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Church Defectors Seek to Divert Building Funds to Legal Defense

Facing an appeal filed this week to the Virginia Supreme Court of decisions made in their favor at the circuit court level last year, defectors from the Episcopal Church, USA, occupying the historic Falls Church property downtown in the City of Falls Church, are asking parishioners for permission to loot the church’s building fund to pay for a legal defense.

In a letter to contributors to the so-called “Southgate Building Fund,” leaders among the defectors, now aligned with the Council of Anglicans in North America (CANA), obtained this week by the News-Press, are asking for authorization to redirect the contributions to “defending our congregation and its property, and our sister (defecting-ed.) congregations in the Anglican District of Virginia against the lawsuits initiated against us by the Episcopal Church.”

In an ironic twist, contributors to the “Southgate Fund,” set up for purposes of funding the demolition of the long-vacant Southgate Shopping Center and construction of a new “parish life center” on the site, include a number of former Falls Church Episcopal members against whom the defectors’ legal defense is being mounted.

“This is outrageous,” one such member wrote to the News-Press, noting that she and her husband, and about 25-30 others expelled from the Falls Church property by the defectors, “who in good faith donated money to help rebuild the Southgate property, will have their money used against them.”

The Episcopal Church, USA, and its Diocese of Virginia this week filed lengthy “petitions for appeal” of the decisions made by Judge Randy Bellows in the Fairfax Circuit Court last year. The Supreme Court is expected to rule over the summer whether or not it will accept the appeal.

No matter which way the Virginia Supreme Court were to rule, the case would almost certainly be appealed from there to the U.S. Supreme Court, because precedents set by lower court rulings to date will have grave implications for the integrity of the internal structures of most mainstream Protestant denominations.

This new development is only the latest in a long string of events involving the machinations of right-wing controlling elements at The Falls Church, starting in 1999 when the Southgate Shopping Center, located across the street from the church’s main sanctuary, was purchased and eight viable retail businesses on the site were forced out.

The aim was to demolish the center and erect an $18 million “parish life center” with classrooms, a fellowship hall and gym.

The church’s leaders, led by its rector, the Rev. John Yates, began a forceful campaign to persuade City officials to effectively cede to the church the section of the public street, E. Fairfax Ave., separating the sanctuary from the Southgate Center, thus allowing for a seamless church “campus.” It failed, but the City did allow concessions to narrow the street by removing on-street parking and allowing a breezeway to be elevated over the street connecting the two sides.

But when the leadership of the Episcopal Church, USA, elevated for the first time an openly-gay priest to standing as a bishop in the church, Yates and other leaders at The Falls Church put their development plans on hold while plans to defect from the Episcopal denomination were devised, and a battle over future control over the property anticipated.

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