Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia writes a letter

The Secretary of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, who incidentally grew up at The Falls Church, writes a letter following the departure of The Falls Church Anglican last week from their church home on Broad Street. 

Here is the letter:

The Falls Church now empty main church sanctuary. 


Dear Friends,

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

Read it all here.


Anonymous said...

I find it quite notable that the rector of TFCA is willing to pay rent to the Diocese to avoid disrupting his lifestyle. I guess he decided that packing up his stuff was going to be kind of inconvenient.

Anonymous said...

I'm more troubled by the fact that the Anglican parish continues to spend money on litigation, versus serving God. The case has already been to the state supreme court once, and the chances that the Anglicans will prevail are slim to none. Additionally, some of the rhetoric floating about from the Anglican side calling brothers and sisters in Christ "heretics," and similar things is just plain wrong.

RalphM said...

"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"

Does anyone know what Mr Burt is talking about?

Anonymous said...

The dispute is over a substantial portion of the money in the TFC bank account. Here's my non-official, I'm not a lawyer and I did not sleep at a Holiday Inn last night explanation:

TFCE View: All funds no matter when or how they were given are now the property of TFCE, period.

TFCA View: It is established in law that stipulations may be put on charitable donations. The vast majority of TFC giving prior to the vote was stipulated not to go the national church nor the diocese. Therefore, a portion of the funds should be the property of TFCA.

Apparently, the diocese and TFCA could not come to an agreement on that division on their own.

RalphM said...

Thanks Anon at 9:37.

Mr Burt's statement implies that TFCA is trying to extort money from DioVA.

In reality, it appears that TFCA is claiming that a significant part of the money the court awarded to DioVA should have been retained by TFCA since it was restricted, and is offering to drop the appeal if DioVA returns those funds.

Steven in Falls Church said...

I think that Mr. Burt is guilty of violating GAAP principles insofar as he has recognized as revenue received the $2.8 million awarded by the court, notwithstanding TFC's intention to appeal at least that portion of the ruling. Anon at 9:37 am summarizes the situation pretty succinctly. To give you a few examples, one TFC parishioner gave a sizable chunk of money and expressly designated that it go to buy Bibles for kids in Africa. Others gave with the express intent that their money fund evangelism efforts in Central Asia. By dint of the court's ruling, these funds would be transformed into unrestricted giving for TEC. This to me presents a pretty straight-forward case of a violation of constitutional principles of free speech and free association, not to mention state laws protecting donor intent. It is a bit ironic that these monies would simply fall into TEC's lap when, next door in DC, the Diocese of Washington is spending tens of thousands of dollars in a lawsuit trying to prove that use of the Soper Trust funds for general expenses is consistent with the donor's intent.

Anonymous said...

In the period of the Occupation (early 2007 to 13 May 2012), donations by departing parishioners in the CANA congregation are the property of the CANA group. The court order was clear on that and I am unaware that anyone on either side of the issue is disputing that. If someone gave a donation to the Episcopal Church pre-2007 and designated the donation for Bibles in Africa or missionary efforts in Central Asia, I would think those restrictions would be binding on the Parish and the Diocese. None of that seems at all complicated or difficult to administer. This issue of restricted donations seems like an issue readily amenable to clarification and I rather doubt that it is a real issue. I understand the position of the CANA group re the appeal was that they would forego an appeal in return for a substantial cash payment. I am not in media res on this, but I do not believe that the sum demanded was related to disputes over earmarked donations during the occupation period.


Anonymous said...

Following this reasoning scout, shouldn't the two million of the Anglican donors' money go directly to the falls church episcopal? It never belonged to the diocese of Virginia did it?

Anonymous said...

The reasoning behind leaving monies contributed after the departure with the CANA group is that, at that point, those contributing knew full well that the split had occurred and that they intended the funds to be for the new enterprise. At that point, the people occupying the buildings knew full well that a transition had been made to a new denomination. I take your point that the Episcopalians might have a technical argument that they had some right to these funds as long as the group that left kept using the physical plant of the Episcopal parish (while excluding Episcopalian worship) but that strikes me as hypertechnical and not really worth pursuing. The judge found a fair place to draw the line and, to my knowledge, it hasn't been subject to much challenge or cavil. One could scooch that date a bit to one side or another without doing much violence to Justice, I would think, but the January 2007 date that the judge selected seems reasonable.

But the comment I am responding to is from my brother, Steven, who seems to relate Mr. Burt's recounting of efforts by the departees to get cash in return for not appealing to specially designated gifts. My point is that I don't think this is accurate. The lines drawn by the court really take care of that issue quite neatly. It is up to The Falls Church and the Diocese, as a point of honour and good adminsitration, to see that donations submitted prior to the split are used for specific purposes if those purposes were clearly conveyed and recorded. After January 2007, there isn't a problem because all those monies are with the departing parishioners.


Anonymous said...

In reading Anon 0937's comment, I see something that I had not noticed before. It is the idea that pre-2006 donations to the parish, if they were designated not to go to the Diocese or the National Church should be given to the group that left in late 2006.

This proposition seems very shaky to me. The CANA group did not exist prior to December/January 2006-2007. Those donations were to the Falls Church, which was an Episcopal Church at the time (as it is today). Anyone attempting to restrict a gift at that time as not being for use by the Diocese or the National Church should have gotten counsel from clergy, vestry, treasurer or someone about the problems of trying to restrict use in that manner and it, of course, should have been addressed in parish meetings or from the pulpit during pledge season. But, to the extent those sentiments were clearly conveyed and recorded, the logical way to honor those requests as closely as possible is for TFC to use the funds on a going forward for parish functions. I don't think they are under any legal obligation to do so, and the Diocese certainly has a claim on those funds, but I would think it reasonable to ensure that those designations be retained for use in the local Episcopal parish, where they were received in the first instance.


Steven in Falls Church said...

The problem with dipping the pre-2007 contributions in amber, which is essentially what the judge did (and putting aside the question of specific donor intent), is that, had those monies been left in accounts and the group departed in 2007, they would already have been spent on upkeep of the church facility. So why is the judge ordering those monies reinstated? It doesn't make sense, as it basically gives TEC double relief in that they didn't have to pay to keep up the property. Another issue to settle out on appeal. At any rate, there is whiff of desperate affirmation in the diocesan statement, almost as if Stuart Smalley had penned it. The Diocese knows that the potemkin group can't support the property, and thus it desperately needs that $2.8 million and also the ability to sell parcels (e.g., Southgate) that will now be encumbered throughout the appeal process.

Anonymous said...

Steven - I have to assume you haven't had much time to think about this. Taking a snapshot at some point where it is clear that the departing parishioners have clearly reaffiliated and saying that restitution should put things back as they were at that point is eminently fair and reasonable. That's precisely what the court did.

If someone unlawfully occupies my house and I go to law to regain possession, the court is highly unlikely to say that the occupiers shouldn't have to return my cash box in the house when they finally leave because, if I had not been chucked out wrongfully, I would have spent my money to keep up the property. That is the scenario you describe. It is much more likely that a court would order the wrongful possessors to make me whole based on where I stood at the time of the seizure and then order the occupiers to pay me fair value rent and compensate me for my costs during the time I was out of my property.

By occupying the property when they left the Episcopal Church, the departing folks had rent-free use of the property for nearly six years. I have said before that I wouldn't mind offsetting those unpaid rents against amounts paid for upkeep during the occupation. But, essentially, the court and the Diocese have given the CANA group a much better deal than that. They have treated the maintenance costs vs. unpaid rents as a wash and just said to the occupiers, "put it back the way it was when you left." There can be no logical or ethical objection to that kind of compromise.