Virginia: Breakup of Episcopal Church Continues
In cases like this, the denominational bureaucracy usually retains ownership of church property. That’s what the law says.
At least seven Virginia Episcopal parishes, opposed to the consecration of a gay bishop and the blessing of same-sex unions, have voted overwhelmingly to break from the U.S. church in a dramatic demonstration of widening rifts within the denomination.
Two of the congregations are among the state’s largest and most historic: Truro Church in Fairfax City and The Falls Church in Falls Church, which have roots in the 1700s. Their leaders have been in the vanguard of a national effort to establish a conservative alternative to the Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of the 77 million-member worldwide Anglican Communion.
The result of the week-long vote, announced yesterday, sets up the possibility of a lengthy ecclesiastical and legal battle for property worth tens of millions of dollars. Buildings and land at Truro and The Falls Church are valued at about $25 million, according to Fairfax County records.
The votes are fresh evidence of an increasingly bitter split within the U.S. Episcopal Church. Seven of its 111 dioceses have rejected the authority of Presiding U.S. Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, installed in November as the first woman to head an Anglican church. Schori supports V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man elected bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.
“I grew up in the Episcopal Church. I hope I don’t cry when I talk about this,” said a shaken Katrina Wagner, 37, an accountant and member of Truro’s vestry, after the congregation’s vote was announced. “But the issue is: Are we going to follow Scripture?”
Bishop Peter James Lee of the Diocese of Virginia said yesterday in a statement that he was “saddened” by the churches’ decision but that he would not yield in seeking to retain ownership of the parishes’ land and buildings. The two congregations voted not only to sever ties with the U.S. church but also for a resolution saying that they should keep the property.
“As stewards of this historic trust, we fully intend to assert the Church’s canonical and legal rights over these properties,” said Lee, who is scheduled to meet today with the executive board and standing committee of the diocese to discuss the situation.
Of course, if the church bureaucrats had any decency, they would turn the property over to local parishioners who, after all, have worked and given and maintained the property and the congregation. And who have also remained faithful to scripture and to the traditional doctrines of the church.
But the bureaucrats want to assert their power.
The Post goes on to predict:
The defections are likely to continue. Two other small Northern Virginia churches, Our Saviour Episcopal in Oatlands and Church of the Epiphany in Herndon, are expected to vote on separation early next year.The issue is indeed, as Katrina Wagner put it, “Are we going to follow Scripture?” The Episcopal bureaucracy, which very much represents the fashionable and trendy attitudes of the media and academia, says “no.” The parishioners say “yes.”
The former would deny that their viewpoint is fundamentally secular. But on virtually every social and political issue they side with those who are admitted non-believers and non-church goers.
They toss out all sorts of religious-sounding rhetoric. But the substance isn’t there.
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