Thursday, March 01, 2012

Judge signs Final Order in Virginia Church Property Case

NEW UPDATE: Anglican Curmudgeon has insightful commentary on the implications of the ruling, especially for donors in the Diocese of Virginia here.

UPDATE: The Final Order is here.

From here:
Virginia Anglicans remain prayerful and are reviewing legal path forward

(March 1, 2012) – 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 final orders by the Fairfax County Circuit Court on issues including transferring real and personal property. At the same time they are prayerfully considering their legal options.

“While our congregations will comply with the final order, we are saddened that the Circuit Court did not accept the motion for partial reconsideration and we continue to believe that, as a matter of religious liberty, it is the right of donors to restrict the use of their own gifts to the church of their choice,” said Jim Oakes, spokesperson for the seven congregations.

Earlier this month, the congregations filed a motion for partial reconsideration with the Fairfax County Circuit Court asking that the court reconsider the portion of its January ruling stating that certain personal property, including monetary gifts, given to the congregations prior to January 31, 2007, belongs to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

The Virginia Attorney General also filed a brief with the Fairfax County Circuit Court in support of the defendant congregations’ motion for partial reconsideration.

“We remain grateful to our own legal team’s steadfastness and commitment to defending our congregations throughout this lengthy litigation process. Further, we are thankful for the support from the Virginia Attorney General who was present in this case to represent the public interest in enforcing the wishes of charitable donors in Virginia,” concluded Oakes.

The Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, a historic property involved in the case, stated, “Our congregations are blessed by the confidence that God will always provide a home for His followers. We have always known that a church is not just its buildings, but its people and the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ being proclaimed and lived.  We look forward to God leading us in the days ahead.”

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

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.

Here is the Diocese of Virginia's statement:

March 1, 2012

Today, the Fairfax Circuit Court entered a final order in favor of the Diocese of Virginia in its effort to recover Episcopal property for the mission of the Episcopal Church. The Court also denied the CANA congregations' recent motion for partial reconsideration of the court's original ruling of January 10.

"We hope that this will mark the end of this lengthy litigation," said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of the Diocese of Virginia. "By closing this chapter, both the Diocese and the CANA congregations have the freedom to focus our energies on the mission and ministries of our respective congregations, and even what we might be able to do together for people and a world in need of the Gospel's work," Johnston added. "For the Diocese, we even now are undertaking an initiative known as Dayspring, an integrated effort to discern and implement a comprehensive vision for our congregations and properties affected by this litigation. We look forward to sharing more news as Dayspring continues to take shape."

Under the final order, the CANA congregations must convey to the Diocese of Virginia all real and personal property by April 30, 2012. The real property includes seven church buildings and a significant number of other parcels. The personal property includes both tangible items, such as chalices, prayer books and crosses, and intangibles, including the funds on hand. The ruling allows the CANA congregations to retain some restricted funds over which they have no discretion and that do not benefit the local congregation, the Diocese or the Episcopal Church. The court has set March 30 as the deadline for the parties to determine the disposition of those funds. Where the parties do not agree, the court will make a judicial determination.

"Today marks a major milestone in this effort," said Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the Diocese. "We respect fully the CANA congregations' right to pursue an appeal, and we are in discussions with them as they face significant issues of discernment and transition in their path forward."


Steven in Falls Church said...

Is there a copy of the Order with exhibits? (The Diocese just has the Order.) The press release says that the congregations will comply, but how? People will not want to give to their church knowing that it will just be a pass-through to the Diocese. I assume the Diocese is smart enough to figure this out. Maybe there can be a rent-back, with the rents partially or completely offsetting the monetary award.

Reuben&Zoe said...

"...reconsider the portion of its January ruling stating that certain personal property, including monetary gifts, given to the congregations prior to January 31, 2007, belongs to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia."
Only donations given by parishioners to the 7 churches prior to Jan. 31, 2007 are in dispute. Any donation given after January 32, 2007 belong to the departing Anglican congregations. Therfore, tithes and gifts given now are not in question.

Steven in Falls Church said...

But if your church now has to cough up $1 million to the Diocese as part of the settlement, that money has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is current collections. People would not want to give to their church in that case, knowing the money will be passed through to Schori, or they will restrict the contribution so that it cannot go to legal settlement.

Anonymous said...

Steven: a "rent-back"? How would that work?

Neither the Diocese nor the parish has demanded rent from the departing groups, although they certainly would be entitled to it. The assumption must be that the rents owed the rightful owners for the possession of the premises during the occupation would be more or less offset by expenditures necessary to maintain the premises. As long as the expenditures came from funds generated by the occupiers after 31 January 2007, and that the assets and accounts of the parish as they stood as of the date of the departure are restored, things kind of cancel out.



Jill Woodliff said...

My perspective is from afar. Peter cut off Malchus' ear, and Jesus restored it. I see the work of the swords, but I don't see the restoration.
A TEC lawyer might point to the restoration of the property to TEC. Jesus never restored property. He restored people.
The more I study scripture, the more strongly I suspect that every detail is significant (even though the significance of many details escapes me). Peter could have cut off a nose or a finger. If the landscape is littered with dismembered ears, how will people hear?
Lord Jesus, have mercy. Reach out and touch the spiritual ears of the wounded. Have mercy, Lord. Have mercy.

Anonymous said...

Steven, I am a member of one of the seven congregations, and still giving. This judgment is not the only thing on our financial radar. We are moving forward doing the work of the Kingdom. We have staff salaries to pay and ministries to support. We are not going to let those languish merely to spite TEC.

RalphM said...


Stating that neither the Diocese nor TEC has demanded rent is technically correct. Instead, they tried to get the court to obligate the departing congregations to paying off any remaining mortgages on the real property that the judge awarded to DioVA/TEC.

Henry Burt's statement of respecting the right to appeal is made only to put on a good public face. The threat that accompanies it is to reinstate personal lawsuits agains the clergy, vestries, and trustees if an appeal is made.

Anonymous said...

It looks like the 'episcopal' congregations will get back into the buildings but they have also lost ownership to the Bishop and TEC. Think about it! Before 2006 it was assumed a congregations held title to and control of all their property and funds. Now they are deeded in the name of the Bishop/TEC. Even small items at quick claim deeded to the Bishop. Tough on the shadow episcopal congregations who are now guests not owners.

Anonymous said...

Dylan has it right: "It's all over now, BabyBlue."

DavidH said...

8:46 Anonymous wrote: "Before 2006 it was assumed a congregations held title to and control of all their property and funds."

Not by anyone paying any attention to either the canons or Virginia law regarding church property.

And certainly not by the CANA folks, who recognized the risk and had their lawyers working hard on their behalf before 2006.

Kevin said...

If were going back to 2006 ... remember, things looked amicable then, there was the Protocol for Departing Parishes worked out, +Lee found a way for +Minns to still serve as "priest in charge," I had a dream warning of storm yet to come in July of 2006, but was blow off when I shared, for it was completely against what the mood between DioVA & what would become the CANA parishes. First hints where in the games of the Standing Committee in November of 2006 with "received" vote (not approved, so many were confused), but there was a real sense of "bait-n-switch" in January of 2007 when Beers Esq. meet with +Lee and suddenly everything changed, the suit was filed and shortly thereafter joined by 815, naming all members of clergy and vestry. From settlement to viciousness, from what could have been a good witness to a poor one

Anonymous said...

Is it all over now Baby Blue?

Anonymous said...

Anon at 6:08,

No, it's not all over. TEC will continue closing churches through innovative theology and the courts.

The Rev Canon Dr David Wilson said...

Go for it Mary

verse 4

Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you
The vagabond who’s rapping at your door
Is standing in the clothes that you once wore
Strike another match, go start anew
And it’s all over now, Baby Blue

Daniel Weir said...

Parishes have not had an absolute right to real property for a very long time. The canons have for many decades required parishes to obtain permission from the diocese before alienating real property. People who thought that parishes could do whatever they wanted with the property were simply misinformed.

Anonymous said...

I know that some will not continue to give for fear that their monies will go to the Episcopal Church. However, that does not relieve one of the obligation to tithe. I do not want to support the Episcopal Church, but I trust that God will work things out whatever happens to what I give. I trust God. And yes the money might go where I don't wish it to go, but than our church has lots of different debts they have to take care of, this is just another one.

Anonymous said...

The judge has decreed that the diocese and the national church own all Episcopal Church property. Sounds like a real positive point for fund raising efforts.

Anonymous said...

The clergy who led this effort are drawing salary and a healthy pension...from the Episcopal Church pension fund. The younger guys - not so much. The hits the congregations are going to take - ouch.

Lesson I see is this: don't pick a fight you can't afford to lose.

RalphM said...

Anon at 12:10,

What is your point? The TEC pension fund is financed by contributions from the congregations, not TEC.

After leaving TEC, the contributions began flowing to a new pension plan. Whether any serving clergy are drawing both a pension and a salary is unknown to me, but certainly not a concern to anyone in TEC.

Anonymous said...

I think the point is that some of the senior leaders are making out well for themselves. The clergy who left w less than 30 years service got hit hard and the congregations supporting them are going to undergo massive upheaval. Not all will survive, of that there is little question. It is true of all of them that 5 years from now, none of them will be anything like what they were in 2006. And it's a shame.

Bad decisions on both sides.


Daniel Weir said...

When one of my colleagues decided to leave TEC after the decision about the ordination of women, our Bishop made sure that his removal from the roles of clergy did not happen until he was vested in the pension fund. I do not know who paid the premiums for the few months between his leaving his parish and his being vested. My suspicion is that the bishop may have helped.

Anonymous said...

TEC in the state of Virginia is loosing about 1,000 in ASA per year. Why would an ordinary parishoner invest in their local church if the denomination becomes progressivly more extream and the autocratic hirarchy takes the resources from the pockets of the parishes? If they want to remain in the local church for family reasons then they should send most of their giving to ACNA parishes nearby. Epecially those made homeless.

Jeff H said...

A note from Truro's senior warden on the church website is here. It contains info I haven't seen reported elsewhere, including the following:

"a. The money we owe the Diocese (what we held as of Jan 31, 2007) will be reduced by the amounts of 1) prepaid tuition for Truro Pre-School and Kindergarten, 2) uncleared checks (that is, checks we had written before that date but that hadn't gotten to the bank by then), 3) payroll, payroll deductions, taxes, withholding, pension contributions and accrued vacation, and 4) money we held that had been restricted by the contributor for use outside the parish (e.g., support for specific missionaries or ministries in other countries) that we subsequently used for the restricted purposes.
b. While we and the Diocese need to work out the final details concerning what we owe, these reductions will significantly reduce that amount, probably by hundreds of thousands of dollars."


"e. The date for completing transfer of property to the Diocese is April 30, not an earlier date they had requested. This transfer includes our land and buildings. We have several options if we need or want to stay past that date. We may negotiate a lease with the Diocese to remain for some period of time after April 30. Or if we appeal the ruling we can ask the court to prevent it from taking effect while the appeal is pending. At this point we are considering our options."

RalphM said...

Anon at 10:02,

You comment about senior clergy benefitting financially is conjecture on your part.

No clergy were forced to leave TEC by the departing churches. All clergy made their choice based on their conscience. The pension issues of the clergy would have been the same whether the departing churches won or lost the properties.

Your clairvoyance is remarkable. You should direct it to the soon to be empty buildings and the future generations of Episcopalians who are going to materialize out of thin air to fill them.

Anonymous said...

Not true clergy had their health care taken away and were suspended without any evidence of what their personal decisions might have been.