There is big news out of Virginia this morning that has to do with the Anglican churches in the state, but which could have an impact on any PCUSA churches that seek to leave that denomination in the future. Even if it doesn’t, there are a lot of Anglican brothers and sisters that need our prayers. From BabyBlue Online:
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.
Among the seven are two of the best known evangelical Anglican congregations in the United States, the Falls Church and Truro Church, as well as one in the town I live in, St. Margaret’s Church in Woodbridge.
The full ruling is here, but this is a summary from the opinion:
1. TEC and the Diocese have a contractual and proprietary interest in each of the seven Episcopal churches that are the subjects of this litigation. Specifically, the Court finds for TEC and the Diocese in their Declaratory Judgment actions and, among other relief, orders that all real property conveyed by the 41 deeds, as well as all personal property acquired by the churches up to the filing date of the Declaratory Judgment actions (on or about January 31, 2007 or February 1, 2007) are to be promptly conveyed to the Diocese. (Additional instructions are provided at the conclusion of this Letter Opinion.)
2. The CANA Congregations‟ Amended Counterclaims are denied in their entirety. Specifically, the Court finds that the CANA Congregations, in that they are notEpiscopal Congregations, do not possess either contractual or proprietary interests in the property of the seven Episcopal Churches at issue. They are, therefore, enjoined from further use or control of these properties and must promptly relinquish them to the Diocese. Moreover, the Court finds no merit in the CANA Congregations‟ claims for unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and constructive trust and grants TEC‟s and the Diocese‟s motions to strike these claims.
3. The vestry empowered to elect directors to the Falls Church Endowment Fund is the vestry recognized by the Diocese as the Episcopal vestry of The Falls Church, that is to say, the Continuing Congregation.
This is from the Fairfax County Circuit Court, which means that if the congregations want to pursue appeals, there are ways to go. BabyBlue doesn’t indicate whether it will be appealed, and I’m sure it will take some time for them to decide whether to do so. I would expect that at the least they’ll ask for a temporary stay that would prevent their immediate eviction from the properties. Regardless of how they decide to proceed, you can be sure that their priorities are straight. The Rev. John Yates, rector of the Falls Church, said:
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.’
Please be praying for these seven churches and the decisions they have to make.