Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Taste and see the goodness of the Lord: A Story of Truro

Dan Van Ness, Senior Warden of Truro Anglican Church, addressed the congregation this past Sunday and gave an overview of Truro's own journey in the years in which he and his family have been members, a journey shared by the thousands that have passed through the doors of Truro Episcopal and now Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax.  Here is his story of Truro:

My wife Brenda and I began attending Truro in 1981. Like many of you, we were not cradle Episcopalians, but we were drawn here by the combination of the liturgy and the clear presence of the Holy Spirit. Truro had been drawn into the charismatic renewal while Raymond Davis was rector, and we flourished under the ministry of his successor, now Episcopal Bishop, John Howe.

 We knew the life of the Spirit, the light of Christ, the love of the Father. We knew it – we know it – because Scripture teaches that Jesus came to give us life in all its abundance, and because we have experienced that life. We wanted others to experience it too, so we became an inviting church. Those who were here then will remember Friday Night Prayer and Praise services and Evangelism Explosion. We organized weekend renewal missions at Episcopal parishes along the East Coast. We supported groups like Acts 29 and Episcopal Renewal Ministries. We helped organize NOEL, the National Organization of Episcopalians for Life to bear witness on behalf of the unborn and to care for their mothers. We were – we are – an inviting church. We lived what we sang, “Taste and see, taste and see, the goodness of the Lord.”

Martyn Minns, now an Anglican bishop, became our rector. He brought a passion for the poor and needy which led to creation of the Lamb Center. And during his leadership we came to see that efforts for renewal were not turning back the storm clouds over the Episcopal Church. For years the denomination had seemed unwilling to discipline leaders who were walking away from what we believe is the orthodox Christian faith. Those leaders had followers and some had what appeared to be an inordinate amount of influence in the political bodies of the denomination. So we joined with friends in an attempt to offset this influence, even as we continued to invite people to experience the real presence of God. For example, under the guidance of Dianne Kinippers, Ed Knipper’s wise and beloved late wife, we not only lobbied at General Conventions, we also provided a prayer room and intercessors for delegates needing God’s touch.

Dan Van Ness with Steve Springmann
Over time we felt less and less at home in the Episcopal Church. The consecration of Gene Robinson as bishop represented only one of a constellation of ways that the denomination seemed unrecognizable to us. Over the next two and a half years, we and our friends debated what we should do. We met regularly with Bishop Peter Lee, then the bishop of the diocese of Virginia to keep him informed and to seek a way forward.

Paul Julienne, a member of Truro, served on a year‐long diocesan Reconciliation Committee convened by Bishop Lee. It concluded that our divisions were so profound that resolution was highly unlikely. So Bishop Lee and Rev. John Yates of The Falls Church formed a special committee to chart a way forward. Tom Yates was a member of that committee. It developed a protocol for parishes that wished to vote to separate from the Episcopal Church. It crafted the ballot language and provided for subsequent negotiations between the diocese and any parish that voted to separate to consider ownership of that parish’s property. As you know, Truro’s members voted overwhelmingly to separate from the Episcopal Church.

Suddenly, all cooperation from the diocese came to an abrupt halt. We were told at the time that this was due to intervention by the national church. We’ve been told more recently that there was strong opposition all along from the diocese’s standing committee. Whatever happened, we were plunged into litigation. Litigation is consuming. It is intrusive, costly, painful and divisive. Its logic is binary – you either win or you lose. We hired excellent attorneys, raised a lot of money and proceeded into court to defend ourselves. And at first we won. At the conclusion of the first trial, the judge agreed that a Virginia statute applied in these situations and that the property was ours.

But then the VA Supreme Court overturned the trial court and said that the case needed to be tried again under a different legal standard. So found ourselves back in court for the second trial. By this time we had called a new rector, Tory Baucum. His ministry has resonated with our DNA as an inviting church. He introduced us to the idea of radical hospitality and shortly thereafter we welcomed Love the World Fellowship to share our facilities.

Tory conducts baptisms in the Church
Tory reminded us that while the fight for truth was consuming and costly, we could and should continue to invite people to encounter the One who is the way, the truth, the life; the only way to the Father. He persuaded Tim and Ros Mayfield to come to the US and help expand our use of Alpha. He has hired pastoral staff with skills in evangelism. He has demonstrated that it is possible to make unlikely friends in order that they – and we – might experience the life of Christ.

So he reached out to Bishop Shannon Johnston and urged Truro and its sister parishes to explore reopening negotiations to settle the litigation. This has been hard work; sometimes even hard to explain. But I believe it was the right thing to do.

Then we lost the second trial. Judge Bellow’s ruling was frankly, devastating. We have excellent attorneys, some of the best in the country, and they have told us that there is little hope we will win back our buildings on appeal. As our Chancellor, Bob Dilling, said during a recent Vestry meeting, “We were never owners, only stewards, of this property. It is clear that our stewardship has come to an end.”

So we must come to terms with the injustice, the loss, and the grief we feel at leaving these facilities. We must now face into a future that includes a new home for what, since last Monday, is now officially Truro Anglican Church. And this means dealing with the practical questions of how to do that well.

We and our sister parishes approached the diocese concerning negotiations about a year ago. While there was little interest in settlement at that time those early meetings did allow us to get to know each other. That meant there was a relationship to build on when negotiations began in earnest in January. The Vestry appointed Tom Yates and me to represent Truro, and we delivered the Vestry’s initial settlement offer in February. We chose to keep all of our options open, so we also filed the necessary papers to preserve a right to appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court if we decided to do that.

As of 10 days or so ago, it looked like we might have to do that. The diocese and we were far apart on key issues, particularly their insistence that we pay sizable rent if we remained on the property after August of this year. Then, at the end of last week, the talks began to shift and we were able to reach an agreement that the Vestry believes is a very good one under the circumstances.

Why not keep fighting? The Vestry has concluded that the battle over the property is finished. When we voted to separate from the Episcopal Church, we knew as a congregation that we might lose these buildings. It turns out that this is indeed the price we will pay.

Our stewardship of these buildings is ending. But the life of Truro Episcopal Church and of Truro Anglican Church has never been these buildings. The life of our parish has been the life of Christ among us. That life is still with us. It will lead us to our new home. And as it does, we will continue to be what we are: a church that invites people to meet the source of our life, the One who conquered death and the grave.

Alleluia! Christ is risen! 
The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

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