A Fairfax County judge ruled in favor of a breakaway Anglican parish on Tuesday, giving conservative Anglicans another win in a long and bitter property battle with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.
Circuit Judge Randy Bellows ruled that a $1.2 million parcel of property does indeed belong to Truro Church in Fairfax, Va., one of the 11 churches sued by The Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia over the control of property.
The land was originally bought by Christ the Redeemer, a church plant of Truro Church, but was given to Truro after the conservative congregations voted to leave The Episcopal Church in 2006, citing the national church's departure from Christian orthodoxy and traditional Anglicanism.
Bellows ruled that the land, sought by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, was properly deeded to Truro Church trustees.
"We are pleased with today’s ruling, which found that the intent of Christ the Redeemer Church, a former mission of Truro, was to give its property, a parcel of vacant land, to Truro Church. This ruling confirms that Truro Church owns the land, and that it is to be considered under the Virginia Division Statute, which our congregations have successfully invoked in our defense,” said Jim Oakes, vice chairman of the Anglican District of Virginia, a network of conservative churches. Truro and Christ the Redeemer are members of ADV.
Tuesday's ruling adds to the consistent wins the breakaway churches have received since lawsuits were filed in 2007 over the ownership of millions of dollars of property. In April, Bellows issued a ruling that acknowledged a division within The Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Virginia and the global Anglican Communion and that the breakaway congregations in Virginia could thus pursue their case under the state's "division statute," which grants property to departing congregations when there is division within the denomination.
"The only way in which this Court could find a 'division' not to exist among the pertinent entities in this case is to define the term so narrowly and restrictively as to effectively define the term out of existence," Bellows had written in his summary, citing hundreds of churches across the country that are involved in disputes within The Episcopal Church.
Dozens of congregations, and now several entire dioceses, are voting to sever ties with The Episcopal Church – the U.S. arm of Anglicanism – and place themselves under the oversight of more conservative branches overseas. The Episcopal Church widened rifts in 2003 when it consecrated its first openly gay bishop.
Earlier this month, the Diocese of Pittsburgh became the second diocese to approve secession from the national church and realignment with the more conservative Anglican Province of the Southern Cone in South America.
The Diocese of San Joaquin, based in Fresno, Calif., was the first to leave the national church in 2006. Next month, two other dioceses are set to vote on leaving.
Meanwhile, trial in the Fairfax County Circuit Court continues this month with hearings on other disputed parcels of property.