Thinking Anglicans

Court rules for Diocese of Virginia in property dispute

From the Diocese of Virginia: Court Rules in Favor of Diocese


Tonight, the Fairfax Circuit Court issued its ruling in favor of the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church in litigation seeking to recover Episcopal church property. “Our goal throughout this litigation has been to return faithful Episcopalians to their church homes and Episcopal properties to the mission of the Church,” said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia.

The court ruled that the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia have “a contractual and proprietary interest” in each of the properties subject to the litigation. The court ordered that all property subject to its ruling be turned over to the Diocese.

“We hope that this ruling will lead to our congregations returning to worship in their church homes in the near future, while finding a way to support the CANA congregations as they plan their transition,” said Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the Diocese and chief of staff.

Bishop Johnston added, “While we are grateful for the decision in our favor, we remain mindful of the toll this litigation has taken on all parties involved, and we continue to pray for all affected by the litigation.”

The ruling can be found here (PDF).

From the CANA website: Statement by the ACNA Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic

(January 10, 2012) – 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.

The Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, a historic property involved in the case, stated, “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.’”

The seven Anglican congregations are members of the newly established Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, a member diocese within the Anglican Church in North America. Bishop John Guernsey of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic has expressed to leaders of the seven congregations, “Our trust is in the Lord who is ever faithful. He is in control and He will enable you to carry forward your mission for the glory of Jesus Christ and the extension of His Kingdom. Know that your brothers and sisters in Christ continue to stand with you and pray for you.”

The Anglican Curmudgeon has his analysis of the judgment here.


  • Jeremy says:

    So Fairfax Circuit Court joins the long line of courts that have held that schism does not justify theft.

    Our spiritual forebears in the Reformation? Schismatics, yes. But they were standing on better principles.

  • Chris Smith says:

    Taking property which does NOT belong to you is an act of stealing. It is hardly surprising that the court ruled the way they did.

  • Todd Young+ says:

    –The Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, a historic property involved in the case, stated, “The core issue for us is not physical property, but theological and moral truth and the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world.”–

    And he said this with a straight face? Local Baptist congregations that split have more moral and intellectual integrity when they do so because the disgruntled people pack up and go find another house or building to use.

    I am unconvinced that they will accept this ruling quietly. As Mr. Oakes said, “we [will] prayerfully consider our legal options . . .”

  • This inevitable outcome – to the detriment of the schismatics – must surely be a well-earned lesson to other would-be protesters against the forward-looking openness of TEC to the marginalised of society. The Anglican Genius of ‘Unity in Diversity’ should have prevailed in the Churches of North America. Then such litigation need not have used up the resources of both sides of the arguments here. I pray for TEC, as well as for those who will be disappointed at this outcome.

  • Lapinbizarre says:

    An astonishingly detailed, 116 page ruling from Judge Bellows and a difficult one for the schismatics to answer, since originally he ruled in their favour – a ruling overturned and referred back to him by the state supreme court on the grounds that the statute on which his ruling hinged did not apply. Given its exhaustive complexity, Bellows’ ruling will almost certainly be a significant factor in any future case, regardless of the state in which a trial is sited.

  • Robert ian Williams says:

    Truro Church say they have spent two million dollars in legal fees..the real winners are the lawyers, and they should hold their heads in shame. They could have built a new church for that money or endowed a diocese in Nigeria!

    By the way , no one noticed my earlier posting that Crockfords Clerical Directory and the Church of England Year Book for 2012 have listed the ACNA bishops as the Anglican communion bishops of Fort Worth and Quincy.

    By the way I can’t help but state that Canadian justice seems far fairer and swifter than the rebel Republic to the South.

  • Chris H. says:

    One building complex, Truro or Falls, was once valued at $20 million and I believe one year they spent $700,000 on upkeep/building expenses, so the investment was probably seen as worth it to them. I just can’t see a regular size Episcopalian church being able to keep up a “megachurch” complex, unless the diocese makes it their new cathedral.

  • Steve Lusk says:

    Chris, the Diocese of Virginia already has a cathedral which costs us nothing to heat or cool, and requires no maintenance. Plus it boasts the highest ceiling of any cathedral in the world. Why would we want another?

  • Chris H. says:

    It was just a guess,really. The argument’s pretty much over and now reality strikes and both sides have to figure out what to do with what they’ve got. ACNA- money, TEC-the property. RIW’s comment sounded like a “They should have left and rebuilt somewhere else” but $2 million wouldn’t begin to rebuild what ACNA built and now lost. (I can’t agree with Jeremy that it’s theft since apparently the diocese didn’t put a dime into building them.) It’s only a couple of years of upkeep for those properties. What are 200-300 Episcopalians going to do with buildings that cost $700,000 a year to run and housed thousands of parishioners? Is there another megachurch nearby they can sell it to? Buildings are really only valuable if used. If not, they’re money pits. So I was just guessing what use the diocese could put them to.

  • Edward Prebble says:

    Well done, Steve.
    You caught me, an unsuspecting Kiwi.
    With my scepticism, I had to look up this cathedral with the highest ceiling of any in the world, to find of course that the Cathedral Shrine of the TRansfiguration is in the open air!
    I agree – why would you need another?

  • Pat O'Neill says:

    Chris H:

    What exactly do you think ACNA built? ACNA didn’t exist when those parish churches were founded and constructed–they were built by Episcopalians. As for “theft,” well, the parish vestries voted upon and operated under by-laws that said they were subject to the canons of the Virginia Diocese and TEC…or they did, up until a few years ago. Those canons are clear as to who the property belongs to.

  • Jerry Hannon says:

    It sounds like Chris H. likes to ignore the law, as long as it suits his preferences to do so.

    The Episcopal Church is not a bunch of individual congregations having no relationship to the Diocese, and the Diocese in turn having no relationship to the national Church.

    Episcopalians built those church buildings, not some in-contemplation-of-ACNA-separatists; if those Episcopalian forebears wanted those church buildings to be Congregationalist entities, they would have separated themselves at that time from the Diocese and from the national Church and paid for church buildings as Congregationalists and that could have been transferred as individual church property.

    They didn’t, and the properties belonged forevermore to the Diocese and it to the Episcopal Church.

    Sorry, Chris, when you try to take what is not legally yours, that amounts to theft, regardless of whether or not you like the term.

  • Robert ian Williams says:

    Well its rather like my great Aunt, when she was giving away family heirlooms..she said to a relative about a Queen Anne silver tea pot..”I would smash it up, before I thought you could have it.”

  • Chris H. says:

    Since the bills for building were not paid for by the Diocese checkbook, those who built and paid for it, i.e. the parishioners should have final decision over what they built. These church buildings aren’t that old and most of the people who paid to build them are probably still around. I doubt they predicted Pagan/Episcopal, Muslim/Episcopal priests, same-sex marriage and “Seusscharists”,”Clown-charists” or”Pirate-charists” etc. when they decided to become Episcopalian. My grandparents helped build our local church and if they’d seen what would be 70 years later, they would have run the other way and not contributed a dime. So yes, my sympathies lie with the parishes. But my personal preferences are irrelevent. TEC won. And those who say all conservatives who don’t like the way TEC is going should leave; they are. Unfortunately there are no streams of liberals rushing to replace them. Now what’s TEC going to do with their winnings? Don’t want a cathedral, can’t afford to keep ’em…. Denver has a popular nightclub inside an old church…maybe?

  • Jerry Hannon says:

    RI Williams never seems to let a wild s t r e t c h of his vivid imagination poison whatever waters his former faith community seems to be sailing.

    But, to dismiss the latest attempt to muddy our waters, RIW, if our Great Aunt had three nephews/nieces to whom the Queen Anne silver tea pot could be given, and if family tradition dictated that the oldest female child should receive it, should the other two try to steal it either directly from our Great Aunt, or simply wait until it was in the home of our female cousin, and then steal it.

    The Viriginia Courts have ruled, and ruled wisely; thievery is not acceptable; this is not a matter of spite, but law and equity.

  • Pat O'Neill says:

    Chris H:

    Nice argument, but irrelevant. The buildings were built under the by-laws that say the parishes are subject to the canons of the diocese and of TEC. Those canons say the buildings are held in trust for the diocese.

    Oh, and probably a good deal of the money used to pay for those buildings–even if they were erected in the past generation or two–came from folks who were Episcopalians their whole lives.

    Are you really so sure that your grandparents wouldn’t have the openness of mind to see that the Lord can be worshipped in a myriad of ways? That a joyful and fun-loving celebration of the Eucharist is a good thing?

  • “I doubt they predicted Pagan/Episcopal, Muslim/Episcopal priests, same-sex marriage and “Seusscharists”,”Clown-charists” or”Pirate-charists” etc. when they decided to become Episcopalian” – Chris H. –

    No, NOT a nice argument, Pat. On the contrary, a potent symbol of ACNA acrimony against the lawful re-acquisition of their property-rights.

    Chris H.’s dismissal of the forward-looking graciousness and openness to people on the margins of Church and Society who are at last being recognised by TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada – as fellow ‘Children of God’ is quite reprehensible, and indicative of the nastiness of some of the departing ex-Episcopalians.

  • Jeremy says:

    People who build worldviews on the need to impose order, and to draw bright-line distinctions, become quite upset when their sense of order is imperiled, and when their exclusionary lines are blurred.

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