Skip to comments.Backatcha, Bwana [Falls Church and Truro Episcopal to Bishop Lee]
Posted on 12/08/2006 6:34:56 PM PST by sionnsar
Falls Church and Truro Episcopal to Virginia Episcopal Bishop Peter Lee: do not threaten us, Bishop:
As to your suggestion that, if our vestry members continue to act in reliance upon these assurances, they may have acted in "bad faith" or engaged in "willful misconduct," we have acted in good faith, and with clean hands, in reliance upon the representations of you and the Diocese. We have also relied on public pronouncements of the then-Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold that property matters are to be resolved at the diocesan level. And, of course, our counsel have advised us that the canons are subject to Virginia law. We have previously provided your chancellor with a summary of that law, which notes that Virginia law does not recognize an express trust, let alone an implied trust, in favor of denominations such as the Episcopal Church. Given this plain rule of law, it is our position that the Diocese does not have a valid claim to ownership of our property under a theory of express or implied trust.
In any event, we must ask that you not purport to instruct our vestry and clergy on civil law. (Your letter has a section entitled "Potential Personal Liability," in which you discuss civil court decisions, and at several other points in the letter you reference purported civil law obligations.) As you have known for some time, they are represented by counsel and any discussion of these legal obligations should be directed to Winston & Strawn, 1700 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006; Attn: Steffen N. Johnson; and to our chancellors, A. Hugo Blankingship, Jr. (The Falls Church) and Robert M. Dilling (Truro Church). Any attempt by the Episcopal Church or the Diocese to interfere with our interests, including any further attempt to interfere with our discernment process or our congregational vote, will be met with the strongest possible response, including legal defense.
We cannot imagine a worse witness, as we try to celebrate 400 years of Anglican worship in Virginia, than to have a number of our churches, including the historic churches, involved in adversarial litigation with the Diocese that could have been avoided had you and the Diocese returned to the posture of Christian charity and civility we once shared. There is one ray of hope in your letter to us, namely that we might still be able to "reach a resolution to the issues where we differ that takes into account the promises we have made, our obligations of respect and care for one another, and most of all expresses our obedience to Christ."
Well, the battle is engaged!
The excerpt excluded this phrase: "clearly places your integrity, and the integrity of the Diocese, in grave jeopardy." That's pretty direct, in a legalese sort of way.
Is there a legal defense fund people can contribute to? Realize these are comparatively wealthy parishes, but how this one comes out could affect the entire denomination and give momentum for a new Anglican North American province which hopefully will be formed when the primates meet early next year. I would like to hope ECUSA is anathematized at the same time.
Winston & Strawn, 1700 K Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20006; Attn: Steffen N. Johnson; and to our chancellors, A. Hugo Blankingship, Jr. (The Falls Church) and Robert M. Dilling (Truro Church)You could contact them and advise us...?
I attend another Northern VA Episcopal church that starts voting very soon (actually, around 6 pm tonight). From my understanding, there is no formal legal defense fund, although I could be wrong. However, I believe any of the churches would be grateful for any contributions. Just send a check and write "Legal Defense" in the Memo line. I think that would work.
St. Stephens, Fredericksburg?
Apostles, Fairfax. Well, we're still technically Episcopal, as we're still in the Diocese of Virginia, but that will probably change very soon.
Please keep us apprised of developments.
Please keep us apprised of developments.
Eight Northern Virginia congregations to vote this weekend
By Julia Duin
The Washington Times
December 9, 2006
Eight Northern Virginia congregations that will vote this weekend on whether to leave the Episcopal Church find themselves caught between church and state laws.
At issue is whether Virginia law favoring property rights can be trumped by the New York-based denomination's claim to own its 7,679 churches.
The conservatives threatening to leave the church over issues of biblical authority and the 2003 consecration of openly homosexual New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are on the state's side.
"Neutral principles of Virginia property law" favor the titleholders, said University of Virginia law professor Robert O'Neill, who teaches church-state relations. "What courts will not do is apply theological, scriptural, liturgical or canon law principles in the resolution of a case."
Usually in Episcopal dioceses, the bishop owns the title deeds to a church. But the historic Falls Church Episcopal in Falls Church and Truro Church in Fairfax each hold their own titles.
The national Episcopal Church says that any church that leaves is bound by the "Dennis canon" law to cede its buildings and land to the diocese. Episcopal conservatives have challenged the canon, saying competing versions were approved by the 1979 Episcopal General Convention, the church's governing body.
Moreover, Virginia law does not recognize the Dennis canon, they say, because it's an "implied trust" that gives a national denomination power over a local church.
"Am I concerned?" the Rev. John Yates, rector of the Falls Church, wrote in a Dec. 2 letter to his congregation. "Of course. This is the most serious moment in the history of our church since the church was taken over by soldiers in the Civil War."
The square-shaped brick Falls Church was used as a hospital, then a stable by Union soldiers, who tore up the floor, removed pews, windows and brickwork and briefly made off with the baptismal font. Founded in 1732, it predates the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia -- founded in 1785 -- and the Episcopal Church itself -- founded in 1789.
"It seems clear that the national leadership of the Episcopal Church is taking an antagonistic attitude toward all those who may feel called in good conscience to leave the Episcopal Church, and we in Virginia seem to be a special focus of theirs," Mr. Yates said.
The 90,000-member diocese could lose about 9 percent of its adherents on Sunday.
About 8,000 people belong to the Falls Church, Truro Church and Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, St. Margaret's and All Saints' churches in Woodbridge, St. Stephen's in Heathsville, Church of the Word in Manassas and Potomac Falls Episcopal in Sterling.
According to an agreement between the diocese and the dissenting parishes, 70 percent of the members of each church must vote to leave for a church to pull out. All Saints' will announce its vote Monday; other parishes will announce their results during services Dec. 17.
Jim Oakes, senior warden of Truro, said more than the eight congregations might leave.
"A lot of smaller churches, which are concerned about intimidation from the diocese, feel it is prudent for them to be quieter about what they are doing," he said.
Late last week, Bishop Peter J. Lee sent out letters to 90 members of the vestries, or governing boards, of the dissenting parishes, threatening them with lawsuits if they try to leave. The mass mailing, which went to the homes of individual vestry members, enraged conservatives.
"Alarm bells went off," said Jim Pierobon, spokesman for Truro and the Falls Church. "We asked: 'Who is the real Peter James Lee?' Some of us had thought we could trust the bishop."
The next morning in church, he said, an impassioned Mr. Yates told the congregation it is time to depart. At the same time, members of the diocesan standing committee, which advises the bishop, were visiting three of the parishes, pleading with them to stay.
"They were extremely cordial," standing committee member Sarah Bartenstein said of her visit to Church of the Word. "We told them they were valued members of the diocese and we hoped they would not leave. I still hold out hope they will vote to stay."
I went to Apostles' service tonight. Voting began at 6:30 pm after the service...many folks seemed very giddy, including one who exclaimed, "I've been waiting for this for a while!"
The security for balloting is very tight: members must sign a form certifying that they have been baptized, support the church financially, and adhere to its principles. They are also checking names against master lists. Plus we have folks from Booz Allen Hamilton who are overseeing the entire process.
Apparently, Bishop Lee has engaged in a campaign of letters to members of the congregations of the eight churches urging those members not to vote to leave the Diocese. I learned about this tonight. I also have a copy of the letter to members of the congregation at Apostles from the Wardens of the Vestry & Rector of Apostles, in response to Bishop Lee's letters.
(I can post the reply letter on FR later if you think it would be good.)
Perhaps this is the "interference" that angered the folks at TFC and Truro?
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