions in their own self interest.

But is that a striking characteristic of a dynamic and robust community? What will we say to the hundreds who belong to the homeless community that worships regularly at Truro? Are we speaking to them as well? What about the schools at Truro and at St. Paul's - are you speaking to them? What of the youth groups, the choirs, the Alpha Courses, the Home Groups, the staffs, the Sunday School classes, the Seniors who meet on Fridays for lunch, do we really think we will be making decisions primarily based on our individual self interest?

Is that the mark of a church - to operate, to make decisions that are best for our own self interest?

At this time I am challenged to reconsider this presupposition. We speak as ones who follow Jesus, but was it not Jesus who said that the greatest love of all were those who lay down their lives for their friends - and He made it a point to say He calls us friends.

Is this not the time for us to think not of our own self interest only, but to consider the communities in which we live, the communities of those who love and worship Jesus and desire to reach out beyond our own self interests to serve others?

In other words, is the question before us not one of individual self interest, as compelling as that so often is for us, but what is best for our church - the local church is not a building, it's the people and the buildings serve the people. How can we best serve one another and be good stewards of the tools God gives us to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ?

My thoughts and prayers have been turned toward Bishop Shannon Johnston and the leadership of the Diocese of Virginia - what can we do to serve one another, to bind up the brokenhearted, to set us free from the brokenness of our past? This is a very serious moment for the Diocese of Virginia and the kindness of Bishop Johnston's first reaction is not lost on us.

The decisions that will be made in the next few weeks will be crucial to how we rebuild the foundation of the larger Christian community in Virginia. As individuals we pledge when we are baptized and confirmed that we are members of a community and together we worship and pray and seek God's face.

Our fellowship has been broken in recent years over serious issues that go to the very heart of our faith, a brokenness that is now evident for the world to see. This is true for Episcopalians and Anglicans and we may be wise to tread carefully, prayerfully, and with wisdom.

All of us are greatly affected by this decision - all of us. We are members of communities under the care of our bishops and is it not as communities that we come together in faith to be the Body of Christ?

We search our individual consciences and our own hearts, yes, but not for our own self interest. Our decisions impact not only our own personal lives, but those of our neighbors. At Truro we have a large community of homeless - what will happen to them? How can we make a decisions for ourselves and not think of them?

So the question before us may not be so much what will I do - but what would the Lord have us do? Can we come and reason together?

bb

Anonymous said...

And yet the decision to leave and seek the court to award you the property under the Division Statute wasn't self-interested? I don't disagree with your sentiment but the the tone feels hollow given the excoriation and name calling that the CANA congregations - and, yes, you BB, on this blog - have engaged in.

I expect TEC and the diocese will be generous, but the consequences of your decision to depart and sound the battle cry are real and now home to roost.

You have some apologizing to do. And asking forgiveness.

John said...

The CANA group in our church forced an opinion election on our church. They wrote the choices, they controlled who could and who could not vote, they counted the votes and low and behold they won 67% of the vote. Surprise! Surprise!
Then two days after the opinion vote they changed the name of the church and officially joined CANA.
We regained control of the property for future Episcopalians and five years later we are growing and I would hazard a guess that we now have a larger congregation than the CANA group.
The same outcome is entirely possible in the Virginia churches. I will pray for that outcome

RWK said...

Yes, consequences are real. Warnings were given to the Episcopal Church that their "prophetic" actions would have painful consequences for themselves and the Communion, but activists are hard to deter on both sides. Had the leadership stopped and REALLY listened instead of just pretending to listen I would still be in TEC fighting for its reformation.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:53 writes:

BB, I hear your pain. Truly I do. Unfortunately, I do not know how to help you. Truly I don't.

You state that "[I]make an assumption that people in the parishes affected by this ruling will be making decisions in their own self interest." That is not at all accurate. I do agree that people in the parishes affected by this ruling will be making decisions. Big decisions and small decisions. However, I never made an assumption on how those individuals will make those decisions; and I suspect that they will be made on as many different bases as their are people.

You ask to whom I am speaking? I am speaking to every person who wishes to leave the Episcopal Church, whether you are involved in a thousand ministries, or just one.

You ask what will I say to the homeless? I will say to everyone, in every group... come and see!; come and join us!

Steven in Falls Church said...

John, I assume you attend St. Stephens. Godspeed, then, I wish you well. For the other churches, well.... The article added to BB's post (found here) is stunning. While not desiring to cheer for disaster, it's reasonable to conclude that, in the case of Truro and The Falls Church, the Diocese is the proverbial dog in the manger.

Anonymous said...

Steven -

You are bitter. It comes through. I hope you find peace.

Anonymous said...

Anon, I am just reading the facts. Do you dispute them?

Steven in Falls Church said...

The above is my comment.

Observer said...

"Steven in Falls Church" - Do you take comfort in the challenges (financial and otherwise) that the continuing congregations will face going forward? It sure seems so...

John said...

Steven in Falls Church said...
John, I assume you attend St. Stephens.
Wrong. I do not worship in any church in Virginia.
When the CANA group reluctantly handed over the keys to our church they too left with bad grace and predictions of failure to pay the mortgage or maintain the property. Just the reverse has happened. In fact, if we keep up this growth spurt we will have to go to three services on Sunday mornings. Alleluia

Anonymous said...

BB, re your 1401 comment: These are lovely generic sentiments that I am sure are shared universally among all shades of Anglicans -Episcopalians, CANA/ACNA types and throughout the Anglican world. Probably throughout the Christian world and beyond. But what do they have to do with people attempting to take property when they disaffiliate from a church? The functions and programmes you describe occurred prior to the schism in the Episcopal Church, why would they not continue when the occupied properties are returned to the Diocese? The reference in Anon 0953's similarly very noble comment to decisions merely reflects that every parishioner had to make a decision to stay in the Diocese or to reaffiliate. It did not seem to mark a gulf between individualism and collective reasoning.

Scout

Ron Parson said...

The core issue is spiritual, not legal. Examples:
1) c. 2004 the Episcopal House of Bishops voted DOWN - 90 to 60 - a resolution that the Bible had authority over them.
2) The TEC presiding Bishop has stated that Jesus is A way to God, NOT THE WAY, and there are other ways to God
3) The National Cathedral (Epis.) in DC sells books on Buddhism and other religions, and welcomes the reading of the Koran from its pulpit.
4) Apostasy has been building for a long time: take the Cathedral window tour, which is chronological, and watch Jesus and Biblical themes dwindle and abstract themes take over - the later windows could be in city hall.

TEC has the form of religion, but not the power. And when each person's time comes, to meet the Living God, His very Presence, that stunning, terrifying liquid light - then TEC leadership will know their mistake, and it will be too late. Who do they think they are dealing with?

Steven in Falls Church said...

Anon -- Apologies as I erroneously assumed you were in the middle of the Virginia unpleasantness. What church are you with, by chance?

Observer -- If I did experience schadenfreude, there is nothing to revel in as no deal has been worked out. My concern from the start of this lawsuit is that we're seeing dog-in-the-manger litigation on the part of the Diocese, which cannot feasibly support these properties over the long run, and probably even over the short run (especially TFC and Truro, which are complexes much larger than typical TEC churches). My concern was deepened half-way through this process by the disposition of Fr. Kennedy's church in Binghamton, where we had similar-sounding bromides from the local diocese about preserving properties for future Episcopal generations, when there was in fact no intent or ability to do so. That property was then deconsecrated and sold off as a mosque.

Observer said...

Steven in Falls Church - I don't think your reference to "dog in the manger litigation" is fitting. Regardless of how the VA properties will be used going forward, they are quite valuable to the Diocese either as places of worship for the continuing congregations or, if the properties or parcels thereof are sold, as a source of funds for supporting the Diocese's very worthwhile ministries. If the Diocese determines that it's appropriate to sell certain parcels, I would hope that the departing congregations are invited to bid on those properties without condition. (I'm assuming here that the lawsuit has reached it's conclusion which, of course, very well may not be the case).

Anonymous said...

Nice of Ron to consign certain clergy of The Episcopal Church to Hell. I consider it good policy not to arrogate to man the disposition of other people's souls.

Scout

Anonymous said...

By the way, lest it get lost in the shuffle, BB has posted some lovely pictures of the churches. As is often the case, Thanks, BB.

Scout

Anonymous said...

The Episcopal Church has become a real estate church. All property no people. Losing 10% of their congregants every year. A denomination withering on the vine. Unitarians wearing vestments, what a shame.

Anonymous said...

If the Anglicans do not appeal and TEC gets the property, it sounds like TEC is going to have to shell out a lot of funds to keep the doors open.

Why doesn't TEC sell the property to the Anglicans (at a reasonable price), and take that money from that conveyance, and purchase other worship areas for the Episcopalians.

Seems like a win win! The Episcopals can stay loyal to TEC with more adequate and affordable worship areas, and the Anglicans can stay in their worship areas.

I know it won't happen, but wouldn't that somewhat solve the problem, instead of both side continuing to argue, spend money on litigations, and the furtherance of the Kingdom being put on the back burner?

RalphM said...

BB raised the subject of possible dissafiliation as a condition of a lease arrangement. Personally, I see no real possibility of the seven congregations accepting this, (and there is no evidence at all that this will be a negotiating point raised by DioVA).

While I respect the decisions of the churches who accepted dissafiliation as a condition of their respective settlements, the ensuing revulsion expressed by many on the ACNA side probably makes that a non-starter.

John said...

Are there any new arguments to be offered in this matter? I think not. There is no trust of the other side and a win win situation is a pipe dream.
On one hand the "Anglicans" believe they are righteous and are doing God's work while the "Episcopalians" believe that they have a new understanding and are doing God's work.
The property is merely a side show.

Anonymous said...

Who's going to lead the Great Litany of the Protocol?

Anonymous said...

The Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia has expressed his desire to be supportive of departing parishioners as they find a new church home. I'm sure such support might extend to some use of the buildings during a transitional period. Obviously, there are layers and layers of details. But the atmospherics from the Episcopal side have been magnanimous. As all of you who follow these issues on blogs such as this, T1, and Stand Firm know, the enmity, hostility, and tendency to vilify that runs toward the Episcopal Church from departing factions does not run in the other direction. In this environment, much is possible.

Scout

Steven in Falls Church said...

"[T]he enmity, hostility, and tendency to vilify that runs toward the Episcopal Church from departing factions does not run in the other direction."

Ahem.

http://frjakestopstheworld.blogspot.com/2006/12/falls-and-truro-vote.html

http://www.episcopalcafe.com/daily/episcopal_church/the_falls_church_va_newspaper.php

http://inchatatime.blogspot.com/2007/01/another-reporter-gets-it_12.html

Shall I go on?

Anonymous said...

Steven -

I note all of your references are five or six years old.

I can go on Virtue right now and find a dozen articles lambasting the Episcopal Church.

RalphM said...

Left alone, the DioVA and the departing churches will probably work out reasonable exit plans.

If TEC HQ gets involved, the chances of goodwill negotiations become less certain.

Daniel Weir said...

The court's decision makes it clear that negotiation is the only avenue for Anglican congregations that would like to use the buildings of Episcopal parishes.

Anonymous said...

Daniel is absolutely correct. And the opinion makes it clear that when you join a hierarchical denomination, you must follow the rules. Stand, and leave, on principle, but ignore the rules at your peril.

RalphM said...

Winners are entitled to a little bit of gloating. Now let's see a show of hands on who is going to increase their giving to help the DioVA pay the mortgages and maintain the empty properties...

Anyone... Anyone...?

Anonymous said...

Fortunately, I have seen little that would constitute "gloating." I assume that there are many, like me, who understand that their pledges will have to increase. I also assume that, once the occupations have ended, the Diocese will be open to arrangements for leasing and use of the properties by other Christian groups, at least in the near term.

Scout

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:53 Writes:

I mean this with all sincerity.

Will someone explain why there is so much discussion about what TEC will do with the property, and what will happen to the ministries, etc?

It seems to me that many indivudauls have made a difficult decision to leave TEC. Again, I'm sorry for your pain. It must be difficult to leave your beloved physical building, and leave behind all the ministries in which you have been involved. I hope you have left with a spirit of hope for your new endeavor, and with God's Peace in your heart. However, the truth of the matter is that you decided to leave; and that includes leaving the buildings, the ministries, your voice in TEC! Are you trying to justify your decision? Are you trying to recruit new members?

Why do you sound so angry and bitter? Do you hear it in your own voice, or am I just imagining it?

RalphM said...

Our clergy and delegates were marginalized by the majority. We had no voice in TEC.

Bitter? Perhaps a bit.
Angry? Perhaps so.

Hopeful? Absolutely! In a matter of months we will be completely free!

Anonymous said...

Anon 9;53 writes:

I have prayed for you tonight. Angry and bitter is certainly no way to leave a reltionship; and tells me that perhaps you were not really ready to leave. I also agree with the Conservative views and recognize that my voice is not the dominate voice in TEC. However, the truth is that we do have a voice in TEC, and I know that Jesus calls on me to be kind to all. "Marginalized" seems to be a defensive description.
But most concerning is your comment on being free. What in the world are you talking about? You have always been completely free! Free to worship at TEC, or not. Free to leave or stay. My whole point is that you are free right now, but instead you complain and hang on to your past. Why is it so you seem to want to leave, but take the physical property with you. That's not leaving, thats kicking me out, and insisting that you are on control. Why is it important that TEC is wrong and you are right? Why do you want to just drop your sword.and happily walk away with a soft heart and a kind spirit? Again, why are you so angry? Why are you bitter?

Anonymous said...

RalphM's narrative of victimhood and supposed persecution is as predictable as it is disengenuous.

Your clergy and laity has disproportionate leadership roles in th Diocese of Virginia. There was never, ever an important committee that did not include at least one person from Truro, the Falls Church, Apostles, or All Saints Dale City. That's 4 churches out of 195 (at the time).

Your clergy weren't marginalized - it's that people didn't agree with them. The argument was always "you don't listen to us" when the reality was folks just didn't agree. That folks in the Diocese of Virginia didn't agree didn't mean they didn't listen: yet your clergy leadership always seemed to follow the idea that "if you don't agree with us, your not listening."

In addition, in the last five years before the split, the leaders of the Virginia CANA congregations couldn't get elected for love or money, as the saying goes. Attempts to change the rules of order to elect Minns to the Standing Committee still resulted in him never getting elected. Why? I don't know for everyone, but the folks I know didn't trust, and eventually didn't like, him. And that distrust spread.

And given the conduct since then - planning since at least 2004 to leave, going to court to take the property, losing that effort, then claiming martyrdom when the Diocese sought to recover the property, and then upon defeat saying "it was never about the peoperty," are you surprised you couldn't get your folks elected to even dog catcher?

The freedom you feel coming most certainly goes both ways. I suspect even this blog will suffer a real downturn in traffic once the property issues are finally and completely resolved.

RalphM said...

"Disengenuous"... Is that like when DioVA, via the negotiating committee, was asked if recording the 57-9 votes would be regarded as a hostile act and said "No!"? Shortly thereafter the suits were filed by DioVA/TEC. Revisionist historians will take exception to these facts, but they are the facts.

"Victimhood and persecution" did not appear in my post. I am not a victim. You will have to decide if I have been persecuted since they are your words.

If the negotiations had been allowed to proceed, it is very likely the litigation could have been avoided. The "remain Episcopal" congregations could have had a place to worship in the buildings they left. As it is, churches will be put up for sale and neither party to the dispute will have the use of them. I know the mantra about preserving the churches for future generations of Episcopalians, but it has not happened in many places in the country and it is unlikely to happen in VA.

Anons above, if you feel there is no anger on the DioVA side, read your own posts.

As for my own anger and bitterness, I will not deny my feelings. I will pray about those feelings, and they will pass. They are a waste of spirit.

Linda said...

My husband and daughter and I attended Truro prior to the changes, and continued for a while afterward. We didn't feel comfortable in our own home church any longer. We particularly did not identify with recognition of the Nigerian Bishop. We went to all of the other Episcopalian churches in our area, and finally settled in at the Church of the Holy Comforter in Vienna, Virginia, and we love it there, but we look forward to coming home to our own home church. When will we have the Episcopalians there again?

Anonymous said...

Holy Comforter is a marvellous place to worship. I'm glad you found it.

Scout

Anonymous said...

I understand there are Episcopalians at Truro right now (they did not form a continuing congregation) and that Truro continues to use the TEC Book of Common Prayer for all their services. Don't believe that the current congregation will be leaving for a while.