Diocese of Virginia nervous over drop in pledges as litigation costs continue to mount; plans to sell church properties if they win in Supreme Court

Once again he’s on the beat. Report from Intrepid:

(1) Donald Cady of the Executive Board reported on the “litigation against those who have tried to appropriate Episcopal Church property” and stated that the Diocesan staff had “made prudent use of the line of credit.” I’m not entirely sure what that means, and of course there was no time to ask.

Things at a Diocesan Council meeting in Virginia are tightly controlled. Mr. Cady explained in rather optimistic terms that the “line of credit will be retired at an appropriate time when sale of unconsecrated property takes place”, all based on a change in the market when such properties will be more valuable. Perhaps we could call this the “new property for old” program.

I must say I have been severely tempted to ask for an addition to the budget of a line item for say $250,000 to cover the utility and property management costs for maintaining the properties at Truro and Falls Church, among others, should the Diocese actually win the court cases and regain the property. One does wonder if they know how they will pay the bills on such large properties with no congregations to maintain them.

Mr. Cady then said they were working hard to “minimize ongoing litigation costs on the program of the diocese” and wanted to stress in no uncertain terms that “parish pledges have not and will not be used to underwrite litigation costs.” Phew, that’s a relief. Though again I admit this last line sounds a bit odd when you consider how strongly the Diocese has made the case that we must protect the legacy of faith in these buildings, or something like that. It’s clear that while someone at high levels believes litigation to be very important, there must be enough others in local churches who believe using pledges for litigation is a bad idea. And you know, pledges to the diocese from parishes are at a very low point, making the Diocese of Virginia one of the lowest rates of parish support in the country. Go figure.

(2) Bishop Jones gave a short address in which he mentioned that there have been hurt feelings and “issues” around the younger congregations that left the church but that we need to stay faithful nonetheless to the Great Commission. He devoted a large part of his address to encouraging delegates to Council to return to their parishes and explain to their Vestries how important the Diocese is, especially when budgets are being discussed. The lack of funding coming into the Diocese seems to have everyone nervous.

(3) Various resolutions had the usual attention to a word or phrase here or there that needed to be changed for reasons more apparent to those discussing them than to the rest of us. Do any of these resolutions telling us to work for peace and to pray for something or other make a difference in the long run? It seems to this observer that resolutions at Diocesan Council are a lot like smoking a pipe … in the way in which Anna Russell described it when explaining how to play a bagpipe … there’s simply more fiddling with it than actually using it. You know, this report is simply not all that interesting, because what we did wasn’t very interesting. The normal suspects were walking about huffing and puffing or saying the sky was falling, but on the whole it was procedurely boring and theologically bankrupt.

Which brings us to the great annual boondoggle that appears at every Diocesan Council when the Rev. James Papille and the good folk over at St. Anne’s, Reston lead the charge for an extreme makeover of procedures and teachings around sexuality.

This year there was a large-scale revision of the motions originally presented at the Council meeting in Richmond. Due to a major snowstorm the Council reconvened weeks later with something totally new, written by the Resolutions Committee. It seems to have magically appeared from who knows where. I can understand why the authors of the original motions were not amused.The substitute resolution looked, sounded and proposed very little of what the originals had wanted. This lead to a lively discussion for the better part of an hour on the floor of Council. One side wanted to return to the original, carefully worded resolutions that asked the Council to state their support for what amounts to rewriting all of the sexual teachings of the church … from how we handle same-sex blessings, to ordination, and employment issues. The focus was to get the house to show their desire to support these issues.

Those supporting the original motions seemed to fail to see the irony of their position, as so often happens in these situations. In order to get a resolution to show we are tolerant of alternative lifestyles, there was a desire to pass a resolution by majority vote and then explain that the Council and the diocese support this decision, which makes it sound like all of us were united in the position. We’re not. And the rush to be able to say the Diocese officially supports something seems like an intolerant position to take towards those of us who do not have the votes in our favor any longer.

Well, the original motions failed to gather the needed support. The substitute resolution was a totally different thing, proposing that the Bishop empanel a group to determine consistent policies for implementing same sex blessings if (but more likely when) the bishop approved them. (Note: He’s on record as saying he personally approves of blessings, and of the ordination of people in same sex relationships). Since this substitute was a narrower thing than the original resolutions, that made for some fuss. Personally I found the new resolution to be very odd. It asked for the group to be made up of lawyers and canonical scholars (who?) who would determine such things as the degree of kinship allowable in same sex blesisngs, how economic issues would be resolved in case of dissolution of the relationships, whether testing for health conditions should be mandated and whether clergy would be allowed to have the choice of whether or not to officiate without penalty. Scary stuff … to think we should have a group discussing whether half brothers can have their sexual relationship blessed by the church, or whether we should limit things to first cousins, or second?

Who died and put us in charge of this stuff? Whoever it was, I am sure it wasn’t Jesus.

In the end, the attempt to get the original resolutions considered again failed. By that time people were so tired of the discussion we moved and passed the substitute resolution so we could all go home. Well, not me, I voted against that one too, but you get a feel for how things are going after listening to the debate.

So once again we have asked for some group to study something and report back. A friend in my parish who is a systems analyst has asked what we expect to know differently after another year of study. Is any new data going to come forward? If not then what, he asked me, are we waiting for? Oh but I know that answer. It’s in the Bible. We’re waiting for enough people to die off, wander off, or just get so tired of things that the votes start going the way they are supposed to go. Then we can enter the new and improved promised land. Until then, we can look forward to at least one more year of studies and reports and another fine debate brought to us at next year’s Annual Council. Mark your calendars now and make your reservations for a room in Reston. You won’t want to miss the next thrilling episode of “As the Diocese Spins”.

Intrepid is a member of the Annual Council of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.