Nine conservative Anglican churches that have been wrestling for three years with The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia over disputed church property has asked Virginia’s Supreme Court to reconsider a narrow, but critical portion of its ruling last month.
“Today we filed a motion asking the Virginia Supreme Court to rehear a portion of its June 10 ruling that addressed whether CANA and ADV are in fact branches that divided from The Episcopal Church and Diocese of Virginia,” announced Jim Oakes, chairman of the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV), which is affiliated with the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).
“We are not challenging the Court’s legal interpretation of the relevant statute,” Oakes added, “but we are pointing out that the Court overlooked critical evidence showing that, even under that interpretation, the congregations have satisfied the statute.”
Last month, the Virginia Supreme Court had overturned a lower court's ruling that favored the nine ADV congregations, which were sued by The Episcopal Church after they left the denomination.
The state high court had ruled that a Civil War-era statute, which grants property to departing congregations when there is division within the denomination, was incorrectly applied in the Anglican churches' dispute.
The matter, as a result, was remanded back to the lower court for further proceedings.
According to Oakes, however, CANA and ADV did come about as a direct result of the division within the church body.
Though ADV was not limited to churches that were affiliated with CANA and included congregations that had established a connection with the Church of Uganda, Oakes noted that ADV, in particular, “was established because of the desire of the orthodox Virginia churches to stick together.”
“It has become a diverse group of churches all working together for the Gospel,” he confessed.
Still, Oakes contended that CANA and ADV satisfy the “branch” requirements of the Virginia Division Statute.
“We recognize that motions to rehear a case are not automatically granted, but we feel we have a strong case and that based on key evidence that the Court overlooked,” he expressed in a statement.
Oakes concluded by saying the court case is ultimately “in the Lord’s hands and we will continue to welcome all who wish to worship with us regardless of the outcome.”
“We never sought these legal proceedings in the first place and look forward to the day when we can completely focus on our core mission of spreading the Good News of Christ,” he stated.
Comprised of 30 member congregations and six mission fellowships, ADV is an association of Anglican congregations in Virginia that are in full communion with constituent members of the Anglican Communion through its affiliation with CANA, a missionary branch of the Church of Nigeria and other Anglican Archbishops.
The Virginia parishes were among dozens of congregations throughout the country that left in the years following the 2003 consecration of The Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop.
The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – has filed dozens of lawsuits against parishes that have left and continue to occupy church properties. While the church body says its efforts are aimed at returning loyal Episcopalians to their church homes, conservatives have denounced the denomination for draining money and distracting the churches from their mission through litigious actions.
The Episcopal Church consists of 111 geographical dioceses with over 7,000 congregations and over two million members.