The Diocese of Virginia: Big Time Oops

The Diocese of Virginia has put the following up on their website and it’s so blatantly filled with major “OOPS” that it just can’t go without some sort of challenge.

The Diocese: “The dispute over property in the Diocese of Virginia entered the civil courts when the separated CANA congregations filed petitions with the courts in their jurisdictions reporting the results of their congregational votes and seeking the court’s declaration that the property belonged to the congregations.

OOPS! The Episcopal congregations voted and then – following the Diocese of Virginia’s Protocol for Departing Churches – filed that vote in their local court house. WE DID NOT, repeat, did not seek the court’s declaration. We thought we were following the Diocese of Virginia’s Protocol and that we were entering into property negotiations by joining Bishop Lee’s official Diocese of Virginia Property Committee (the Diocese fails to mention that part – or the Standstill Agreement that the Diocese entered into with the Virginia Churches as we prepared for the next phase in the Protocol). The property negotiations had all ready been modeled for us by the property negotiations between the Diocese of Virginia and All Saints, Dale City. This all came to a sudden halt in January 2007 following a meeting of the Diocese of Virginia’s Standing Committee, Executive Board, and Bishop Lee with the Presiding Bishop’s Chancellor, David Booth Beers. Within days of that meeting, the standstill agreement was abruptly cancelled, lawsuits against the 200 lay volunteers and their clergy were filed by the Diocese and then another set by 815, the clergy were inhibited (even the ones who were remaining Episcopalian), and health benefits for clergy and staff were cut off, including COBRA benefits that cost the Diocese nothing but their honor. One thinks that David Booth Beers could not have the Diocese of Virginia declaring the facts that division had indeed occurred (as the Protocol stipulated) or their whole House of Cards would tumble.

The Diocese: “The Diocese and the Episcopal Church responded to those filings and are defendants in those cases.”

OOPS: Defendants. That’s rich. The Diocese sued 200 lay volunteers and their rectors and the Episcopal Church followed by filing their own lawsuit, also suing 200 lay volunteers and their rectors and the churches are the defendants – not the Diocese and TEC. The Diocese is the one that left the negotiation table (remember this?). The Diocese and TEC who are the ones who filed suit. This assertion is so blatantly a major OOPS it is shocking. We’re the defendants. We’re the ones sued. Does the Diocese really think we’re all a bunch of stupid sheep?

The Diocese: Subsequently, the Diocese and the Episcopal Church filed complaints seeking a declaration that Episcopal Church property, while held by local trustees, is held in trust for the benefit of the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Virginia and Episcopalians throughout the generations.

OOPS: The Diocese sued personally nearly 200 lay volunteers and their rectors when the The Commonwealth of Virginia does not recognize suing non-stipend volunteers in these circumstances (as the Diocese and 815 later found out). In addition, the Commonwealth of Virginia has not recognized implied trusts. Wishing it were so does not make it so, any more than wishing there was no division makes it so.

The Diocese: Those cases have yet to be scheduled for trial.

OOPS: The first trial is set for Nov. 13-19 and will cover the Virginia statute that the Protocol was based upon, a Protocol written by the Diocese of Virginia’s own Chancellor, former Standing Committee President, Reconciliation Task Force Chairman, the retired Chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia, a Parish Trustee, and the rector of a historic parish. At issue is whether the Virginia statute applies to this case and that there is indeed division within the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church. If this is not the case, then Judge Bellows has the week off.

The Diocese: At issue is the real and personal property of 11 Episcopal churches.

OOPS: No, at issue is the fact that we are a divided church. The Diocese of Virginia and 815 are of the mind that there is no division unless they say there is a division. Never mind that eleven churches followed a Protocol developed by the Diocese of Virginia under the personal authority of the Diocesan Bishop that acknowledged the division, not the report issued by the Diocese of Virginia’s Reconciliation Task Force that acknowledge a “Level Five” conflict in the Diocese. Let’s say that word together D I V I S I O N. At issue is the division in the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church. Does anyone think we’re all one big happy family and everything is just fine, thank you very much? One does not use the word “division” in polite company.

The Diocese: In each case, that property currently is occupied and used by non-Episcopal congregations. Four continuing Episcopal congregations have been denied use of their property, locked out of their buildings, deprived of their rights to that property and forced into exile.

OOPS: All the parishes welcome all people. Episcopalians fill the pews of the Virginia churches since Bishop Lee has done nothing to excommunicate (as he did with some of the Virginia rectors and clergy in those parishes) the laity in those parishes. I am still an Episcopalian worshiping in a CANA Church. I keep praying for repentance and reconciliation. But we are divided Episcopalians and some of us have found shelter in CANA congregations. All are welcome in the parishes, including Episcopalians. We are family. The people of those parishes followed the Protocol for Departing Parishes and voted to separate from the Diocese of Virginia and remain in the Anglican Communion. No one – repeat no one has been “locked out of their buildings, deprived of their rights to that property and forced into exile.” That is simply outrageous. It sounds like the Diocese of Virginia thinks its some Social Club and they get to define what is a true Episcopalian. Episcopalians are confirmed or received by a bishop in the Episcopal Church. My reception into the Episcopal Church is still valid, though I was reaffirmed by the former Archbishop of Canterbury with Bishop Lee’s permission. I haven’t been received or confirmed into any other denomination. I am an Episcopalian. And last time I checked I wasn’t denied the use of the property, I wasn’t locked out of the building, and I have not been deprived of my rights to that property (so I have rights?). And neither has any other Episcopalian member of Truro. We are family. CANA provides us a way to stay in the Anglican Communion. If I went to a Lutheran Church, I’d still be an Episcopalian attending a Lutheran Church. If I went to a Methodist Church, I’d be an Episcopalian attending a Methodist Church. If I went to Catholic Church, I would definitely be an Episcopalian attending a Catholic Church. I am an Episcopalian member of a CANA Church, a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion. If I say I am Anglican, does that mean I am no longer Episcopalian? If this is so, then it is the Episcopal Church that has left me. It is the Episcopal Church that has forced us into exile. And so I am Anglican. I choose to be Anglican. And the certificate that Lord Carey gave me says that I am Anglican.

The Diocese: By agreement of the parties, all cases were consolidated in Fairfax Circuit Court, and they have been assigned to Judge Randy I. Bellows.

And that, friends, is the one statement that is true. Alas. You can read more here.

LATER: Read this discussion here at TitusOneNine.

THURSDAY PM: The Rev. Robin Adams, rector of Church of the Word (Gainesville, VA) served on the Diocese of Virginia Executive Board and was present when the Protocol of Departing Churches was brought before the Executive Board and the Standing Committee by Bishop Lee, answers some questions and gives an eyewitness view of what happened:

What was the process which led up to the decision of Church of the Word to withdraw from the Episcopal Church and realign with CANA? Was this an agreed process with the Diocese of Virginia?

Since 2003, conservative churches in Virginia had been in dialogue with Bishop Lee and others in the diocese about their future. The hope was that TEC could be reformed or at least that the diocese of Virginia could be a bastion of gospel values. When it became apparent this would not be the case, 23 or so clergy met with Bishop Lee in September 2005 to ask for a process whereby their congregations could amicably separate from TEC with their properties and be able to continue as Anglicans in some other structure. Bishop Lee agreed to this request and set up an official commission to examine all of the elements of the problem and return with a report to the governing bodies of the diocese. His six member team met for many months and submitted a unanimous report in September 2007 called ‘A protocol for departing congregations’. The Protocol was ‘received’ unanimously by the Executive Board and ‘by consensus’ by the Standing Committee, without a single negative vote.

I was serving on the Executive Board at the time and remember the discussion and vote to receive the report. The clear intention of the Ex Board was to move forward with the recommendations of the protocol and allow parishes a graceful method of disengaging from the Diocese and TEC. It cannot be argued by the diocese that the Protocol has no authority because the actions of the diocese in the next few weeks showed a resolve to implement the details of the protocol. This four page document was released to the diocese as the way forward for congregations who felt that in good conscience they might have to withdraw from TEC. It is worth noting that one purpose of the protocol was to see how the separating congregations might continue ‘in as close a relationship as possible’ with the diocese. Meaning that although a division was inevitable there could be many areas of mutually agreed ministry in the future. You may read the protocol on our church website, but the basic points are that:-

  • A congregation should go through at least a 30 day discernment process.
  • Discernment materials would be provided by the diocese as well as from the congregations. Live presentations from the diocese would be made to the congregations.
  • A congregational vote would be required and a 70% yes to depart vote would be needed, a super majority.
  • A separate vote would also ask if a congregation wishes to retain its property in the event of a split. Again a 70% yes vote would be needed.
  • Provisions would be made to continue partnerships with the diocese ‘in as close a relationship as possible’.
  • A process would be set up to resolve property issues ‘amicably’ between the parties.

In the fall, Church of the Word entered into the discernment process required by the protocol, resources from the diocese were made available in the parish and the date of the vote was rescheduled to allow for a live presentation from several leaders in the diocese. The vestry also met with the standing committee of the diocese to hear their thoughts.

The protocol, received, approved and recommended by the standing committee, executive board and Diocesan Bishop, stated that if a 70% majority voted to separate from the diocese and also voted to retain its property then the diocese would enter into good faith negotiations about a settlement of property issues. At the conclusion of this carefully followed process 96% of our members voted to withdraw from the diocese and retain our property.

Diocese of Virginia reneges on its agreement

I am shocked and even embarrassed to report that the diocese reneged on its written and verbal agreement in the protocol. It has initiated litigation against these 11 congregations, instead of entering into good faith negotiations as they promised. I cannot believe that the diocese would make such detailed requirements of our churches and even promote the discernment process by supplying materials and people and then turn around and abandon the process. At the February primates meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the leaders of the Anglican Communion called for a cessation of all litigation and a return to the negotiation table, but so far the diocese has refused to heed the call of the leaders of the Anglican Church.

I was privileged to serve on the executive board of the diocese in 2006 as a representative of region 7. I attended the meetings where the board was kept informed on the progress of the negations of the special committee which eventually presented the protocol. I attended the meeting where the executive board voted to receive the protocol and committed resources to help it work. At that meeting I asked Bishop Lee if he felt that the diocese could meet the requirement for in person presentations to the church from the diocese as required by the protocol. He said that with the help of the standing committee he saw no problem. After we had voted to receive the protocol a discussion then ensued as to whether to ‘receive’ a report, was the same thing as to ‘accept’ or ‘approve’ one. The general sentiment expressed was that there was no practical differences in the use of the words receive, accept or approve and that the diocese was going to provide resources for its part of the agreement. The diocese then proved their de facto reception, adoption and approval of the protocol by implementing the details.

  • The protocol was posted on the diocesan website and made available for distribution.
  • Previously published material by Churchill Gibson was made available to the Churches as diocesan resource material for the discernment process as required by the protocol.
  • A DVD of a speech by Bishop Lee was distributed to the parishes
  • Arrangements were made to have live presentations by members of the standing committee to the congregations as required by the protocol.
  • At some point in December when the discernment process was well under way there was a great deal of prevarication in the diocese about the official status of the protocol. However, Bishop Lee said that although it was not the only possible way to resolve differences within the diocese it was one acceptable method.
  • After the votes were taken on December 17th one week before Christmas, the diocese set up a ‘unity commission’ and then quickly changed the name to a ‘property commission’ to begin negotiating a settlement with the churches as required by the protocol.

Read the whole thing here at the Church of the Word website.