Skip to comments.[VA] Church faces issue of land in split from Episcopalians
Posted on 12/12/2006 4:39:05 PM PST by sionnsar
CHESAPEAKE - Every parish that quits the Episcopal Church has to deal with the same question facing breakaway Church of the Messiah in Chesapeake: Who owns the church building and grounds?
Messiah, a 220-member congregation, left the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia this fall, citing "irreconcilable" theological differences with the denomination.
Rob Bruner, a senior parish leader, said the status of Messiah's land and church at 816 Kempsville Road seems clear to members.
"We believe that we own the property, the building," Bruner said.
But Bishop John C. Buchanan, the diocese's interim bishop, disagreed just as forthrightly.
"That property is held in trust for the Diocese of Southern Virginia and the national Episcopal Church," he said.
Property disputes such as this demonstrate how internal discord still is shaking the 2.2-million -member Episcopal Church three years after it endorsed the ordination of a non celibate gay man, V. Gene Robinson, as a bishop in New Hampshire.
The decision upset Episcopalians holding traditional, conservative views and like-minded church leaders overseas who dominate the 77-million -member Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church.
In Northern Virginia, several parishes are voting this week on whether to split from the denomination. Among those, The Falls Church, in the city of that name, and the Truro Church in Fairfax have drawn national attention because of their Colonial-era roots. They also are two of the area's largest Episcopal churches.
Bishop Peter James Lee of the Northern Virginia diocese reminded his parishes earlier this month that their properties belong to the denomination. Both sides think they would win if the ownership dispute lands in court.
If the congregations vote for separation, they are likely to align themselves with Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria with the goal of staying in the Anglican c hurch but separate from the Episcopal Church.
Messiah joined the Norfolk-based Diocese of Southern Virginia in 1983, the same year that it formed as a congregation. The diocese, which has about 120 parishes and 35,000 members, encompasses Hampton Roads and the southern part of the state.
Bruner said Messiah's congregants voted in October to join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a group of former Episcopal churches aligned with Akinola.
Though Messiah disapproved of the Robinson ordination, it left citing "incompatible" differences with the denomination in how to interpret the Bible.
"The Episcopal Church and the local diocese have been moving away from the authority of Scripture, moving away from its Anglican roots," Bruner said. "The Episcopal Church believes God's word changes with the current fashion of the day."
Despite its ownership claim, Messiah has offered to buy its site. Buchanan said the diocese still is weighing how it will approach the property dispute.
Buchanan said another parish, Grace Episcopal Church in Newport News, quit the denomination a couple of years ago in reaction to the Robinson ordination.
Grace congregants turned their parish property over to the diocese without dispute. "They understood the rules and obligations of the church," Buchanan said.
Galilee Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach also is unhappy with the Episcopal Church's direction.
In a Nov. 12 sermon, its senior priest, the Rev. Coleman Tyler, compared the denomination to the ill-fated Titanic and said the parish should be "prepared to leave the ship."
Rather than pull out of the denomination, Galilee is considering a shift to another American bishop who would share its orthodox religious viewpoint.
The move could be made under denominational guidelines. Buchanan would choose the alternative bishop who would serve Galilee in pastoral ways, such as officiating at confirmation services.
Galilee would remain a part of the Southern Virginia diocese, with Buchanan as the parish's official bishop.
Buchanan said talks with Galilee about the prospective arrangement won't occur until after he makes his annual visit to the parish next month.
In another division within the denomination, local former Episcopalians helped organize Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church in Norfolk last year under the authority of a Rwandan Anglican bishop. The new congregation has no ties with the Southern Virginia diocese.
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