Virginia Diocese Calls Off Pledge with Breakaway Anglicans

Leaders of Anglican breakaway churches expressed profound disappointment when the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia announced Tuesday that it would not renew an agreement to avoid litigation over property.

Nine congregations in Virginia that voted last month to split from the Episcopal Church had agreed to a 30-day standstill period with the diocese in an attempt to reach amicable property settlements. The agreement, which expires next Wednesday, was set to automatically renew for another 30 days unless one party opted not to renew.

The diocese, however, thinks that "there isn't an interest from the other side on working on a compromise or amicable agreement," spokesman Patrick Getlein told The Washington Post.

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Bishop Peter James Lee of the Diocese of Virginia will meet with the Standing Committee and the Executive Board after the agreement expires to settle the property dispute.

The diocese probably "will move to retain property at all the separated churches" while still considering each church's situation case by case, said Getlein, according to the Post.

"We are greatly saddened by this regrettable decision by the Diocese," said the Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, one of the largest churches that left the diocese. "We urge 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."

The Virginia congregations had overwhelmingly voted to leave the national body, which was experiencing widening rifts since the consecration of an openly gay bishop in 2003. They decided to place themselves under the leadership of Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria.

Leaders of the Falls Church, another large church that voted to leave, recently clarified their reasons for severing ties with the Episcopal Church.

"The core issue is theological: the intellectual integrity of faith in the modern world. It is thus a matter of faithfulness to the lordship of Jesus, whom we worship and follow. The American Episcopal Church no longer believes the historic, Orthodox Christian faith common to all believers," Yates and Os Guinness, a parishioner of the church, said on The Washington Post.

Tensions mounted since the breakaway when some leaders decreed that people who voted against the split could not hold services and meetings in the church, according to the Post.

"Each church welcomes anyone who wants to worship as individuals but not as an Episcopal Church group," said Pierobon. "These are Anglican churches now."

One of the churches enforcing the decree was St. Stephen's Church in Heathsville. Congregants who voted against the majority said they want to continue to operate as an Episcopal Church and are confident of property ownership, arguing that it is only held in trust for the denomination. In the meantime, the Post reported that the congregants have been holding worship services at a nearby church.

In a meeting on Monday, the Episcopal Church indicated that it intends to intervene in the Virginia matters, according to Pierobon.

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