Virginia Supreme Court Upholds Decision Conveying Falls Church Property to Diocese

April 18, 2013 9:11 AM4 comments

A 42-page ruling issued by the Virginia Supreme Court this morning upholds the ruling of the Fairfax Circuit Court that conveyed the property of the historic Falls Church in downtown Falls Church to the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and its congregation of Episcopalians who did not defect from that church in 2006. The Supreme Court decision awarded about $300,000 in funds raised by the breakaway group between its formal split and the court’s ruling in 2012 back to the breakaway group.

The Supreme Court’s conclusion included the following quote: “We will affirm the trial court’s order requiring that The Falls Church convey the property to TEC and the Diocese. With regard to the disposition of personal property acquired by The Falls Church after the vote to disaffiliate, we will reverse the judgment of the trial court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

The opinion was authored by Supreme Court Judge Cleo E. Powell, with a concurring opinion by Judge McClanahan.

Following the release of the ruling the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia issued the following statement:

“In a dispute over the ownership of The Falls Church, the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled today in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church. The decision affirms an earlier ruling returning Episcopalians to their church home at The Falls Church in Falls Church, Va. The Falls Church Anglican had sought to overturn the lower court’s ruling in favor of the Diocese. The court also remanded a portion of the case back to the Fairfax Circuit Court for a decision to determine a minor fractional difference in funds owed to the Diocese of Virginia.

“’We are grateful that the Supreme Court of Virginia has once again affirmed the right of Episcopalians to worship in their spiritual home at The Falls Church Episcopal,” said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia. “This decision ensures that Episcopalians will have a home for years to come in Falls Church, and frees all of us, on both sides of this issue, to preach the Gospel and teach the faith unencumbered by this dispute.”

“The court also held that the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church have a trust interest in the property, in addition to the contractual and proprietary interests already found by the lower court. This provides greater certainty regarding church property ownership.

“’The Falls Church Episcopal has continued to grow and thrive throughout this difficult time,” said Edward W. Jones, secretary of the Diocese and chief of staff. “This ruling brings closure to a long but worthwhile struggle, and will allow the members of the Episcopal congregation to put the issue behind them and to focus their full energies on the ministries of the Church. We hope that The Falls Church Anglican will join us in recognizing this decision as a final chapter in the property dispute.”

“Bishop Johnston added, “We pray that all those who have found spiritual sustenance at The Falls Church Episcopal and our other churches will continue to move forward in a spirit of reconciliation and love.’”

Nearly a year ago, the Diocese settled the conflict over property with six other congregations. The Falls Church Episcopal and the other continuing and newly formed congregations, including Church of the Epiphany, Herndon; St. Margaret’s, Woodbridge; St. Paul’s, Haymarket; and St. Stephen’s, Heathsville, spent the past year growing their membership, supporting outreach and strengthening their church communities. Members of the Diocese have joined them in these efforts through Dayspring, a diocesan-wide initiative that is bringing a spirit of vision and rebirth to our shared ministries as a church.

  • Habakkuk REdux

    Evil triumphs again….

  • Eric Bonetti

    @Habakkuk: You might want to read the opinion before making statements of this nature. As the Court noted, the parish agreed to adhere to the Episcopal Church canons, both then and in the future, when it applied to become part of the diocese. There is nothing evil about requiring a person or organization to honor that commitment.

    • Charles

      Nope. Habakkuk had it right. There is evil in forcing a church to either bend to your shifting doctrines or leave, and then take them to court for the property that they supported with their sweat and finances. At least this may leave TEC with another empty church that they can’t maintain, hastening the collapse of this dying denomination.

      • Eric Bonetti

        Charles, our canons are clear: Parishes are part of the larger church. When a parish is formed, it does so with the agreement that it will be part of the diocese and national church, and subject to church canons. The parish doesn’t get to later change its mind. Title to the property, from day one, is held in trust for the diocese and national church. All involved know and understand that. If someone cannot live with the fact that we are a hierarchical church, then we probably are not the right church for that person.

        Apropos the property, your argument also ignores the collective intent of generations of past Episcopalains, all of whom worked to build the parish.

        As to the future of The Episcopal Church, we continue to grow in those areas with vibrant parishes, including my own. We feed the hungry, assist the homeless, and more. So I am not worried about the future of the church.

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