Anglican Congregation Seeks Rehearing After Losing Property Suit to Episcopal Church

An Anglican congregation in Virginia that recently lost a property suit against The Episcopal Church is asking for a rehearing before the state Supreme Court.

George Ward, senior warden of the vestry of The Falls Church Anglican, told The Christian Post that the congregation will submit a petition that may be heard by the Court.

"Our attorneys looked carefully at the opinion and they briefed our vestry on it, and the attorneys highlighted for us that the opinion is based at least in part on arguments that really had not been raised in the seven years of litigation," said Ward. "Since they had not been raised, we have not been able to either brief them or argue them before the Court. And so, by putting in a petition for a rehearing, that would enable us to argue those issues."

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Last month, after years of legal actions surrounding its historic property, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia against the departing congregation of The Falls Church Anglican. The Court's decision stated that while the church property belongs to The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia, ownership of the funds tied to the property still remained to be decided.

The Falls Church was one of eleven congregations in the Commonwealth that voted to leave The Episcopal Church over its growing acceptance of homosexuality and overall liberal theology.

Jeff Walton, Anglican program director at the Institute on Religion & Democracy, told The Christian Post that of the departing Virginia congregations The Falls Church Anglican "is the sole parish still in court with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia."

"All of the other departing parishes have entered into settlement agreements, usually involving a financial payment to the diocese," said Walton. "In some cases, such as with Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax, the congregations have a rental agreement with the diocese and continue to worship in their buildings. In others, such as Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, the congregations have moved to other sites and the original properties have been put up for sale."

The property that dates back to the 18th century is currently in the possession of the "continuing congregation" known as The Falls Church Episcopal.

Reverend John Ohmer of Falls Church Episcopal told CP that since the Anglican congregation was removed, his congregation has been at the property since last May.

"The 'continuing Episcopalians' of The Falls Church had only 29 their very first Sunday after the vast majority of worshippers voted to leave the Episcopal Church in late 2006," said Ohmer in an interview that came before The Falls Church Anglican had made its decision. "That group of 29 grew to an average of 80 on Sundays during the six years they were worshipping as guests at The Falls Church Presbyterian Church; now, this first fall back in the Historic Church and Main Sanctuary, we are averaging just over 200 per Sunday."

Ohmer said that Falls Church Episcopal is trying its "hardest to focus 100% of our energies and resources on our mission and ministries" and therefore does not have an opinion on the "possible continuing legal moves" of Falls Church Anglican.

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