It was a long day in court with Judge Randy Bellows not issuing his ruling
from bench on The Falls Church Anglican's motion requesting a stay on his Final Order until after 9:00 p.m. The Fairfax Court House was fairly close to deserted as we walked out into the cool evening air. As I left the court room the group from The Falls Church Episcopal gathered in a circle of prayer and I learned later that a few of those who were there from The Falls Church Anglican joined them in the circle to pray. (Col. 3)
|Circuit Court Order denying The Falls Church Anglican's Motion to Stay.|
Although the Judge denied the departing group's request for a stay pending appeal, he did give them a fifteen-day extension on vacating the premises. The occupying group had run themselves up on the deadline and were, apparently, in a tight spot on making alternative arrangements.
Judge Bellows' discussion from the bench of the grounds on which he was denying the stay was informative, I thought.
Actually, the Diocese gave them the 15 day extension at the last hearing.
Ah - thanks for the clarification, Anon1706.
What would move this post from impressionistic to informative would be an actual summary of his ruling from the bench (either by BabyBlue or one of her readers who was there).
I have posted the Order now but I am inclined to think it's not the best time to post a summary since both sides are still in conversation. Best to request a transcript from the court. It is, however, always a good time to pray.
Honestly I think we need to exercise kindness right now and to refrain from the rhetoric. I was encouraged to learn that members of both congregations prayed together - let's leave it there for now okay?
Why would either side settle now? Neither has anything to lose.
7:47 pm Anon returning here: Can't figure out why there's any reason to think that a summary of a public event on this blog would have any impact on settlement at all. I also agree with the 12:05 AM Anon -- settlement seems unlikely given that it's failed to occur between January and now.
I suspect that the continued legal rejection of the CANA folks' positions is just too painful. I can respect that, but honesty about it would be better.
The judge found that 1. the Falls Church was unlikely to prevail in its appeal, 2. TFC did not prove that it would suffer irreparable harm if the stay was denied, 3. the Diocese (and the Episcopal congregation) would suffer substantial harm if the stay was put in place, and 4. that there is a major public interest in the finality of court rulings.
He tried to give the parties a chance to work out a sharing arrangement, but that didn't happen.
That is a good summation, Anon @12:57. Thank you.
Bottom line - The Falls Church got killed. Why would they not consider a sharing arrangement?
The Falls Church did just fine, Anon 2110.
With regard to why the departing group's leadership did not want any shared space arrangement with the Episcopalians during the pendency of appeals, I think there is concern that there would be interchange with the Episcopalians that might lead to loss of membership or, at a minimum, a loss of perception among the departees that the Episcopalians are a kind of lunatic fringe reflective of some of the zanier ideas that float around Episcopalianism elsewhere. To promote cohesion in the reaffilator camp, especially at a time when there will be stresses associated with finding new quarters, it will be important to continue the idea that there are clear, obvious distinctions between those who chose to leave the Diocese of Virginia and those who chose to stay.
Scout, that's a far cry from what has been said publicly at TFC-A. They understand some small number may stay and it's been publicly stated clearly and unequivocally that there should be no recriminations for those who decide to.
I think most of us realize that returning to TEC would mean going back into a theological fight that we're not going to win. The upcoming general convention, committees and structure are bent on their path and no individual church nor diocese is going to stand in their way. I was a lifelong Episcopalian, if anyone was demographically inclined to stay it would have been me, and I don't need the grief of dealing with revisionism year-after-year.
I hear you. The General Convention has caused great Cain.
But, me, I just want to go to my church and worship.
RWK - your response addressed something I did not say. I did not contend that space sharing would lead to a return of the reaffiliators en masse to the Diocese. I do think, however, that one of the reasons that the occupying group forced out the continuing Episcopalians and did not permit them to use the premises over the past five + years is that close intermingling of the two groups tended to minimize the rhetorical line that there are vast differences between Episcopalians and those who chose to find a new denomination. In fact, the differences in Sunday-to-Sunday worship and preaching are nil or near nil.
The separation movement was very actively and energetically clergy/vestry led. If there had been no separation, the Falls Church (and others) could have continued indefinitely in witness to orthodox stances on the theological hot points of the times. However, what the clergy and majority of the vestry had concluded, I submit, was that they had a deep associational aversion to being part of the same church that also had within it a Gene Robinson or a Katherine Jeffords-Schory. At a clerical level, this aversion probably has more oomph than it does for most people in the pews. If the two groups were to start worshipping in close proximity to one another, a fair number of folks might begin to wonder what all the fuss was about and whether this trip was really necessary.
By the way, I take in good faith and at face value that you and many others were simply at your limits in dealing with what you call "revisionism." However, for me, and for many others, we are not pressed on all sides by that concern, because we really do not see the human sexuality debates as central to our spiritual needs that are tended to each week. This is not to say that your view is wrong or mine right, but simply that there is probably a substantial number of people who, above all, need weekly worship in serene settings to assist them through daily life.
In point of fact, TFC Anglican offered to have TFC Episcopal use of the Historic Church. TFCE refused because it did not meet their "schedule" needs. TFC-A already had 8 am and 11 am worship services (Rite 1 and Rite II) in the historic church along with 9 am and 11 am worship in the Main sanctuary. TFC-A has continued to grow and it is a burgeoning Christ centered orthodox congregation. Were you present during the informational meetings you would know that the members DO care deeply about orthodoxy. It is not just clergy/vestry. My life has been transformed by orthodox belief which stands firm against political correctness and liberal teachings. It is not unreasonable that TFC-A would desire to continue to worship in the present location (our God-supplied resources and gifts built the new facilities, maintained the Historic space -- without contribution of TEC). TFC-E people were not asked to leave -- that was their decision. TFC-A did not sue -- TEC sued and TFC-A and other churches responded in defense. It appears near the end -- and TFC-A will continue to spread the orthodox Gospel of Jesus Christ -- that Christ be King in our hearts and in the hearts of others -- and the cross of Christ lifted up.
No Episcopal services were allowed in the buildings after the breakaway group reaffiliated with a new denomination. Obviously one could worship during the occupation, regardless of his/her affiliation (I often did just because I refused to acknowledge that people could leave a church for another denomination or another religion and thereby gain ownership), but if an Episcopalian who chose not to leave the church went looking for an Episcopal service at the buildings he chose not to leave, it would have been mighty slim pickings in the null set zone.
I cannot prove it with certitude, but I believe it to be a myth that the Episcopal congregation was offered use of the buildings by the occupying group after they reaffiliated. I do know with certainty of at least one instance in which a request by the Episcopalians to have one weekly Sunday service on the premises was refused outright by the departing group. The reason for the refusal was stated to be based on the advice of lawyers. This was a year or two into the occupation.
I have no doubt that many members of both groups have benefitted from orthodox beliefs and reliance on scripture. It was not my previous point that those views do not have value or viability. But I stand by my earlier comment that the disaffiliation movement was driven from the top of the parish. It was not particularly a grass roots phenomenon. I also know that the proponents of disaffiliation assured those who elected to stay with them that there was at least a substantial chance that either the Episcopalians would not contest the loss of the buildings or, if they did, that the departing group would prevail. At the time I thought those representations were hollow and irresponsible and in no way explained how a decision to leave could extinguish either the Diocese's interest in the property or the interests of those who chose to stay. But my views on this were very much minority views (and, in some circles, remain so today).
The departing group has been offered a number of scenarios under which they would continue to use the new sanctuary at The Falls Church for a period of time. I think the returning Episcopalians are almost unanimous in believing that such an arrangement would be acceptable. The Episcopalian group knows full well how difficult it is to have to find new space and worship in strange surroundings.
TFC-A did prevail in the initial decision handed down by Judge Bellows. The VA Supreme Court sent it back to Judge Bellows (District level) for consideration again. At the outset when the less than 50 TFC-E members left after the parish vote, TFC-E were offered use if historic church -- that is not a myth. Later on advice of legal counsel after TEC sued, that option was not possible. TFC-A has allowed funerals etc to be celebrated by TFC-E at the main campus. TFC-A offered without requirement to have TFC-E celebrate Easter in the Historic church.TFC-E also held an Easter Egg Hunt complete with Easter Bunny on the grounds following their Easter service. These took place while TFC-A held 5 services in the memorial garden, historic church and main sanctuaries at which there were a total of 3,000 worshipers.
Anonymous and anonymous -- TFC-A wanted to purchase the property but Bishop Schori (TEC) is resolute -- she will sell no properties to departing congregations. She said in an interview on NPR that she will not and in New York-- for instance--sold a consecrated church to Muslims. That says it all !
It says something, I suppose, but not all. It would have been the height of irresponsibility for either the Diocese or the national Church to allow parishioners who leave for another denomination or another religion to campaign internally for months and years to form a majority and then claim that they are either the owners of property or are entitled to purchase it. That was the inherent business model of many of the break-away factions across the country. If it had been acquiesced in, it would have proliferated to the extent that every parish would have become a political convention. It was a radical, unprecedented, notion that had no foundation in the governing documents and principles of the Church.
The problems with encouraging these attitudes are multitudinous, but a major problem is the extent to which it disregards the existence of people who elected not to leave and who have at least as much interest in continuing to worship in premises that they have worshipped in for years and years as those who decided that they had to leave. I would have had no respect for any element of the Episcopacy that would have allowed this to happen without contest.
RE Anon 1021: If the Episcopalians were offered the opportunity to continue regular weekly services in the property after the majority left the denomination, it was not conveyed to them and they were not aware of the offer. That I can say with certainty. The most recent services were offered as a one-off accommodation, an accommodation much appreciated, after the Court had ruled against the departing parishioners' claims and at a time when the deadline for returning all the properties was three weeks away.
I am not sure what relevance the numbers cited have. I don't think there has ever been any question that a large number of people left the Church. If comparative numbers have relevance, I think it suffices to say that the Episcopal service on Easter overflowed the capacity of the building.
You are correct about irresponsible. It is irresponsible for TEc to now have Church of the Apostles and other buildings sitting empty -- buildings TEC has no communicants to fill the space with worshipers and facilities which TEC cannot afford to maintain. The TFC-E has 50 or so on their official rolls and a total budget of $250K. And the Virginia TEC is providing subsidy to bring it to that level. The TFC-A is fully able to fund and support the existing Historic, Main and Southgate properties, in addition to caring for the Rectory and the Day School. TEC-E does not have the financial resources to sustain this. They will have to sell Southgate, and potentially lease the Main Sanctuary -- and then there is the Rectory. But however they work it out -- the Historic Church is on the Historic Registry and that limits substantially what can be done. There is also the Memorial Chapel which was converted from a storage shed to a beautiful chapel with parishioner gifts couple years after the lawsuit began -- and then furnished with gifts from TFC-A parishioner gifts. It would have been far more financially responsibleodor TEC to have sold to
TFC-A. But Bishop Schorib(TEC) sees Anglicans as competition (her words). Repent, be baptized, believe in the one and only way to God the Father -- Jesus Christ -- the Gospel message since the inception of the church -- is not competition. There is not a need for a need for a new gospel (TEC) Bishop quote from GenConvention. There is no other name under heaven by which man can be saved except Christ Jesus. If there is not agreement on these basics of the faith -- then
indeed there is need to walk apart. No further comment from this anonymous.
The issue of how the Diocese and the parish address the challenges of a large number of parishioners deciding to reaffiliate is, of course, one that will test all concerned. But it has nothing to do with whether a group of people who leave a church to affiliate with another religion or denomination have some legal or moral right to take the buildings away from those who choose not to leave. It is that latter issue to which I have addressed myself consistently. If one takes the position that large numbers of people leaving compel a change of ownership, one necessarily encourages factions to form within a parish for purposes of asserting possession. That leads to anarchy and politicization of things that are best left spiritual.
I cannot imagine a context in which a Bishop would ever permit a faction to take over a building and them demand that it be sold to them. What kind of stewardship would that be?
There is agreement on these basic tenants of faith. I'm sure there is no different view on this among TFC Episcopalians and those who left TFC for other affiliations. Re repentance, it is something we all require on a continuing basis. But I reject the implication that the members of The Falls Church need it more urgently or obviously than others.
I think "Scout"'s first comment above regarding one reason for the TFC-A's reluctance to enter into a sharing arrangement with TFC-E (a short-term solution that would clearly benefit both congregations) is spot on. I believe another motivation was perhaps the desire to avert the srident, pitchfork and torch-type criticism leveled by those far removed in response to the Truro settlement.
I don't think the Diocese of Dallas has suffered any because it sold Christ Church Plano to the disaffiliating group. The Diocese got $1.2 million out of the deal, and is not stuck with the ongoing maintenance costs of property that it can't sustain. Bishop Stanton said it was "godly judgment" to permit the parish to disaffiliate. Was he mistaken?
I confess to knowing nothing about the circumstances in Dallas/Plano, so I can't really comment. I am aware of a couple of other situations in other parts of the country where the Diocese has sold to disaffiliators. In those situations, the departing groups had not seized the properties, had not attempted to take the properties without compensation, had acknowledged that the properties did indeed belong to the Episcopal Diocese, and had not evicted a continuing Episcopalian element. Perhaps these conditions prevailed in Plano.
My earlier comment was directed at situations, like those in Virginia, where the departing elements did not leave, contended that they, by virtue of their decision to leave, had acquired ownership, and had expelled those who wanted to stay. This is such a radical, anarchic principle, unsupported by either the secular law or the governing rules of the Church, that the position has to be stoutly resisted by all who have stewardship responsibilities and who believe in some kind of orderly church and orderly society.
It appears that these efforts have come to the obvious grief that they deserved, but think how much treasure and trouble could have been saved if those who left in late 2006 simply did what tradition, law, and church structures suggest was the obvious remedy - walk out and start a new church.
Your earlier point was how a bishop could let a group "take over" a building and then negotiate for its purchase. First, I would submit that none of the CANA churches were "taken over," but they pretty much stayed in the same place theologically with the same orthodox worshippers as TEC sliped into the deep end of heresy. Putting aside that point, I would suspect that +Lee in entering into a year-long discussion with the churches was motivated not out of compassion but because he was prescient enough to recognize that the properties could not be supported if the current congregations abandoned them. That view has not been contradicted by any evidence I have seen in Virginia recently. Unfortunately, in addition to the bottom falling out of TEC's membership and financial giving, the institution is also rotting from the head down and no longer has the ability to discern these kinds of things. If spending millions in legal to seize empty properties with current liabilities to maintain is considered responsible stewardship, then that term no longer has any meaning.
If the proposition you are advancing is that a bishop could, consistent with his stewardship obligations, sell off an underused property to another denomination, I won't disagree. It happens frequently in different denominations, including the Roman Catholic church. Perhaps the problem is that my original statement about stewardship was too broad. My stewardship comment is confined to situations like those present in Northern Virginia, i.e., where dissident clergy/vestry, long after they reach a decision that they cannot remain affiliated with the Diocese stay in place and actively foment parishioners to leave using retention of the buildings as one of the arguments as to why disaffiliation is a dandy idea.
For the sake of reminder, nothing in Bishop Lee's kindly outreach to people some of whom heaped a fair ration of personal calumny on him, ever contemplated that the parish or the diocese would alienate the buildings of the large historic parishes of Northern Virginia. The Bishop and his Chancellor worked to find a graceful exit for those who left, but had no intention of releasing historic real property to people who were leaving.
The TFC-A argument is, for practical purposes, silly. A family member of mine was one of the founders of the reconstituted parish in the 1700's, and he personally paid to overhaul the abandoned property. So if parish membership results in ownership of all assets, I suppose I can demand that TFC-A turn over all its assets. So TFC-A ought watch what it asks for.
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