The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia went to court January 31 over the real and personal property held in trust by 11 congregations where the majority membership has voted to leave the Episcopal Church, but have not vacated or relinquished that property to the diocese.Here's Canon I.7.4 of TEC:
According to a diocesan news release, eight of the congregations initiated proceedings in their respective circuit courts to transfer ownership of their real properties from the diocese and the Episcopal Church and to the Church of Nigeria through an organization called Convocation of Anglicans of North America (CANA).
Last week the diocese filed responses to those eight actions, objecting to any transfer of property, citing both Virginia law and the canons of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese...
Sec. 4. All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Parish, Mission or Congregation is held in trust for this Church and the Diocese thereof in which such Parish, Mission or Congregation islocated. The existence of this trust, however, shall in no way limit the power and authority of the Parish, Mission or Congregation otherwise existing over such property so long as the particular Parish, Mission or Congregation remains a part of, and subject to, this Church and its Constitution and Canons.Here's Canon 15 of the Diocese of Virginia:
No part of the real property of a Church, except abandoned property, shall be alienated, sold, exchanged, encumbered or otherwise transferred for any purpose without the consent of the congregation in a meeting called for that purpose pursuant to the provisions of Section 13 of Canon 11 and approval of the appropriate court, if required by law and, in the case of consecrated property, or any Church or Chapel which has been used solely for divine services, the further consent of the Bishop, acting with the advice and the consent of the Standing Committee of the Diocese. No part of the real property of a Mission under Supervision shall be alienated without the further consent of the Bishop.These Canons seem pretty clear to me. Bp. Lee of Virginia is doing his duty as Bishop.
I hope Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria hears this loud and clear. We are not simply going to hand you 11 parishes to further your "missionary" subterfuge within this Province. Bp. Lee was quite clear about this in his recent letter:
...The Church of Nigeria, like The Episcopal Church, is an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion with clearly defined boundaries. Bonds of affection in the Anglican Communion hold that provincial boundaries are not crossed by bishops without expressed invitation. Bishop Akinola’s effort to establish CANA within the boundaries of The Episcopal Church has occurred without any invitation or authorization whatsoever and violates centuries of established Anglican heritage. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has made clear, CANA is not a branch of the Anglican Communion and does not have his encouragement...Our Presiding Bishop was also quite clear in her statement in support of Bp. Lee:
...The recent decisions by some members of congregations in Virginia to leave the Episcopal Church and ally with the Anglican Church of Nigeria have no cognizance in our polity. Ancient precedent (from as early as the fourth century) in the Church requires bishops to respect diocesan boundaries, and to refrain from crossing into or acting officially in dioceses other than their own. As a Church we cannot and will not work to subvert that ancient precedent by facilitating the establishment of congregations which are purportedly responsible to bishops in other parts of the Anglican Communion within the diocesan boundaries of the Episcopal Church...The Bishops of Province III have also expressed their support of Bp. Lee's actions:
We the Bishops of Dioceses in Province III (the Middle Atlantic area) of The Episcopal Church commend and support our brother The Right Reverend Peter J. Lee, Bishop of Virginia, the Standing Committee and the Executive Committee of the Diocese of Virginia in their recent action and statement concerning several parishes within the Diocese of Virginia which have withdrawn from The Episcopal Church. We support completely these decisions necessitated by the Canons of our Church and morally responsible. Moreover, we commend Bishop Lee for the many ways over several years in which he tried to pastorally minister to, find appropriate compromises, and charitably respond to his detractors. We are proud to be his colleagues.Archbishop Akinola is not the only one who needs to hear this clear message that the purloining of parishes within TEC will no longer be tolerated. Archbishop Venables of the Southern Cone, who is staking his claim on the Diocese of San Joaquin, and sanctions the raids by Bp. Lyons of Bolivia and Robinson Cavalcanti, deposed bishop of Recife, needs to pay attention to this development as well. There will be consequences for your actions.
If anyone thought Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori was going to show up at the Primates' Meeting with hat in hand, they need to think again. The intrusion of CANA is now on the table. There is little doubt that most of the Primates do not want to see such intrusions within their Provinces. One would hope that Abp. Akinola will hear their anticipated Godly Admonition and withdraw CANA from our borders.
I think I'll let Bryan Taylor have the last word:
...For all the holy talk, our efforts have been interpreted as weakness, and that perceived weakness is being exploited in the rawest, crudest political struggle for power. I do not say we should respond in kind, but we must wake up to the nature of the threat and defend our autonomy and independence. Other churches in the Communion would do well to think long and hard about what's going on, too, because Canada? Scotland? New Zealand? I don't know, Brazil or South Africa? YOU'RE NEXT...J.