Here is the letter:
|The Falls Church now empty main church sanctuary.|
With the return of the Falls Church Episcopal to its property last week, the effort to return Episcopal property to the mission of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia is all but complete.
Over the last few weeks you have received word of a cascade of settlements the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church have made with six of the seven CANA congregations that remained in the property litigation. In each case, the CANA congregation agreed to return the church property, including personal property and Episcopal funds due the Diocese of Virginia, and to withdraw their appeals. We have sought to be as generous as we can be with these congregations, particularly with regard to items necessary in the very short-term for them to continue in their ministries.
With disappointment, I report to you that we have been unable to reach a final settlement with the CANA congregation now known as the Falls Church Anglican. Their leadership has made it clear that they plan to pursue their appeal before the Supreme Court of Virginia unless the Diocese (with the Episcopal Church’s approval) pays them a significant sum of money; we both are unwilling to do so. As a result, we expect the Falls Church Anglican to file their petition for appeal at the end of this month, asking the Supreme Court of Virginia to hear their case. We must file a responsive brief three weeks later, and the Court will issue its decision on whether to take the case at some point this fall. We remain strongly confident in our legal position.
Despite the Falls Church Anglican’s decision to appeal, we were able to reach other key side agreements with real and positive consequences for the people affected. The 50-year-old Falls Church Day School, which serves over 200 children, has returned to the oversight of the Falls Church Episcopal without disruption and will remain open for the long term. Also, the Diocese is leasing the rectory to the rector of the Falls Church Anglican for up to a year at a fair rent, allowing him time to relocate. Finally, Bishop Johnston has given the Rev. Cathy Tibbetts, priest-in-charge of the Falls Church Episcopal, authority to respond generously to requests for weddings and funerals in the Falls Church by members of the Falls Church Anglican.
It is heartening to consider how the Diocese of Virginia is responding to the staggering richness of the possibilities before us. Under the leadership of Bishop Johnston, and with the guidance of Bishop-Elect Goff and the Dayspring teams, each of the continuing congregations remains profoundly committed to its mission and ministry. They are experiencing significant growth, and Dayspring teams are considering a number of transformational mission efforts at churches where no continuing congregation exists. There is tremendous energy and a gracious spirit ever present in this work.
Some commentators have said we now face the consequences of a Pyrrhic victory, given the debt owed on the recovered real estate. Michael J. Kerr, our diocesan treasurer, has successfully led the effort to obtain refinancing on very favorable terms. His outstanding effort means more than just getting a better interest rate. It provides us the gift of time and space to make prayerful, considered decisions on how best to use the returned properties and funds for the mission of the Church.
This Sunday is Pentecost, when we remember a day of transformation not only for the apostles but for those whom the apostles baptized. The Acts of the Apostles tells of the newly baptized “continu[ing] steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers.” We recall that wonderful phrase every time we renew our own Baptismal Covenant. More than a mere phrase, it is a clarion call to faithful action to each of us – and all of us – as Christians. Pray for us – both the Diocese of Virginia and our sisters and brothers in the CANA congregations – that we may respond faithfully to that call.
Henry D.W. Burt
Secretary and Chief of Staff