Thursday, January 25, 2007

It's like I said, church buildings don't travel well

From Episcopal News Service

VIRGINIA: Bishop inhibits clergy; diocese responds to filings by separated churches

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

[Episcopal News Service]  Bishop Peter Lee of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, inhibited 21 diocesan clergy on January 22 and rescinded the licenses of six others, saying that he was acting on the determination of the diocesan Standing Committee that the clergy "have openly renounced the doctrine, discipline or worship of the Episcopal Church and, therefore, have abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church."

Lee's action came after the votes of the majority membership of 15 diocesan congregations at various times in 2006 to leave The Episcopal Church.

The Standing Committee met on January 18 and determined that the clergy attached to these departed congregations "are now leading congregations that have declared that they do not recognize the ecclesiastical or legal authority of either The Episcopal Church or the Diocese of Virginia," according to a January 23 diocesan news release.

The clergy have six months under the terms of Episcopal Church canons (Canon IV.10.1-2) to reverse their decision to abandon the communion of the Church. After that time they can be removed from the Episcopal ministry.

Inhibited clergy are not members of the Virginia Annual Council under Article III of the diocesan Constitution. The Annual Council meets January 26-27, with the election of a bishop coadjutor and Lee's eventual successor set for the first day.

"As further evidence of their decision to abandon The Episcopal Church and the Diocese" the release said, the majority membership of the 15 churches have filed civil actions styled as "reports" with the respective circuit courts in an effort to transfer ownership of the congregations' properties. The diocese has filed responses denying any transfer of property, citing both Virginia law and the canons of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia, the release said.

"The majority membership of the 15 churches voluntarily chose to sever their ties with the Diocese and, in doing so, they abandoned the property for the purposes for which it was set aside, namely the mission of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia," the diocese argued in the release.

According to the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, dioceses are created or dissolved only by acts of General Convention (Articles V and VI) and dioceses create or dissolve Episcopal congregations in their midst. Congregational property is held in trust for the diocese, and the diocese holds property in trust for the wider church (Canon I.7.4 of the Episcopal Church). Virginia's diocesan canons concur with the national canons.
In a January 18 letter to the diocese, Lee said, "In the structure of the Episcopal Church, individuals may come and go but parishes continue."

He wrote that "previous generations of Episcopalians worshiped, worked, prayed and gave generously for the spread of the Kingdom of God. It is the trust that they created, and that we inherited, which now we must move to protect, preserve and expand for generations to come."

The 15 congregations (of the 195 in the diocese) where property has been declared abandoned are: All Saints, Dale City; Christ Our Lord Anglican Church, Lake Ridge; Church of the Apostles, Fairfax; Church of the Epiphany, Herndon; Church of the Holy Spirit, Ashburn; Church of Our Saviour, Oatlands; Church of the Redeemer, Chantilly; Church of the Word, Gainesville; Potomac Falls Church, Sterling; St. Margaret's, Woodbridge; St. Paul's, Haymarket; St. Stephen's, Heathsville; South Riding Episcopal Church, Fairfax; The Falls Church, Falls Church; and Truro Church, Fairfax.

The majority of the laity and clergy of those congregations voted to sever ties with the Episcopal Church and affiliate with the Anglican Church of Nigeria by way of the Anglican District of Virginia, part of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA). The members amount to about 8,000 of the diocese's roughly 90,000 Episcopalians. The Episcopal Church includes some 7,200 congregations in its 100 domestic dioceses, and about 150 in its 10 overseas dioceses and one convocation.
-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.



Jim Trigg said...

The timing of this was forced by the diocesan election this weekend -- if these priests are going to abandon the diocese, we certainly don't want them having a say in who the incoming Bishop Coadjutor (and Diocesan Bishop in three years or so) will be...

Jim Trigg, active lay minister in the Diocese of Virginia

Grandmère Mimi said...

Pat, thanks for this report. Bishop Lee is doing the right thing. You can leave any time, but you cannot take the property with you, even if a majority of the present membership decide to go. Period. I hope this will not lead to years of litigation, but if it does, well, so be it.