Anglican Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic PR on the Virginia Ruling

Seven Anglican congregations in Virginia that are parties to the church property case brought by The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia are reviewing today’s ruling by the Fairfax County Circuit Court that the property should be turned over to the Episcopal Diocese.

The Circuit Court heard the case last spring after the Virginia Supreme Court remanded it in June 2010. The congregations previously had succeeded in their efforts on the Circuit Court level to defend the property that they bought and paid for.

“Although we are profoundly disappointed by today’s decision, we offer our gratitude to Judge Bellows for his review of this case. As we prayerfully consider our legal options, we above all remain steadfast in our effort to defend the historic Christian faith. Regardless of today’s ruling, we are confident that God is in control, and that He will continue to guide our path,” said Jim Oakes, spokesperson for the seven Anglican congregations.

The Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, a historic property involved in the case, stated, “The core issue for us is not physical property, but theological and moral truth and the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world. Wherever we worship, we remain Anglicans because we cannot compromise our historic faith. Like our spiritual forebears in the Reformation, ‘Here we stand. So help us God. We can do no other.'”

The seven Anglican congregations are members of the newly established Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, a member diocese within the Anglican Church in North America. Bishop John Guernsey of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic has expressed to leaders of the seven congregations, “Our trust is in the Lord who is ever faithful. He is in control and He will enable you to carry forward your mission for the glory of Jesus Christ and the extension of His Kingdom. Know that your brothers and sisters in Christ continue to stand with you and pray for you.”


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, CANA, Episcopal Church (TEC), Law & Legal Issues, TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: Virginia, TEC Departing Parishes

19 comments on “Anglican Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic PR on the Virginia Ruling

  1. New Reformation Advocate says:

    No whining. And no loss of heart. The statements of Jim Oakes, John Yates+, and +John Guernsey are exemplary responses to this tragic and disappointing legal decision.

    As a member of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, though I’m not in any of the seven churches directly affected, I’m proud of how our leaders have made a courageous and calm initial response to this bitter loss. The fight has only begun. And if TEC’s leaders vainly imagine that the worst is now over for them, legally as well as spiritually, they are sadly mistaken.

    David Handy+

  2. KAR says:

    Prayers for these folks ascending.

  3. AnglicanFirst says:

    The comments from Truro Church that Fr. Handy is referring to can be found at: Truro Church

  4. Scatcatpdx says:

    One again I have to ask is this litigation necessary? Must we have to stand in the courts of man instead of trusting God? Have they not counted the cost of doing right? If the Episcopal Church wants the property give them the keys and shake the dust form ones feet was they leave. If it was me all church would surrender the property on one day. The Episcopal Church should be careful what they ask for they my get it: a huge pole of empty church property.

  5. Sarah says:

    RE: “One again I have to ask is this litigation necessary?”

    Yes. It is excellent to have the current corrupt leaders of TEC in the secular courts of law and not to surrender the property to non-Christians for them to ape the Christian faith and lure the unsuspecting in without a fight.

    Yes — it is necessary.

    Huzzahs to these parishes and may God guide their decisions, particularly in the legal arena.

  6. Bookworm(God keep Snarkster) says:

    “One again I have to ask is this litigation necessary?”

    Oh, ask TEC; they’re the ones that filed. The Anglicans simply refused to get out without a fight.

    Now, give them back the keys, leave them their empty or near-empty buildings, and go out and build something better and truly Faithful.

    I do not attend TEC churches outside my diocese, which has a traditional, devout bishop. Our diocese also does not fund TEC. When I next visit Northern Virginia, I would be happy to worship with Anglicans in a TRAILER, as opposed to any DioVA churches.

  7. episcoanglican says:

    Scatcatpdx — I think you voice a good question. You might have also said, isn’t it better to be wronged than to go before secular courts among brothers in Christ? But the same person who wrote this appealed to Caeser. I think many of these churches are coming to understand that defending themselves in court is part of the public testimony they are called to make. It is part of shedding light for all to see. Think about it, would the testimony of the Gospels be diminished if the Roman soldiers simply grabbed Jesus and quietly executed him? God arranged for a public trial under the greatest legal system of the day and there was no justice. Paul was also brought before the courts and chose to defend himself thereby making testimony for all to see. Granted, these were over their person not their property, but I think the “testimonial under persecution” principle still applies. There appears to be a holy purpose for public defense when the stand is for “theological and moral truth” as the good John Yates is quoted as saying. And I think there is a place of for then putting faith in God to bring about justice as the secular courts fail. Thanks for voicing the question.

  8. AnglicanFirst says:

    Bookworm (#6.) said,
    “I do not attend TEC churches outside my diocese, which has a traditional, devout bishop.”

    Likewise for me. I live in Vermont near the New York State border. There is a Diocese of Vermont parish nearby, but I will worship in or participate in the activities of that parish because of the revisionist ‘track’ that the Diocese of Vermont has taken over the past many years.

    Instead, I cross over the state line and worship at a parish in the Diocese of Albany.

    The Diocese of Albany is also blessed with a traditional and courageous bishop who is a true follower of Christ and “…the Faith once given….”

  9. watching with interest says:

    This has the feel of a tragedy–the inexorable unfolding of events that harm, and harm again. Except we serve a crucified, risen Lord–the tragedy of whose death was a victory that will resound eternally. So much prayer has gone into this whole legal process in Virginia. I am eager to see the kingdom purposes that may be more mightily be served despite the loss of historic and beloved property. I worship at The Falls Church and this is a hard, hard blow. But I greatly appreciate the leadership given by John Yates, the clergy, and the vestry. I once heard John say, “We can worship in a cornfield. The building is not the point.” Now, may the gospel shine ever more brightly as God works in his mysterious ways to redeem even this grievous decision.

  10. wmresearchtrianglenc says:

    Timing may well work something very helpful here; I’m referring in particular to the encouraging recent action of the Supreme Court of Texas re direct appeal involving the Diocese of Fort Worth (notwithstanding TEC’s bravado re its legal position relating to claims relating to parochial property, the earlier decision of the Supreme Court of South Carolina also lends support for encouragement for future decisions involving such property). In my opinion, TEC has an obvious loose thread in the form of the too-conveniently-slick legislative “device” known as the Dennis Canon. I believe that it’s highly likely that court decisions involving the Fort Worth diocese, and perhaps other dioceses, will reach the U.S. Supreme Court and TEC will awake one day to find the Dennis Canon thread to have unraveled. Thus, an appeal by the parishes in Virginia affected by the latest decision of that commonwealth’s Supreme Court (a decision I confess not to have read, yet) has–again, in my opinion–a better than even chance of inuring to the benefit of those parishes when the U.S. Court gets its hands on Dennis.

    Why would that be the case? Although the parties in cases reaching the U.S. Supreme would be dioceses rather than individual parishes–and it would appear that a court would have no trouble finding that dioceses, not parishes are the basic entities on which the legal structure of TEC is built–the unraveling of the Dennis thread would be expected to have a particular salutary effect on certain former TEC parishes, where such parishes have not yet acted to surrender property to a TEC diocese. Thus, in the event the U.S. Supreme Court decides that the Dennis Canon is in effect a nullity, parishes formerly affiliated with TEC that have yet to surrender property to a TEC diocese would, as a minimum, be expected to have acquired the right to require the TEC diocese claiming parochial property to negotiate in good faith with the former-TEC-affiliated parish for the right of that parish to purchase the property claimed by TEC (and equitable considerations relating to the maintenance and use of parish property, etc., would be expected to be a factor applicable in those negotiations). While I decidedly oppose extremely expensive and/or lengthy litigation, there are important considerations that require that decisions involving legal rights be made very prudently and not hastily.

    It isn’t difficult to understand how a single parish (e.g., Christ Church, Savannah) could decide that it had no practical course of action other than to surrender parish property as a result of a decision unfavorable to Christ Church Savannah. However, because of the number of former TEC parishes affected by the recent decision of Virginia’s Supreme Court affecting those parishes, I would urge that the way forward be one that receives the most careful consideration by those parishes and those bodies with which they are now affiliated. The bottom line to me is that if some former members/parishes/dioceses of TEC have effectively been driven out of TEC by its actions, possibly unprecedented in TEC’s history, then the statement that people may “leave TEC” but parishes may not “leave” is invalid on its face–isn’t it instead the case that individuals, parishes and dioceses have been driven out, and that the Dennis Canon has been a type of legal bludgeon in the process.

  11. Cennydd13 says:

    10. Thank you for your thoughtful and revealing insight. I take it, therefore, that you’re an attorney. I’m not, but I happen to agree with your analysis. Our own diocese, San Joaquin, is involved in the courts for the right to keep possession of our properties, as I’m sure you know. It’s been tough sledding, and we still have a long way to go, but in the end, I think we have a better than even chance of prevailing. Please keep us in your prayers.

  12. Bookworm(God keep Snarkster) says:

    AnglicanFirst, as I was reading your post, I was thinking, “Oh, he/she needs to go to Albany”!! I was so glad to read further and see that you are.

    And, #9, I am sorry for the pain. You CAN worship in a cornfield. I’d rather be Faithful in a cornfield than financially lucrative but spiritually-bankrupt in DioVA. Christ was and is a lot more than “all flash, no guts”. They can have it…

  13. NoVA Scout says:

    No. 10 – in the Virginia decision, the Dennis canon was expressly not used as a basis of decision. This was for reasons peculiar to Virginia law, but the judge nonetheless rejected the application of the canon while still holding for the Episcopal Diocese. If judges can find a relatively simple theory to support their decision, they often sidestep a more complex approach. Other judges will probably take a close look at Judge Bellows’ avoidance/dismissal of Dennis canon issues as a way of disposing of the cases without getting into the internal polity of the Episcopal Church.

  14. wmresearchtrianglenc says:

    No. 11–Thank you for your kind remarks. I am a retired attorney and have wondered for some time when the tide would be turning with respect to what I see as a situation within TEC of a minority that is under-represented and typically on the receiving end of attention from a majority that is over-represented and oddly strident–particularly given the current state of TEC in contrast to its historical state since TEC’s inception–in viewing positions that differ from “majoritarian” positions as apparently unequal intellectually and morally or ethically, while also (ironically!) as views threatening to TEC and thus views requiring official actions by TEC to ensure that a message of “getting with the majority’s program” is indeed received and obeyed by this unequal, yet threatening, minority. The present situation is simply one that appears transparently in need of deserved relief. I believe and pray that there will be a demonstration from more enlightened jurists soon that these jurists are willing to act with courage to apply valid legal principles that will result in devices such as the Dennis Canon as no longer effective instruments that have the effect of have denied and are denying the legitimate rights of many individuals, parishes and dioceses associated with TEC. I’ve lived in Northern and Southern California and will keep the diocese of San Joaquin in prayer.

  15. wmresearchtrianglenc says:

    No. 13–I have only a general familiarity with the Virginia statute to which you refer, however, hearing that the trial court decided that the Dennis Canon wasn’t applicable to the litigation isn’t that disappointing to hear. Although I don’t disagree with your comment regarding the preference of jurists to avoid a particular issue or issues and instead to proceed along a route of “avoidance” in reaching a decision in a case, it may be that there is an issue of reversible error raised with regard to the court’s decision that the Dennis Canon is inapplicable; it sounds like trying to have it “both ways” rather than deciding what is the real effect of the Dennis Canon in a particular case, n’est pas?

  16. NoVA Scout says:

    The only parties who would want to raise the issue of whether the court correctly ruled on the Dennis Canon would be the Diocese or the national church, No. 15, and, given that the result favored them totally, I don’t think they’ll be rushing off to the appellate courts. The court was able to brush aside any embroilment in the the Dennis Canon by simply observing that Virginia law did not recognize denominational trusts. But it found other grounds for reaching a decision favourable to TEC and the Diocese of Virginia.

  17. MichaelA says:

    David Handy @ #1, I agree that the statements of the pastors and bishop were very impressive.

  18. MichaelA says:

    Prayers for the gallant and godly people of these congregations, and their leaders, who are prepared to take the fight to the liberal-led TEC. It must be difficult for the orthodox, particularly at times like this. But they are forcing these apostates to expend time and money that they can’t replace, and they are reminding the fence-sitters in TEC that flirting with apostasy has its price.

    And its true what one of their pastors said – we orthodox believers CAN worship in a cornfield if we have to. Of course we will prefer to use the beautiful buildings where so much fruitful witness has been borne over the years, but they aren’t necessary. So the congregations can fight, and even if they “lose” (which hasn’t happened yet) they will win.

    I ‘m also glad to read from a number of sources that the work of witnessing for the gospel has been proceeding apace in these congregations, even while all of this kerfuffle has been going on. Wonderful to hear.

  19. wmresearchtrianglenc says:

    No. 16–Having scanned the parameters of the 100-plus pages of this court’s “letter” opinion, I now realize, as you’ve noted, that the Dennis Canon isn’t held to be applicable in Virginia because that commonwealth doesn’t recognize denominational trusts. Given what seems to be a clear public policy based on the non-recognition of denominational trusts and the additional Virginia statute (I believe in existence for a long period) relating to congregational retention of property in certain instances, it’s interesting and even surprising that the court determines that TEC is entitled to congregational properties involved in the litigation based on applying NEUTRAL principles of law, which I believe should exclude legal matters that relate in large part to a congregation’s denomination and/or internal matters involving a congregation and its denomination. I intend to read this long decision thoroughly to see whether the court may have overstepped the boundaries of neutral principles of law as required under decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court.