US Supreme Court Denies Breakaway Church Appeal in Property Case Against Episcopal Denomination

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  • Church
    (Photo: Matt Rhodes/The Falls Church Episcopal)
    The historic sanctuary of The Falls Church. A continuing congregation of The Episcopal Church worships on Easter Sunday, 2012.
  • Anglican
    (Photo: Briar Creek Photography/Georgi Barker)
    The Anglican congregation of The Falls Church worships for the last time at the Falls Church property in Virginia on May 13, 2012.
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By Michael Gryboski, Christian Post Reporter
March 11, 2014|2:56 pm

A Virginia congregation that left the Episcopal Church over theological differences has been denied an appeal before the United States Supreme Court regarding a property dispute with its former diocese.

After some delay, the highest Court in the land made their decision Monday to not hear the Falls Church Anglican's case over the historic church property they once oversaw.

In an email sent out to parishioners, Falls Church leadership acknowledged that the "long legal process" the congregation has been in with the Episcopal Church "has come to its end."

"We have pursued this legal process out of the conviction that it is one of the ministries that God has entrusted to our church and out of our desire to be faithful to God's calling to see it through to the end," reads the letter, posted on their website. "Although we hoped and prayed for a different outcome, we know that God is good, loving, and faithful."

The letter was signed by Falls Church Anglican Rector John Yates, Senior Warden Whit Jordan, and Junior Warden Kristen Short.

"We will keep praying for the many churches and dioceses that remain embroiled in lawsuits over their property with the Episcopal Church or other denominations," continued the letter. "We will re-double our efforts to pray and pursue a new church home, trusting that God's good plans for us are exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think. May God be glorified in all these efforts."

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The Falls Church Anglican was one of eleven congregations in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to vote to leave the Episcopal Church in response to the increasingly liberal theological direction of the denomination.

Of particular note was the 2003 ordination of the Reverend Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop in the United States.

These votes by the various Va. Episcopal congregations occurred between 2006 and 2007, with some church properties connected to these breakaways were originally established in the 18th century.

Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows initially ruled in favor of the departing churches in 2008, but his decision was overturned by the Virginia State Supreme Court.

In 2012, Bellows ruled against the departing congregations, including the Falls Church Anglican, in the property suit. From there, Falls Church went before the state supreme court, which ruled in favor of the Diocese of Virginia.

Last August, Falls Church Anglican appealed to the US Supreme Court, who denied their petition on Monday after delay in consideration for their case.

Those of the breakaway congregation who sought to remain with the Episcopal Church formed their own "continuing congregation" known as the Falls Church Episcopal.

Leadership for the Falls Church Episcopal hailed the decision by the Court to not hear the case, with the Rev. John Ohmer, rector of the congregation calling the news "uplifting."

"Although it breaks my heart to think of where all that money and energy could have gone, today's news is uplifting for our congregation," said Ohmer. "My hope and prayer is that all sides can now continue to grow their communities of worship, ministries and outreach in our church homes."

The Right Reverend Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of the Virginia Diocese, said in a statement that the Diocese was "most gratified by the Supreme Court's ruling."

"We look forward to the possibilities that the months ahead will bring, and continue to keep those affected by the litigation in our prayers," said Johnston.

 

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