Saturday, 2 December 2006

Virginia: Bishop Lee warns some parishes

Press release issued by the diocese:

On Friday, Dec. 1, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, Peter James Lee, sent a letter to the rectors, vestries and wardens of congregations known to have engaged in a “40 Days of Discernment” program to consider their place in The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia. Some of those congregations have chosen to conclude that program with votes, to be held this month, to determine their future affiliation with the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia

In his letter, Bishop Lee highlighted that the members of those congregations are cherished members of the Diocese and the Episcopal Church, and that he and the Standing Committee hope they will decide to continue to worship as one, unified family.

“I pray you will remain in communion with your brothers and sisters in Virginia and take your full place in the life of the Diocese of Virginia,” he wrote. “Ours is a faith historically defined by our ability to bring together people with different theological emphases within traditional faith and order,” he added. Bishop Lee also stated his concern that any decision to leave the Episcopal Church will be a source of regret for future generations.

The letter also explained some of the potential legal and canonical consequences of a decision to separate from the Episcopal Church, addressing issues of property and personal liability.

“Along with the damaging effects any split would have on the Diocese as a whole and these churches in particular, we are concerned that these congregations may not fully understand the potential legal consequences of their actions,” said Russell Palmore, chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia. “The decision to leave the Diocese should be a fully informed one.”

Read the letter in full here. It includes this paragraph:

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.

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STATEMENT FROM THE FALLS CHURCH AND TRURO CHURCH
Saturday, December 2, 2006

We have read with profound disappointment and sadness Bishop Lee’s December 1 letter to our churches, which has been published on the Diocesan website. This letter appears to undermine months of hard work and prayerful efforts by his own leadership and our congregations to reach agreement on a civil and charitable process by which our differences might be amicably resolved. This grieves us deeply.

The Diocese of Virginia has a long and distinguished history of finding a gracious way through difficult issues in ways that honor our Christian witness to the world. We hope and pray that Bishop Lee, members of the Standing Committee, and other leaders of the diocese will remember that heritage, and will step back from the tragic course they have set for themselves.

We desire to continue to act consistently with the process and protocol of the Special Committee Report, which does not provide for any intervention from the national church, and urge the bishop to meet personally with us at his earliest convenience.

We are communicating our concerns in greater detail to the bishop directly.

Posted by: BabyBlue on Saturday, 2 December 2006 at 8:44pm GMT

Three very significant turns of phrase in the last three paragraphs: "alienating the property" ... "persons responsible for maintaining [your] church" ... and "fiduciaries of the properties it holds in trust."

The first is a reminder that the canon -- which required consent from the bishop and standing committee of the diocese before a parish could "alienate or encumber" real property -- antedates the so-called Dennis Canon of 1979, and has been held sufficient in a number of courts to indicate the superior position of a diocese in connection with parish "property."

I'm inclined to think that the use of brackets around "your" in the second phrase is fulfilling the function of scare quotes, as an additional reminder that the property isn't really "theirs" but held in trust.

Finally, the use of "fiduciaries" again emphasizes the importance of the trustee relationship. Clearly Bishop Lee had some good legal advice in framing this excellent letter.

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Saturday, 2 December 2006 at 8:48pm GMT

Russell Palmore is not one to speak without care; he is an exceptionally skillful and thoughtful Chancellor. I would think twice about crossing legal swords with him. Truro and The Falls church have buckets of money to spend on lawyers, but there are not many around with Palmore's experience and shrewdness. He also has a sense of humor, which likely distinguishes him from many who he finds himself dealing with.

Many of us in the diocese are very glad to see this. I think it is clear that these folks will find that trying to take their churches and stuff to CANA will not be easy.

I am glad +Peter has called their bluff. The response to him above is about what one would expect.

Posted by: Cynthia Gilliatt on Saturday, 2 December 2006 at 9:32pm GMT

Well,what do these churches expect?

You know, I might even have some respect for these conservatives if it wasn't so obvious that the main reason they won't set up a new denomination is prestige and money.

Posted by: Merseymike on Saturday, 2 December 2006 at 9:40pm GMT

This letter has made it clear that there is a real risk that the churches who may leave the diocese of Virginia may have to leave their properties behind. I would be surprised if the the lawyers Cynthia points out the parishes have access to won't have told them of this. As a consequence Merseymike has it backwards - if the parishes vote to leave they will be voting to do so aware they may leave behind a great deal of money and prestigious property.

Posted by: Obadiahslope on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 1:32am GMT

Re Tobias's comment, I don't think these are "scare quotes". If you read the full letter, the presence of square brackets implies to me that this is the generic version of a letter which was personalized for each parish. [your] can effectively be replaced by the name of one of the churches in each and every case I saw, and in fact, doing so cleans up some text passages which are awkward.

Posted by: Robin D on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 7:06am GMT

"profound disappointment and sadness" "This grieves us deeply."

Oh, quit your Crocodile Tears routine, BabyBlue. ***You started this*** and (to mix animal metaphors ;-/) now your chickens are coming home to roost!

Truro/The Falls Church: time to "put away childish things" and GROW UP!

Posted by: J. C. Fisher on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 8:20pm GMT

Baby Blue~

This letter does not "undermine months of hardwork and prayerful effort." It clarifies one important fact that is a risk of getting lost -- the fact that those parishes are part of a family known as the Diocese of Virginia. While a member of the family can choose to walk away, it cannot decide that unilaterally.
In fact there are a number of us who have been discerning for sometime about the path of several congregations in our Diocese. In our prayerful consideration we come to hold these points pertinent to this topic:
We value the diverse theological points in our Diocese and would lose the breadth that Christ calls us to if Truro, The Falls Church and others were no longer part of our family.
We believe that there are several hundred members of the "discerning" congregations who want to remain faithful members of the Diocese of Virginia and who do not appreciate the "40 Days of Persuasion" that have taken place in those congregations.
We hold that the loss of a congregation calls us to remember Christ's great Commission and to re-plant any congregation that chooses to leave.

The process known as "40 Days of Discernment" has not been open to allow your sisters and brothers from the Diocese of Virginia to participate. It has not allowed your sisters and brothers in your congregation who have legitimate concerns to express those concerns freely.

If we as a Diocese determine that we will best serve our Lord by having a congregation become part of another body of Christ and having the remaining congregations continue on our path, then we agree that the way to proceed is using our resources on mission not legal fights. But don't conduct business without full disclosure in backroom conversations and expect God's people to accept it as holy.

Posted by: Charles on Sunday, 3 December 2006 at 9:05pm GMT

Well great Googly-Moogly! Bp. Lee has some cojónes after all! I was beginning to wonder for awhile...

And I'm with JCF there, BB. The whole "crocodile tears" act just rings very hollow. Y'all have made your bed, now you get to lay in it.

Posted by: David Huff on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 1:26am GMT

Charles wrote: "The process known as '40 Days of Discernment' has not been open to allow your sisters and brothers from the Diocese of Virginia to participate. It has not allowed your sisters and brothers in your congregation who have legitimate concerns to express those concerns freely."

Please clarify the basis of your assertion. Truro specifically invited the Diocese to participate in "40 Days," but all that was provided was a statement by the Bishop and a video of him reading the same. Moreover, it is false to say that our "sisters and brothers in your congregation who have legitimate concerns" have been silenced in any way. As a vestryman, I visited three small discernment groups, each of which had members with "legitimate concerns," and everyone was allowed an opportunity to participate. This is not to say that there were groups in which this did not happen, but our rector has been unambiguous in his guidance to us in this regard: all views were to be heard. This has certainly been his practice during our numberous parish meetings, at which many diverse views were expressed. Moreover, anyone and everyone on the parish rolls is free to vote their conscience next week.

Your comment, "But don't conduct business without full disclosure in backroom conversations and expect God's people to accept it as holy" is an apparent non sequitur. What backrooms are you referring to? Truro and The Falls Church have been transparent about their perspectives on the issues, and yet you imply there is some secret conspiracy. Who is it that you are libeling? Be explicit.

Posted by: An Anxious Anglican on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 3:24am GMT

No Diocesan involvement, Charles? Who do you think sent these materials for the 40 Days of Discernment? The Pope?

http://www.40daysofdiscernment.org/about/va_diocese.php

bb

Posted by: BabyBlue on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 5:22am GMT

The same holds true at TFC. I sat through the Sunday morning small group. There was dissenting opinion. The discussion was wide open. There were no "high-fives" around the room celebrating the completion of the process so "we could get on with leaving". There were lots of questions. There were calls to stay and fight for the Episcopal Church. Nobody was shut out at all. Nothing was done in secret. I had hoped that Bishop Lee would come and address the congregation directly. The door was wide open for him to do so. During the course, I was glad to hear of the protocol and quite frankly, having Bishop Lee and the Executive Committee turn their backs on that same protocol eliminated the last of the faith and trust I have in them regarding this process.

Posted by: Bob on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 1:40pm GMT

The president of the Standing Committee addressed the whole Truro congregation at the meeting yesterday. (I believe something similar happened at Falls Church.) And as Minns reminded everyone at the meeting, Truro had been inviting someone from the diocese to come for several months. All of the openness and interaction that have occurred have been at the instigation of Truro and the Falls Church.

Posted by: Aidan on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 2:52pm GMT

Thanks Robin, that does make more sense, even if it leaves the impression that someone is being a bit arch! I suppose a better solution would have been something like _N._!

Posted by: Tobias Haller on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 3:28pm GMT

What protocol did TFC and Truro follow, who established it, and when? If it got invented by those churches for their present difficulties it is probably unreasonable to expect that the diocese is restricted by the parish's protocol.

Jon

Posted by: Jon on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 4:31pm GMT

Charles, you will want--in light of the actual facts--to revise your incorrect statement that "The process known as '40 Days of Discernment' has not been open to allow your sisters and brothers from the Diocese of Virginia to participate. It has not allowed your sisters and brothers in your congregation who have legitimate concerns to express those concerns freely." Not so. Not by a long shot. On the contrary--

Yesterday (12/3) at the Falls Church, at meetings held in the two main Sunday morning services of the church--on the last Sunday before the vote--the first 40-50 minutes of the meeting were devoted to hearing from two members of the diocesan Standing Committee AND the three Vestry members who did not vote in favor of the resolution. This reflected remarkably generous openness to the opposition--one might even say it was grossly lop-sided, an uninterrupted 40-minute infomercial for the diocese. And in Prime Time.

A prior presentations that featured the Vestry's recommendation (but which also had "open mic" where opponents could and did express their views) was at a special meeting NOT on a Sunday morning. Such non-Sunday-morning meetings tend to be populated mostly by the persons already interested. As a result, many in the congregation heard yesterday much more lengthy and emphatic arguments AGAINST the vestry's recommendation than they have ever heard or will ever hear in favor of it.

Posted by: DGus on Monday, 4 December 2006 at 7:07pm GMT

Jon, the history of the protocol is well-chronicled. Here is the short version.

1. With Bp Lee's oversight a committee of three conservatives and three selected by Lee negotiated terms for procedures for a parish to leave the diocese. The protocol does not decide property issues. The committee met for over year and provided its recommendation UNANIMOUSLY. Lee presented it to the standing committe, which "received it" but did not endorse it.

Having been a Diocese of VA member I have watched this process. I really believe +Lee was ready to move forward with a process that could have been a valuable and decent mechanism for the entire church. He either met resistance from the standing committee or the national church. The "protestant" churches feel they have spent all this time negotiating in good faith only to be betrayed while in the midst of following a protocol backed by the bishop.

Posted by: Bob on Tuesday, 5 December 2006 at 1:21pm GMT

A report that is received but not endorsed is basically dead in the water. Also, if it didn't decide property issues in the first place, Bishop Lee hasn't done anything particularly unusual. All parish property basically belongs to the diocese (or perhaps TEC as a whole), and Bishop Lee is probably not out of line to remind departing parishes of this fact.

Jon

Posted by: Jon on Wednesday, 6 December 2006 at 3:58pm GMT

For me, the sooner these non-Christians leave the Episcopal church, the better. It is beyond imagination that Christ would have chosen to discriminate.

I am a former Vestryman at Falls Church, and have the regret of bringing Rev Yates (a recent Baptist, a church of formerly very liberal theology)) to our formerly traditional Episcopal church. It is interesting that at last count, some years ago, every vestryman who had voted to call
Rev Yates except for one, had themselves left the Church, many in disappointment.

Posted by: Judge Joseph Goss on Tuesday, 19 December 2006 at 4:16am GMT

Hang in there, Bishop Lee

Joe Goss
Former Vestryman, The Falls Church

Posted by: Judge Joseph Goss on Tuesday, 19 December 2006 at 4:23am GMT

My husband and daughter are members of Christ Church Parish in Middlesex County, VA. Prior
memberships were in Trinity Parish in Portsmouth
(confirmed by Charles Vasche), Mathews County &
Middlesex County. Since we moved our membership
to Christ Church over five years ago, we have had
three different ministers: a Rector (Scott K.) an
acting priest Anne West & Sara Wood) and a truly
fine man, Paul Andersen.

I suffered greatly all week because I can truly
say that I support Fr. Paul Andersen 100%. He and
Charles Vasche represent the very best. Weren't we lucky to have been confirmed by Mr. Vasche?

Please be fair, Bishop Lee. Treat Paul Andersen
like he deserves to be treated.

Respectfully,

Helen Stephenson Mills

Posted by: Helen Mills on Monday, 23 April 2007 at 5:46pm BST
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