Attorneys for the defecting members of The Falls Church will be in Fairfax Circuit Cout Friday seeking a summary dismissal of the consolidated suit filed by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal denomination, nationally, aimed at their retaining control of the church property.
Since the defectors voted to remove themselves from the Episcopal denomination last December, they have held control of the property and refused access to an organized group of non-defecting Episcopalians that formerly worshipped there.
The defectors removed themselves from the Episcopal Church in protest over a variety of issues, foremost of which was the national denomination’s elevation in 2003 of an openly-gay clergyman to standing as a bishop.
Meanwhile, four clergy who led the defection and subsequently aligned with the Anglican Church of Nigeria, and its virulently anti-gay Bishop Peter Akinola, were officially defrocked by the Virginia Episcopal Diocese’s Rt. Rev. James Peter Lee last week.
The rector representing the defectors, the Rev. John W. Yates II, was officially defrocked, or removed from the ordained ministry of the Episcopal Church, along with the Rev. Frederick M. Wright, the Rev. Ramsey Gilchrist and the Rev. Jack Grubbs from the Falls Church group. Yates has served as rector at The Falls Church’s location since the mid-1980s.
The four were among a total of 21 priests, from defecting congregations around the state, who were officially defrocked. Lee forewarned, with an “inhibition” ruling in January, that unless the priests in question recanted, this would be their fate.
One priest at The Falls Church did respond to the earlier action by Lee with a petition for reinstatement in the Episcopal Church. According to a statement from the Diocese of Virginia, the Rev. Nicholas Lubelfeld “has declared his loyalty to the doctrine, discipline and worship of the Episcopal Church.” He is the only one of the originally-defecting clergy who “has made a good faith retraction and has had his inhibition lifted,” according to the statement.
Lubelfeld has accepted a call to serve as priest associate of the Church of Our Redeemer in Aldie, Va., serving under the supervision of that church’s rector.
Last Friday, the Rev. Wright, a senior associate rector for defectors at The Falls Church, held a telephone press briefing asserting the defectors’ position that, as “they remain Anglican clergy no longer in service of the Episcopal Church, the church cannot depose or remove them from their pulpits.”
Bishop Lee’s action to defrock the 21 priests last week was done as a “required canonical action” following his decision, following a determination by the diocese’s Standing Committee, to “inhibit” the clergy, last Jan. 22.
As a result, in addition to losing their capacity to officiate in Episcopal churches or in any manner as Episcopal priests, the former Episcopal clergy lose their capacity to contribute to pension plans begun during their time as Episcopal priests and any other benefits of service. Only the pension benefits accrued to this point will remain payable, according to Bishop Lee’s ruling.
The judge which has been assigned to the consolidated suits concerning the control of the Episcopal Church properties in Virginia, Randy Bellows, is not expected to tip his hand for the first time on how the ruling will go until Nov. 19, at the earliest.
At that time, an evidentiary hearing will be held on the applicability of a so-called “division statute” to the case. A prior pre-trial hearing on the question of the proper scope of the November hearing will be held in mid-September.
This Friday, the court will hear arguments that the claims brought by the Diocese of Virginia and the national Episcopal Church should be dismissed.