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VIRGINIA: Departure Bittersweet for Member of The Falls Church Anglican

VIRGINIA: Departure Bittersweet for Member of The Falls Church Anglican
Bill Deiss and one of his sons both married inside the church and now the Anglican parishioners must be out of the church by May 15

By Andre L. Taylor
May 13, 2012

The departure of the Anglican congregation by close of business May 15 from The Falls Church leaves Bill Deiss with mixed feelings.

In 1985 Deiss, parish administrator for the last 16 years, wed his second wife in the church. His son also married there. He watched the baptism of his grandchildren inside the church.

Now the Anglican congregation has been asked to leave the premises.

"It was always a possibility but we didn't think it would actually happen," Deiss said Friday. "It's sad but exciting as well."

The Anglican congregation of more than 4,000 worshipers will hold their last service at The Falls Church on Mother's Day at 11 a.m.

Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows told The Falls Church and six other congregations in the Northern Virginia area in December to give their church property to the diocese they divorced years ago. The 113-page ruling came after almost five years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in congregation-donated defense funds.

The Episcopalian congregation at the church will continue worshiping at the historic location. The Falls Church has been around for almost 300 years.

The squeaking wheels of handcarts and the thump of cardboard boxes broke the silence throughout the halls of The Falls Church Friday as church members continued moving out. An office building across the street from the main sanctuary is where the church will store some of its office supplies and equipment. As for services, Deiss said area schools and churches have opened their doors to Anglican parishioners from The Falls Church.

Bishop O'Connell High School, Kenmore Middle School, Columbia and Cherrydale (Arlington) Baptist churches have all opened their doors to the congregation, Deiss said.

"If it wasn't OK with God, he'd let us stay," said Deiss who has been a member of the church since 1984.

In a written statement, The Rev. Dr. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church Anglican, said the parishioners have established independent "daughter" churches in Alexandria, Arlington, Vienna and hope to plant a seventh daughter church this year in Washington, D.C.

"While we are saddened by leaving this Christ-centered place of worship, we rejoice at the outpouring of encouragement and offers of assistance, including furnishings and building space from Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics and other friends," Yates said in the statement. "Through these many blessings, we are equipped with the knowledge that God has great plans in store for our congregation. Ultimately, our passion for spreading the Gospel and reaching the lost will not wane."

According to the statement, between 2005 and 2007, The Falls Church Anglican and 14 sister Virginia congregations voted by overwhelming majorities to separate from the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The move was taken because the congregations determined that The Episcopal Church had drifted so far from orthodox Christianity that they could not in good conscience remain under its spiritual authority.

"For several years we have been experiencing the power of healing prayer in our own congregation and recently began a partnership to extend that ministry in the Baileys Crossroads area, with Columbia Baptist Church and St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church," Junior Warden Carol Jackson said in a statement. "Together, we minister to the poor and the immigrants among us in the Culmore Clinic. People from all walks of life, all faiths, and all economic situations, now have a safe place to ask for and receive prayer and excellent medical treatment."

Even though the Anglican congregation has been forced out of The Falls Church by the courts, Deiss said the sanctuary would always hold special memories for him and his family. He said he looks forward to continuing the work of the parish wherever that may be but knows he will be back to the grounds someday.

"We have a memorial garden here and I'll probably be buried here or have my ashes put in the ground here," he said.

FOOTNOTE: The Diocese of Virginia named The Rev. Cathy Tibbetts as the Interim Priest-in-Charge of the rump Falls Church (Episcopal)parish.

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