The Last Day in Court (at least for now)

Today was the last day of the trial in Fairfax Circuit Court and while Judge Randy Bellows said it was possible that he might call in the attorneys after he’s read all their upcoming legal briefs, the trial portion appears to be complete (unless there’s some kind of an October Surprise).

We heard from Joan Gunderson’s co-collaborator, historian Edward Bond, who interestingly enough were commissioned by the Diocese of Virginia to write a “history” of the Diocese of Virginia with Gunderson right after the diocese sued the eleven churches. Publicly announced that it was commissioned for the the celebration of the 400 years since Jamestown (which isn’t actually in the Diocese) and with a history all ready written here, it still is fascinating that Bond’s collaborator on the project was activist Gunderson, who leads Progressive Episcopalians in Pittsburgh and is at the forefront of opposing the vote by the Diocese of Pittsburgh to separate from The Episcopal Church. Not exactly impartial history, as it appeared in the testimony today.

One highlight of Bond’s testimony this morning comes to mind where he had made it a point that following the American Revolution (when British Loyalists – who filled many of the Virginia parish pews – fled the Commonwealth for safer ground – which of course Bond never mentioned perhaps because Bishop Lee and Bishop Schori like to refer to their own allies as “loyalists” – in fact, the term “Loyal Episcopalians” was actually said in court today) the historic Falls Church saw other types of preachers in the pulpit pass through, including the dreaded Baptists and Methodists and riff raff like that. There may have even been a few Presbyterians.

Gordon Coffee of the CANA Churches brought this up again in his redirect when he recalled for the court Bond stating that at a certain point one could actually find “animals roaming through” the Falls Church in those difficult years after the American Revolution and when Bond readily agreed Coffe continued, “And even Methodists were roaming through.”

It appears that there is still no love lost between Episcopalians in Virginia and the Baptists and others who were the ones who rose up after the American Revolution and petitioned the Virginia Legislature to force the now disestablished Episcopalians to sell off their unused glebe lands and cease living off the taxes they could no longer collect. The Episcopal Church had to then figure out, as Bond said, how to raise their own support. As we know, it took a long time and Bishop Moore finally had to get on his horse and ride around the Commonwealth trying to figure out which of the old congregations in the Virginia parishes still existed, which parishes had empty buildings with no congregations, and which parishes had buildings that were taken over by the dreaded Baptists (which is what happened in what is now Fairfax City with the old Payne’s Church of Truro Parish – and they are still there).

Other highlights was the diocese’s repeated attempts in court testimony to ignore the votes of The Falls Church to separate from the Diocese of Virginia in December 2006 and go right to the shadow congregation that styles itself The Falls Church Episcopal as though the votes were just a nuisance and certainly The Falls Church didn’t really leave. The Diocese’s witnesses would constantly refer to The Falls Church as The Falls Church Episcopal and that The Falls Church Episcopal remained after the vote in 2006 and did not actually separate from the diocese, but just moved down the street. But each time that attempt was made, there was an objection.

With the word “they” being bantered about it started to get rather confusing. Both Bond and the witness that came after him, kept talking about The Falls Church Episcopal when they were talking about The Falls Church and then talking about The Falls Church Episcopal when were they talking about the shadow congregation.

Finally the judge said, “I want to get a better understanding of what ‘they’ is.” And that sort of shut the whole strategy down. Christ Church Alexandria was never established as having shown any interest at all in The Falls Church. Certainly the vote that was taken yesterday at Christ Church Alexandria never came up.

In fact, we learned St. Paul’s in Alexandria had tried to get Christ Church Alexandria to show them some interest and help them out in the 19th century and Christ Church Alexandria said nope, that St. Paul’s (which was also in Fairfax Parish and completely ignored by Bond in his original testimony) had nothing to do with them. Zing.

When that became clear, the judge was consistent in locking down the attempts – made over and over – to move this trial away from the 57-9 petitions and into the TEC and Diocese lawsuits that are now on hold pending the outcome of the 57-9 litigation. The Diocese had more witnesses waiting in the wings (Patrick Getlein, former Secretary to the Diocese being one of them and perhaps Henry Burt, current Secretary to the Diocese, who was also on their list of witnesses to call as well as another current member of the shadow congregation set up by the diocese) who were never permitted to testify.

Bill Deiss, Parish Administrator of The Falls Church opened the portion on the endowment fund. He testified to the link between the endowment fund and The Falls Church, indicating that there are reports each year in the Annual Report and that it is The Falls Church Vestry that appoints members of the board for the endowment fund.

The one member of the shadow congregation who was allowed to testify was the treasurer of The Falls Church endowment fund who voted against separation and went with the shadow congregation. I’m sorry, I didn’t write her name down (which is probably for the best as it all turned out). She constantly referred to The Falls Church (which is how everyone refers to the church, just as we refer to Christ Church Alexandria as Christ Church Alexandria or Truro as Truro or Church of the Apostles as Church of the Apostles or Church of the Epiphany as Church of the Epiphany and St. Stephen’s Heathesville as St. Stephen’s Heathesville. The word “Episcopal” just isn’t used in polite company most of the time in Virginia, because, for heaven’s sake, it doesn’t need to – it’s implied, the Baptists and the Methodists have to disguish themselves, not the Episcopalians (until just recently) – pass the gin and tonic. But in her testimony, this witness constantly called The Falls Church – The Falls Church Episcopal and when she would attempt to go beyond the December 2006 vote and talk about The Falls Church Episcopal (which was actually the shadow congregation and not The Falls Church) after the vote – as though there was no vote – there’d be a clear objection that was most often sustained by Judge Bellows.

The redirect of this last witness was filled with drama. The witness, who had been the treasurer for The Falls Church Endowment Fund for many years, was trying to maintain that the endowment fund was not for the ministry and outreach of The Falls Church but was some sort of separate independent fund that basically seemed to work out of her attic. Don’t quite understand that, but it seems all the past documents and records of the endowment are up in her attic, though the mailing address and the in-house mailbox are located inside The Falls Church. Unfortunately, during the redirect she was shown a past tax return for the Falls Church Endowment that she had signed as treasurer. It clearly stated that the mission of the endowment was to support the mission and outreach of The Falls Church. She was clearly stunned – big time oops and with the threat of perjury now over her head, she cried out “I don’t want to go to jail.”

Sadly, it was clear that she’s a volunteer who disagreed with the majority vote of The Falls Church and now the diocese (and the Shadow Congregation) are very interested in a million-dollar endowment fund. Whether it will be ruled as part of the 57-9 petitions or litigated separately, the judge will decide. That day could still come.

The judge requested a very tall pile of briefing papers – we can expect that over the next month the attorneys on both sides will be writing, and writing, and writing, and writing some more. We could have some orders from the judge even before the final ruling after the deadline for all the briefing papers passes in mid-November and he may call the attorneys back into court. But it did seem clear that this judge will issue his final ruling before the end of the year.