The membership of the Falls Church Episcopal Church will conclude a week of voting Saturday to determine if it remains affiliated with the national Episcopal denomination, or leaves to align with another institution. Officials of the local church have told the News-Press they expect an overwhelming vote of the church’s 2,800 members in favor of leaving the Episcopal denomination.
The voting will conclude Saturday night and the results announced at church services Sunday morning. According to reports, while the press has been banned from access to the church’s property or church officials during the week of voting, a press conference to announce the outcome of the vote will be held this Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Diocese of Virginia’s headquarters in Richmond told the News-Press that Bishop David Lee will convene a meeting of the directors of the diocese’s standing committee to mull the consequences of the election outcome on Monday.
He noted that in a sharply-worded letter from Bishop Lee to the leaders of the Falls Church Episcopal sent earlier this month, the Bishop identified as among his options, declaring the church to have “mission status,” meaning he would have direct control over the remnant congregation.
Were he to do that, he could assign a new rector to the church, and for all intents and purposes, could accuse all persons who refuse to recognize the new rector of trespassing on the church property.
Bishop Lee has been adamant insisting that the diocese, and not the local congregation, owns the property, which includes one of the oldest Episcopal church structures on the continent.
The diocesan spokesman reminded the News-Press that the site has been home to an Episcopal church long before the current local church leadership emerged and that he “couldn’t imagine” it wouldn’t continue to operate as a church of the national Episcopal denomination, even if Sunday’s vote outcome triggers steps by the diocese to install a new leadership there.
He said he could not “categorically” rule out that the diocese might decide to lease or sell some parts of the church property for City of Falls Church parkland or development in conjunction with the massive city center redevelopment that is now getting underway.
The church property is located in the heart of downtown Falls Church and includes, in addition to the modest chapel dating to the early 1700s, a large new community center-sized sanctuary, meeting hall and office structure, and a now-vacated strip shopping mall across the street from the church that it had acquired in 2000 with the original plan of placing an new $18 million parish life structure there.
Fundraising and other development plans for the parish life center ground to a halt in 2003 when a large majority of bishops of the national Episcopal denomination voted to consecrate an openly-homosexual pastor, the Rev. Eugene Robinson, as the bishop of a New England diocese.
That was because the local church leaders here were wary of the potential consequences for their property of a decision they might make to leave the denomination in protest of the Bishop Robinson vote.
Falls Church Episcopal officials insist there are other factors besides the elevation of Bishop Robinson involved in their efforts to depart the denomination that have to do with their desire to affirm Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation and the inerrancy of the Bible.