Officials at The Falls Church in Falls Church and Truro Church in Fairfax City announced the results of the week-long vote following their worship services this morning. Their leadership has been at the forefront of a national conservative movement that has been alienated from the Episcopal Church, the U.S. wing of the worldwide Anglican Communion, since the installation of a gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003.I've also heard that these two parishes voted to keep their property. A rather strange thing to vote on, it seems to me, especially in light of what the Constitution and Canons and their Bishop made quite clear to them prior to this vote:
At both congregations, more than 90 percent of the members voted to split from the U.S. church and to retain their church property.
The churches voted to align themselves with a new group that hopes to eventually be home to thousands of dissident Episcopalians, the Convocation for Anglicans in North America, which is led by the Rev. Martyn Minns, the last rector at Truro. CANA is formally under the Church of Nigeria and Archbishop Peter Akinola, who supports a proposed law in Nigeria that would outlaw public and private gay activity...
...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). Canon 15.1 of Virginia's diocesan canons concurs with the national canons.I wonder who they've got in their hip pocket to bankroll their coming court costs?
"I remind you that absent a negotiated settlement of property, an attempt to place your congregation and its real and personal property under the authority of any ecclesial body other than the Diocese of Virginia and the bodies authorized by its canons to hold church property will have repercussions and possible civil liability for individual vestry members," Lee warned in his letter...
Bp. Lee has made an initial response:
Bishop Peter Lee of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia said December 17 that he was saddened by the fact that, as of that afternoon, Nigerian and Ugandan congregations were "occupying Episcopal churches"...Bp. Lee's complete statement can be found here.
...Lee said he will convene a joint meeting of the diocese's Executive Board and Standing Committee of the Diocese, with legal representation, on December 18 "to consider the full range of pastoral, canonical and legal obligations of the Church and our responsibilities to those faithful Episcopalians in these congregations who do not choose to associate with the Church of Nigeria."
In the meantime, Lee said, he has asked the leaders of "these now Nigerian and Ugandan congregations occupying Episcopal churches to keep the spiritual needs of all concerned uppermost in their minds at this difficult moment in our Church history, especially continuing Episcopalians."
He said that he will direct diocesan personnel to work with departing members and those who remain loyal to the Episcopal Church to work out agreements about sharing congregational property until those disputes can be settled.
"Our polity maintains that all real and personal property is held in trust for The Episcopal Church and the Diocese," Lee continued. "As stewards of this historic trust, we fully intend to assert the Church's canonical and legal rights over these properties."
Lionel Deimel explored the matter of property issues in an essay from 2004 entitled Property Constraints. I think many of his points are valid in regards to these two cases.
The Daily Episcopalian has a few choice words regarding this news:
The members of Truro and the Falls Church have now declared that belonging to a church that permits gays and lesbians to become bishops is too great a tax on their conscience, while belonging to a church that believes gay people should be imprisoned for eating together in public is not.I'll guess #1 is probably the most accurate, Jim.
I can suggest three reasons that Bishop Martyn Minns and his flock may have taken this decision. The first is naked bigotry. The second is a willingness to trade the human rights of innocent Africans for a more advantageous position in the battle for control of the Anglican Communion. The third is a profoundly distorted understanding of who Jesus was and what he taught...