Two days ago I wrote that the results of legal battles over church property for Anglicans breaking away from the Episcopal Church was mixed. As of today, it’s, well, less mixed. The Virginia Supreme court ruled against the breakaway Anglicans today, and their property will remain with the diocese. From the Washington Post:
On Thursday, the Supreme Court affirmed that the property was rightly given to the mainline denomination but said some of the nearly $3 million in church coffers belongs to the Falls Church Anglican congregation.
It was not immediately clear whether there would be an appeal by either side. If there is not, this would end a property dispute that drew global attention starting in 2006 when more than a dozen Virginia congregations voted to leave the Episcopal Church but keep the church properties, arguing that the denomination had “left” by becoming more liberal on homosexuality, the role of women and how God views non-Christians.
The rector of The Falls Church Anglican sent a message to his congregation:
We have received word from the Virginia Supreme Court that it has ruled in our appeal. The Court’s decision reverses the trial court’s ruling as to a part of our church’s funds, and sends the case back to the trial court for further proceedings regarding that point. But the Court has affirmed the trial court’s decision as to our church’s real property and much of the personal property, meaning that our lands, building, and much of our money have not been returned to us. …
Please join me in praising and thanking God for his faithfulness to us despite this result. Although this is not the outcome we had hoped for, our faith and our future do not depend on court decisions. The Lord works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), and we had purposed to praise Him regardless of the outcome. It is difficult to face the prospect of losing things that are precious to us, but ultimately we do not place our hope in land, buildings, or money.
To clarify the money issue, the EDV had laid claim to donations made to the breakaway churches after they had separated.
The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia released a statement:
“We are grateful that the Supreme Court of Virginia has once again affirmed the right of Episcopalians to worship in their spiritual home at The Falls Church Episcopal,” said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia. “This decision ensures that Episcopalians will have a home for years to come in Falls Church, and frees all of us, on both sides of this issue, to preach the Gospel and teach the faith unencumbered by this dispute.”
The court also held that the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church have a trust interest in the property, in addition to the contractual and proprietary interests already found by the lower court. This provides greater certainty regarding church property ownership.
I’ve embedded the ruling below. The wording is a bit bunched, so you can read the whole thing as a PDF here.