WASHINGTON, D.C.: Virginia churches plan diocese exit
By Julia Duin
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
June 29, 2006
Two of Northern Virginia's largest and most historic Episcopal churches -- Truro and the Falls Church -- informed Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee yesterday that they plan to leave the diocese and that as many as two dozen other parishes may follow suit.
And the Rev. Martyn Minns, rector of Truro Church, was elected a bishop yesterday by the Anglican province of Nigeria with the mandate to oversee a cluster of U.S. parishes that minister to expatriate Nigerians.
Mr. Minns was driving north on Interstate 95 from Richmond when he got the news on his cell phone from Anglican Archbishop Peter J. Akinola. The archbishop then put him on a speaker phone to address a gathering of Anglicans in Abuja, the country's capital.
"I said I was honored by their willingness to place their trust in me," said Mr. Minns, 63, who earlier this year had announced plans to retire.
Instead he will oversee the Convocation for Anglicans in North America, which includes more than 20 Anglican churches that cater to Nigerian immigrants in the U.S. but could be enlarged to include Episcopal congregations fleeing the 2.2-million-member denomination.
"We have deliberately held back from this action," Archbishop Akinola said in a statement, in the hope that the Episcopal Church would turn back from its 2003 consecration of Canon V. Gene Robinson as the world's first openly homosexual bishop. But the actions of last week's Episcopal General Convention "make it clear that far from turning back, they are even more committed to pursuing their unbiblical revisionist agenda."
Diocese of Virginia officials were surprised by the news. "The fact of Martyn's election raises a host of issues that will be addressed in due course," spokesman Patrick Getlein said.
Truro and the Falls Church have a combined $27 million in assets. Situated on some of Northern Virginia's most valuable real estate, both churches are having 40-day "discernment" periods of prayer, fasting and debate, starting in September and ending just before Thanksgiving, before announcing a final decision.
Officially, the 40-day period has "no predetermined outcome," said the Rev. John W. Yates, rector of the Falls Church, but it's clear that "the growing crisis and dysfunction in the Episcopal Church" is pushing the orthodox toward the exit doors.
"It's certainly a step no church -- especially one with a history we've had -- takes without the greatest humility," he said in an interview at the parish where George Washington once worshipped. "But so many Episcopalians in the pews are so irate over what's happened, and it's harder and harder to call on people to wait."
The Falls Church and Truro Church presented their plan in Fairfax on Saturday to a meeting of officials representing 20 to 30 Episcopal churches around Virginia. Thirteen to 14 churches already have agreed to have their own 40-day period, he said.
Rectors of two other large Northern Virginia parishes also told The Washington Times yesterday, on condition of anonymity, that they, too, may be leaving.
One is involved in secret negotiations with the diocese over property issues; another says his vestry, or governing board, approved the 40-day idea Tuesday night, but his parish needs to vote on it Sunday.
Before he received the phone call from Nigeria, Mr. Minns met Bishop Lee early yesterday to inform him of the 40-day plan.
"He's still saddened by the whole development," Mr. Minns said. "But he understood what we're doing."
In two previous interviews with The Times, Bishop Lee has said he will sue any church that tries to leave the 90,000-member diocese, the country's largest. However, two mission congregations who left the diocese several months ago have not landed in court.
Episcopal canon law mandates that departing churches turn over all their assets to the diocese, and Mr. Yates is part of a six-person team of negotiators trying to figure out how conservatives can depart without bankrupting themselves or the diocese through lawsuits.
"We've been trying to find a way through this crisis peacefully and keep our property," he said.
Although the negotiators -- who include three conservatives and three church liberals -- have come to trust each other, "it's been acknowledged that just as two churches have left the diocese, others may also leave."
Although the General Convention last week agreed on an indefinite moratorium on homosexual prelates, the Episcopal Diocese of Newark announced yesterday a homosexual man -- Canon Michael Barlowe, the development officer for the Diocese of California -- as being among the four candidates for its Sept. 23 election for a new bishop.
Also yesterday, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh standing committee voted to join the Diocese of Fort Worth in rejecting the leadership of Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori.
They will ask Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams to provide them with a more conservative leader to oversee a new province that will be separate from the Episcopal Church.
VIRGINIA BISHOP RESPONDS TO WASHINGTON TIMES STORY
In a story in today's Washington Times newspaper (June 29, 2006), reporting on the election by the Nigerian Episcopal Synod of the Rev. Canon Martyn Minns as a bishop of the Church of Nigeria, it is asserted that Truro Church, Fairfax and The Falls Church, Falls Church have informed me that they plan to leave the Diocese. I have had no such conversation with either church.
In fact, I received a call today from the Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, to apologize for the assertion in the story and to assure me that there is no such plan on the part of The Falls Church. I also received today an e-mail from the Rev. Martyn Minns assuring me that no such decision had been made at Truro.
The election of the Rev. Martyn Minns as a Bishop of the Church of Nigeria with oversight of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America is an affront to the traditional, orthodox understanding of Anglican Provincial Autonomy.
Archbishop Akinola acknowledges as much in his letter to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. How that situation resolves itself remains to be seen.
However, the request by Archbishop Akinola that Martyn be allowed to continue as rector of an Episcopal congregation while also serving as a Nigerian Bishop seems to me, at this point, to be impossible. I raised this issue with Martyn when he and I spoke yesterday.
While these and other developments around the Church are troubling, it is clear to me that the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia is focused on the mission and ministry of proclaiming the Gospel message of love and hope to a world desperate for that message. I ask your prayers for our common life as a Church, especially as we endeavor to live into Christ's charge to be the hands of reconciliation in the world today.
Peter James Lee
Bishop of Virginia
A Note From Truro Church
June 30, 2006
As the saying goes, don't believe everything you read. Thursday's headline in the Washington Times was terribly wrong-I literally groaned when I saw their headline this morning. I guess the true facts were not exciting enough for their headlines. The Truro congregation has not gone through its discernment process and so no decision has been made about our future plans. We are struggling to find a way to remain faithful Anglicans during these turbulent times in the Episcopal Church.
Our vestry has endorsed the idea to lead our parish through a discernment process for Truro's future. The vestry has appointed a committee to develop the plans for this discernment process, and as these plans are finalized later this summer they will be shared with the parish family immediately.
On a separate topic: What does my appointment as missionary bishop for CANA mean for Truro? It most certainly does NOT mean that Truro will be left without a rector. I'm not going anywhere. When I announced my plans for my future retirement last year, I was committed to a smooth transition without any large gap or interim period. Even with this unexpected development, I am still fully committed to a smooth transition. I plan to continue as your rector until the rector search committee completes its job and a new rector has been selected.
I look forward to seeing you in worship this weekend and at one of our previously scheduled parish meetings on Sunday: Rector's Forum (9:30 a.m. in the Chapel) or the Parish Meeting (12:00 noon in the Main Sanctuary).
your brother in Christ,
On the Mainline
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