Friday, June 01, 2012

A great divorce

After years of litigation, a court awards the historic Falls Church—one of the oldest in America—to The Episcopal Church, and Anglicans who once made an overwhelming majority of the congregation move out
Emily Belz
June 16, 2012

FALLS CHURCH, Va.—Churchmen founded The Falls Church before the colonists founded the United States, in 1732, as an Anglican church that gave the city of Falls Church, Va., its name. Founding Fathers like George Washington once sat in its pews. At the time, Episcopal and Anglican were not distinct terms. The Episcopal Church, in fact, didn't officially exist. But today they are most definitely distinct factions in northern Virginia.

After five years of court battles between The Episcopal Church (TEC) and its Virginia congregations that have broken away to join the Anglican Church in North America, a court has ordered The Falls Church Anglican congregation out of the red-brick colonial property. That means a congregation of 4,000—who voted to separate from TEC over doctrinal issues—is handing valuable church property to a 75-member Episcopal congregation representing the remnant who want to remain in the liberal TEC. Departing Anglicans must find borrowed meeting places in local middle schools and Baptist churches.

The Falls Church story has repeated itself around the country as more than 100 congregations have left the shrinking TEC because of the Episcopal leadership's increasing distance from orthodox theology. Courts have mostly ruled in favor of TEC, awarding property to the originating denomination after lengthy lawsuits—even as most of its members are moving on, or some would argue holding on, to Anglicanism. But when TEC wins property disputes in court, it sometimes has no parishioners left to use those churches.

"It was like a divorce," said John Yates, who has been rector of The Falls Church for 33 years and now leads the Anglican congregation. Five years of legal battles have exhausted and saddened Yates, but the Anglican church is growing faster than ever, planting four churches and counting in the last five years. the rest


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