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Diocese Responds to Claims by Separated Congregations to Retain Property, Files Suits

Thursday, February 1, 2007 • 12:56 pm

A News Release from the Diocese of Virginia:

The Diocese of Virginia has responded in court to claims regarding real and personal property made 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.

Following the votes to separate, 8 of those congregations initiated proceedings in their respective local circuit courts in an effort to transfer ownership of their real properties away from the Diocese and The Episcopal Church and to the Church of Nigeria through an organization called CANA or Convocation of Anglicans of North America.  Last week the Diocese filed responses to these actions objecting to any transfer of property, citing both Virginia law and the canons of The Episcopal Church and the Diocese.

Today, the Diocese of Virginia filed 11 new complaints in various jurisdictions seeking court action with respect to the real and personal property now held by the following 11 congregations:

Christ the Redeemer, Centreville

Church of the Apostles, Fairfax

Church of the Epiphany, Herndon

Church of Our Saviour, Oatlands

Church of the Word, Gainesville

Potomac Falls Episcopal, Sterling

St. Margaret’s, Woodbridge

St. Paul’s, Haymarket

St. Stephen’s, Heathsville

Truro, Fairfax

The Falls Church, Falls Church

In these suits the Diocese seeks:

* A declaration that the congregations have made improper claims regarding Episcopal Church property (“declaring that there has been an improper trespass, conversion, alienation and use of the real and personal property”);
* A court order upholding the interest in the property of the Diocese (“the trust, proprietary and contract rights of the Diocese”);
* An order restraining further use and occupancy of the property by the separated congregations;
* An order conveying legal title to and control of the property to the Bishop of the Diocese; and
* An order requiring a full accounting of the “use of all real and personal property” by the separated congregations.

The clergy in charge and lay leadership of each of the 11 congregations have been named as defendants in the actions.  The Diocese is not asking the courts to impose any personal liability on any of the individual named defendants at this time.

The leadership of the Diocese recently concluded that the majority membership of the separated congregations voluntarily chose to sever their ties with the Diocese and, in doing so, they abandoned the property for the purposes for which it was set aside, namely the mission of the Episcopal Church and the Diocese.  The diocesan Executive Board adopted resolutions on January 18 declaring the real and personal property of the separated congregations “abandoned” under the canons of the Church and authorizing the Bishop to take such steps as may be necessary to recover or secure the property for the mission of the Church.

Bishop Lee said in his January 18 letter to the Diocese, “The differences are not about property but about the legacy we have received for the mission of Christ and our obligation to preserve that legacy for the future.”  Also in that letter, Bishop Lee said, “In the structure of the Episcopal Church, individuals may come and go but parishes continue,” for generations and generations.

Kendall has more here.

12 Comments • Print-friendlyPrint-friendly w/commentsShare on Facebook

Could someone please explain why they are only suing 11 of the congregations?  I thought there were 15 churches that had voted to leave the diocese?  Am I confused?

[1] Posted by Dallasman on 02-01-2007 at 03:08 PM • top

Two small points of interest to me as a lawyer.  First, it appears that the national church is not a party (at least yet).  I have commented before that having 815 in is a really, really dumb idea.  Perhaps they are getting smarter.

Second, the diocese appears not to be seeking a preliminary injunction to force the parishes out during the course of the lawsuit.  The possibility of this relief was probably lost in any event when the diocese agreed to the standstill, since a preliminary injunction requires proof of immediate irreparable injury.  That proof is pretty much impossible when when you have voluntarily agreed to a standstill for 30 days.

From my perspective as an outsider, the diocese has committed one legal misstep after another (protocol/no protocol; standstill/no standstill; amendment to the property canon/no amendment).  Perhaps now that +Lee has Charles Bennison to give him wise counsel, his legal faux pas are over.

[2] Posted by wildfire on 02-01-2007 at 03:25 PM • top


All Saint, Woodbridge has a settlement. Christ our Lord, Lake Ridge was leasing the property and gave it back, Church of the Holy Spirit, Ashburn, turned over all property to Truro, then inside DioVA, South Riding Church, South Riding turned over all DioVA property. All Saints is going to lease their building until they build on purchased land, DioVA is freed from liability on the note, all other were missions with little property.

[3] Posted by Hosea6:6 on 02-01-2007 at 03:31 PM • top

Check out this Guest Editorial in the Richmond Times Dispatch by Tom Wilson, Senior Warden of Falls Church: s=1045855935007&c=MGArticle&cid=1149192955735&path;=!editorials!oped

the snarkster

[4] Posted by the snarkster on 02-01-2007 at 03:43 PM • top

Where did this gross untruth in the diocesan news release originate??? It has been repeated in an Episcopal News Service release, and The Living Church, among others, picked it up and ran with it. The parishes were required by Virginia law to record the results of the congregational votes at the local county courthouse. There was no attempt whatsoever to “transfer ownership” of parish property anywhere.

Bp Lee & Co. LIED when they said:

“Following the votes to separate, 8 of those congregations initiated proceedings in their respective local circuit courts in an effort to transfer ownership of their real properties away from the Diocese and The Episcopal Church and to the Church of Nigeria through an organization called CANA or Convocation of Anglicans of North America.”

Why would a bishop lie?


[5] Posted by r.w. on 02-01-2007 at 04:09 PM • top

From the other side of the aisle:
Our Worthy Opponents are getting busy.

[6] Posted by Fr. Chip, SF on 02-01-2007 at 04:10 PM • top

From the other side of the aisle:
Our Worthy Opponents are getting busy.

Man, I thought that was an editorial, but it wasn’t.  Not very fair, was it?  My journalism professors always talked about getting ALL sides to a story, because every story has more than two sides.  This article only had one side.

[7] Posted by Paul B on 02-01-2007 at 04:25 PM • top

Gee, Paul, ya think just because the story’s headlined

<font size=+1>Episcopalian Diocese Files in Court for Removal of Defectors from F.C. Site</font>

that the Falls Church News Press might not be exemplifying the highest standards of journalistic objectivity?

You must be one of them igorrant fundamentalists or something…

[8] Posted by Craig Goodrich on 02-01-2007 at 04:40 PM • top

Hmm, I count 19 people in that picture, not including the pianist.  And each row contains 4 chairs on each side.  Can’t this newspaper scrounge up a wide-angle lens to show us the 40+ Lee loyalists who were at this service?  Maybe we’ll get another photo like the one of Mrs. Schori in Arkansas, giving us a better idea of what sort of congregation turned out.

[9] Posted by Dr. Mabuse on 02-01-2007 at 04:44 PM • top

Lets see,supporting an out of town entity against people who live in the area,spend their money and pay taxes and oh yeah,vote.
Not bright,mayor

[10] Posted by paddy on 02-01-2007 at 05:06 PM • top

Three comments:  (1) The FCNP is not a worthy opponent.  Its hyperbolic reporting has been dismissed even by those who are the truly worthy opponents.  (2) Wear the “defector” badge proudly.  The last time I heard it used was to refer to dissidents fleeing the Soviet Union.  (3) I love the picture of the non-“defector” service, including the empty folding chairs.  Normally, folding chairs are brought out at a church service to accommodate overflow crowds, not to sit there empty.  I guess it’s not too early for them to start emulating a typical Episcopal service.

[11] Posted by Steven in Falls Church on 02-01-2007 at 05:12 PM • top

This is exactly how the late Bishop of Southern Ohio kept all the property of the parish that secceeded in Chillicothe.  He rounded up ten members who voted against leaving, declared them the congregation, and assigned them a priest.  Ten people kept the historic church building. Seventy people are meeting in a rented coffee shop.  The parish who left in Chillicothe gave up and didn’t file legal action.  It will be interesting to see how the courts rule.

[12] Posted by ohio anglican on 02-02-2007 at 08:54 AM • top

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