News

F.C.’s ‘Continuing Episcopalians’ Gather To Rejoice Over Supreme Court Ruling

img_0203A swiftly-assembled gathering of more than two dozen among those who’ve remained faithful as “continuing Episcopalians” for more than three years while breakaway congregants from The Falls Church occupied the historic church in the downtown section of the City of Falls Church celebrated tonight the Virginia Supreme Court decision overturning a lower court ruling supporting the breakaway group’s claim to the property. Hymns were sung, prayers were recited and members of the tight-knit group were invited by the Rev. Michael Pipkin to “tell their stories” of their part in the over three years of maintaining their cohesion in face of an “exile” from their home church.

img_0203

(News-Press photo)

A swiftly-assembled gathering of more than two dozen among those who’ve remained faithful as “continuing Episcopalians” for more than three years while breakaway congregants from The Falls Church occupied the historic church in the downtown section of the City of Falls Church celebrated tonight the Virginia Supreme Court decision overturning a lower court ruling supporting the breakaway group’s claim to the property. Hymns were sung, prayers were recited and members of the tight-knit group were invited by the Rev. Michael Pipkin to “tell their stories” of their part in the over three years of maintaining their cohesion in face of an “exile” from their home church. As usual, the group met in the fellowship hall of the Falls Church Presbyterian Church, located across E. Broad Street from The Falls Church.

 

While the court case remains far from over, the cornerstone of the legal argument made by the breakaway group was declared inapplicable by the Supreme Court. “Continuing Episcopalian” congregants last night expressed hope and optimism that they’ll regain access to the property, which has been denied them by the occupying breakaway group, which left the Episcopal denomination in December 2006 and subsequently affiliated with a group called the Council of Anglicans in North America (CANA) led by Nigerian Bishop Akinola.

Tonight’s service was attended by loyal F.C. “continuing Episcopalian” members Falls Church Mayor Robin Gardner and former Superintendent of Falls Church Schools Dr. Warren Pace and their respective spouses. Founding member of the Falls Church School System Jesse Thackrey is also a member of the group, but was not there tonight.

“We’ve been trying to contain our joy (about today’s Supreme Court ruling),” Pipkin told the congregation, “As we understand the hurt being felt across the street today. But our joy is real, as our call for justice has been real…This day means what we’ve been saying all along about who God is and what he wants us to be is not crazy. We’ve been doing the right thing and I am proud as I can be,” he said.

Bill Fetsch, chief warden of the congregation, said that there was a “silver lining” to the three-and-a-half years of sustaining the group in the face of its “exile.” “It’s taken a long time, but over the course of that time, we’ve honed our community and our mission,” he said, adding that he is “very optimistic” that “we’re on the road back, and it feels real good.”

Another congregant said he’d been active the The Falls Church, playing a leadership role in a number of its programs, until he “came out” and announced that he was gay. “I was then asked to step down from everything I was doing and I left the church.” That was prior to the schism, and he was away from the church, didn’t even know the split occured, until he read in the Falls Church News-Press about the ongoing organization of the F.C. “continuing Episcopalians.” He came, joined and proclaimed, “This is a very happy day for me.” (The defectors left in 2006 in large part due to their opposition to the national Episcopal denomination’s elevation of an openly-gay priest to standing as a bishop).

A life-long Episcopalian attending a church in Arlington, Mayor Gardner said that when she learned of the on-going commitment of the F.C. “continuing Episcopalians,” she, her husband Mike and their two children came to align with them. “We’ve been here to support them and have found a very warm family here,” she said. “I’m glas we’re all here tonight together.”

Others spoke to the special warmth and affirmation they felt from the small congregation. “Don’t forget this journey we’ve been on,” one said. “You are far more than what you’ve left behind. You are very different in very fine ways.” Another said, “We are a people willing to risk loving and standing for something.” Another said she knew of people who aligned with the defectors because they may not have agreed with them, but because they didn’t want to leave their place of worship. The F.C. “continuing Episcopalians,” she said, “on the other hand, are people with the courage of their convictions to get outside their comfort zone.” Pipkin concluded the remarks by saying that, going forward, “We will continue to hold onto who we are. If going home (to the historic church) means that we lose our integrity and undermine our own humanity in the process, then I say we shouldn’t go. But we can be wonderfully proud of what we’ve become by holding onto our hope, values and integrity to be a light to this Falls Church community, to the Episcopal Church overall and the Christian community far and wide.”

 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*