Anglicans Hand Keys of Historic Falls Church to Episcopalians

May 23, 2012 11:13 PM0 comments

Last Sunday marked the epochal formal handover of the historic Falls Church property from the breakaway congregation that had occupied it since 2006 to its legal owners, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The Falls Church congregation affiliated with legal owners, known as “continuing Episcopalians” had been banished from the church property until now. While they celebrated Easter at the historic chapel on the property last month, this past Sunday marked the first of now on-going Sunday services there following the official transfer last week.

thefca213GREETER ALICE SWEHLA welcomed people to the temporary new Kenmore Middle School worship site of the Falls Church Anglicans last Sunday. (Photo: Lou Emery/News-Press)

Last Sunday marked the epochal formal handover of the historic Falls Church property from the breakaway congregation that had occupied it since 2006 to its legal owners, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The Falls Church congregation affiliated with legal owners, known as “continuing Episcopalians” had been banished from the church property until now. While they celebrated Easter at the historic chapel on the property last month, this past Sunday marked the first of now on-going Sunday services there following the official transfer last week.

The breakaway group, the Falls Church Anglican, voted itself out of the Episcopal denomination in December 2006 due in part to its objection to the election of an openly-gay priest as a bishop in the denomination in 2003. It was compelled for the first time last Sunday by court rulings in January and last month (to deny a stay pending appeal) to move off the historic church campus to hold its Sunday services elsewhere.

The Anglicans’ destination last Sunday was the Columbia Baptist Church a few blocks up the road for some early morning activities, and the Kenmore Middle School in Arlington for two main worship services that a spokesman said were “full.”

This coming Sunday, the group, affiliated with the Council of Anglicans in North America (CANA) structure formed following the split to be inclusive of similar breakaway congregations, will move its main Sunday services to the auditorium of the Bishop O’Connell High School, a private school only blocks from the City of Falls Church border in North Arlington.

The CANA group left the historic Falls Church in the middle of last week, a spokesman said, with a brigade of volunteers operating vacuum cleaners to leave the property in good shape.

Among matters agreed to by the two congregations in the course of the transition were these:

• The 50-year-old Falls Church Day School, which serves over 200 children, has returned to the oversight to the Falls Church Episcopal without disruption and will remain open for the long term.

• The Diocese will lease the rectory to the rector of the Falls Church Anglican for up to a year at a fair rent, allowing him time to relocate.

• Virginia Episcopal Bishop Johnston has given the Rev. Cathy Tibbetts, priest-in-charge of the Falls Church Episcopal, authority to respond generously to requests for weddings and funerals on the historic Falls Church property by members of the Falls Church Anglican.

Last weekend, the “continuing Episcopalians” held their Sunday services in the historic old chapel on the property. This Sunday, they will continue with services in the historic chapel at 8 and 10:15 a.m., and a children’s Sunday school and an adult forum at 9. On Monday, the congregation will have a booth all day at the Falls Church Memorial Day festival.

But while the transition has occurred, the matter remains not finally settled, and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia issued a letter from Richmond Tuesday to all congregations under its leadership stating that in the context of “a cascade of settlements” the Diocese has made with six of the seven breakaway CANA congregations in Virginia in the wake of a decisive court judgment in January, it reports “with disappointment” that the same is not the case with the CANA congregation that occupied the historic Falls Church until last weekend.

The leadership of that group, the letter reported, “has made it clear that they plan to pursue their appeal before the Supreme Court of Virginia unless the Diocese pays them a significant sum of money,” even as, it added, those in the Diocese leadership “remain confident in our legal position” as an appeal goes forward.

The Diocese’s letter by Chief of Staff Henry Burt (a native of Falls Church) includes the following:

“With disappointment, I report to you that we have been unable to reach a final settlement with the CANA congregation now known as the Falls Church Anglican. Their leadership has made it clear that they plan to pursue their appeal before the Supreme Court of Virginia unless the Diocese (with the Episcopal Church’s approval) pays them a significant sum of money; we both are unwilling to do so. As a result, we expect the Falls Church Anglican to file their petition for appeal at the end of this month, asking the Supreme Court of Virginia to hear their case. We must file a responsive brief three weeks later, and the Court will issue its decision on whether to take the case at some point this fall. We remain strongly confident in our legal position.”

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