Va. Anglican Leaders Say It's Not Too Late to Negotiate

Leaders of breakaway Anglican churches in Virginia urged the Episcopal Diocese and its bishop to cease his divisive language and still try to sit down and negotiate over church property ownership.

"It is still not too late for Bishop Lee and the leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to stand down from making any more threats against faithful Christians who followed the Diocese of Virginia's protocol for departing congregations, and instead to return to the negotiating table," said Tom Wilson, senior Warden of The Falls Church and Chairman of the Anglican District, in a statement.

The Anglican District of Virginia is a growing association of Anglican Churches in Virginia, currently consisting of 16 worshipping congregations, separate from the Episcopal Church.

Wilson's statement today comes in response to Virginia Bishop Peter Lee's announcement on Thursday when he told his diocese that they would seek the return of the churches currently occupied by "dissidents."

According to Jim Oakes, senior warden of Truro Church, one of the largest churches that left the Episcopal Church in December, the Truro vestry had met last week at the request of the Diocese to appoint its representatives to negotiate with the Diocese.

Negotiations and efforts toward an amicable agreement, however, came to a halt last week when the Diocese decided not to renew a standstill agreement that would avoid litigation over property.

The Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, the second megachurch that voted out of the diocese, was saddened by the decision and urged the Diocese and the Episcopal Church to "return, with all the Christian charity each of us can muster, to the important work of reaching amicable settlements."

Negotiations, however, seemed they would become cumbersome, said Lee.

The Diocese thus took action to "preserve the sacred mission" entrusted to them for the future of the Church, and also to help remaining congregants, who voted against the split, to continue as the Episcopal Church.

"At the heart of our faith, is the reliability of the promises of God to God’s people," said Lee in a letter to his diocese on Thursday. "Nowhere is that reliability more clearly affirmed than in the promises of God that his exiled people will be returned to Jerusalem, to their spiritual home."

While Lee said he tried to avoid going to court, he said he is no longer "convinced that such an outcome is possible." He also believes going to court at this time is not "dishonorable."

"Rather, I believe as does the leadership of our Diocese and of our Church, that the actions taken to secure our property are consistent with our mission and with our fiduciary and moral obligations to the Church of our ancestors, to the church we serve today, and to the church of those who will follow us," Lee added.

Oakes and other Anglican District leaders believe "there is still time."