(Photo: Briar Creek Photography/Georgi Barker)
A departing Anglican congregation held its final services at a Virginia church property that they lost to The Episcopal Church in a years-long court battle.
The Falls Church Anglican, a congregation that broke away from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia years ago over the increasingly liberal theology of the denomination, held two services on Sunday, leaving the property to a much smaller Episcopal congregation.
Jeff Walton, member of the Institute on Religion & Democracy and an attendee of the two services, told The Christian Post that the Anglican congregation's services were "forward-looking" in their focus.
"There was a celebratory mood to the services, as the large congregation seemed to have moved past any disappointment about the ruling," said Walton. "The message was that God was sending the church out from the building in order to do new things, and that complete trust was being placed in Him."
In 2006 and 2007, 11 Virginia congregations voted overwhelmingly to leave The Episcopal Church due to its increasingly liberal theological views, especially regarding homosexuality. In response, the Diocese of Virginia took the 11 congregations to court over the church properties. Four congregations were removed from the suit either because of technicalities or through out-of-court settlements with the diocese.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows initially ruled in favor of the seven departing congregations in 2008. However, the Virginia State Supreme Court overturned Bellows' decision and returned the case back to Fairfax County. In January, Bellows ruled in favor of the diocese against the conservative breakaways.
Throughout the legal situation, people connected to the two Falls Church congregations noted civility toward each another. For example, on Easter Sunday both congregations held worship at the facilities on the property of The Falls Church. This sentiment of cooperation was echoed in the Anglican service.
"The service included prayers for the Episcopal congregation that assumes occupancy of the property on Tuesday," said Walton. "The Anglicans prayed that the Episcopal congregation would be blessed and that the Gospel would continue to be preached at the site."
The Rev. Rick Wright of The Falls Church Anglican told The Christian Post that unlike Easter the Episcopal congregation "worshipped at Falls Church Presbyterian Church yesterday."
"Any of their members who wished to attend our worship services were free to do so as they have been for the past five years, but they did not have an official service on this property as we offered to them on Easter Sunday," said Wright.
The Anglican congregation's exodus from the historic Virginia church property comes as a pair of departing Anglican parishes in California lost a legal suit over their property.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Kim Dunning ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles against St. David's Anglican Church of North Hollywood and All Saints Anglican Church of Long Beach.
According to Wright, while for the time the Anglican congregation will not be worshipping at The Falls Church they have filed "a writ of appeal with the Virginia Supreme Court."
The Falls Church Anglican will use two facilities, a chapel at Columbia Baptist Church and the auditorium of the nearby private Catholic high school Bishop O'Connell, for worship.
The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia did not return a request for comment by press time.