Property at issue as nine churches quit ECUSA

19 December 2006

by Douglas LeBlanc

Split: right: the Revd Dr John W. Yates II (gesturing) and the Rt Revd Martyn Minns (also above), Rectors of The Falls Church and Truro Church, address a meeting on Sunday

Split: right: the Revd Dr John W. Yates II (gesturing) and the Rt Revd Martyn Minns (also above), Rectors of The Falls Church and Truro Church, addres...

THE Archbishop of Nigeria, the Most Revd Peter Akinola, said in 2005 that non-Nigerians would be welcome in what is now the Convocation of Anglicans in North America. Now he has just over 7000 new members, mostly non-Nigerians, after nine churches in the diocese of Virginia announced that they had voted to leave the Episcopal Church in the United States and align with CANA instead.

Another two churches will vote in January. Four others left the diocese earlier this year and aligned themselves with other Anglican provinces. The 15 churches account for 11 per cent of baptised members and 18 per cent of average Sunday attendance, the diocese said.

Most of the nine congregations have fewer than 300 members, but three of them have megachurch numbers by Episcopalian standards: The Apostles, Fairfax (1050 members); Truro, Fairfax (2500); and The Falls Church (2800), which meets in a city of the same name.

The nine voted on two proposals: to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church, and to contend with the diocese for property rights. Truro and The Falls Church, both founded in the colonial era, are worth a combined $25 million.

No parish reported a vote of lower than 75 per cent in favour of leaving the Episcopal Church. Mostly, the proposal to contend for property rights gathered a higher percentage of support than the proposal to depart.

The Bishop of Virginia, the Rt Revd Peter Lee, writing a public letter to vestry members at Truro and The Falls Church, said that the diocese would contend vigorously for the properties, and would consider suing individual vestry members.

Most of the earlier relations between the Bishop and the departing congregations had been characterised by patience and grace. A special commission, composed of the Bishop's supporters and of leaders from both Truro and The Falls Church, has spent the past year discussing how to preserve the deepest possible communion.

That commission recommended a protocol for congregations that were considering separation. As the nine congregations moved steadily toward their voting days, which came after "40 Days of Discernment", the diocese and the parishes bickered about whether the protocol bound the diocese.

The Rt Revd Martyn Minns, consecrated by the Church of Nigeria as CANA's missionary bishop in America, said that he believed the congregations and diocese could work through their property disputes. But both sides have used language in public letters which indicates a willingness to go to court if that is what it takes.

After the Bishop's letter to vestry members of Truro and The Falls Church, the vestries fired back in a joint letter: "Any attempt by the Episcopal Church or the diocese to interfere with our interests . . . will be met with the strongest possible response, including legal defense."

On the evening after the nine-congregation vote, the diocese announced a "standstill agreement" that will delay any legal actions from either side for 30 days.

The diocese also established a property commission, which will make case-by-case recommendations to diocesan leaders.


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