Falls Church, by the numbers

The years-long property battle between Virginia’s Episcopal Diocese and congregations that departed from it looks to be about settled. As anyone who has been following can attest, the Episcopal Church and the congregations that have departed from it have been engaged in some epic legal battles. I wrote about one angle in this fight a few months ago for the Wall Street Journal Houses of Worship column. That piece began:

When the Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, N.Y., left the Episcopal Church over disagreements about what the Bible says about sexuality, the congregation offered to pay for the building in which it worshiped. In return the Episcopal Church sued to seize the building, then sold it for a fraction of the price to someone who turned it into a mosque.

While I was researching that piece, which was about how some congregations that are permitted to buy their buildings (even if they already payed for them once already) must promise to disaffiliate from the Anglican Church, I heard other stories about what happens to the buildings that are taken by the Episcopal Church and its dioceses, always in the name of the Episcopal members in the area. Many are sold or shuttered, unable to keep up with basic maintenance expenses. One was leased to a dog kennel, I was told. Keep that in mind.

The Washington Post reported on the local version of this legal battle. Here in Northern Virginia, some of the congregations had been around since before the Episcopal Church even existed. They thought they might have a better claim to the property than some of the hundreds of other congregations in the country that divided or left the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church has spent upwards of $22 million in these legal battles in recent years and this Virginia fight was also expensive. But the Episcopal Church prevailed and gets to keep the properties of local congregations that are now affiliated with mainstream Anglican churches in Africa.

The story is headlined “After prolonged legal battle, Virginia Episcopalians prepare to reclaim property.” Here’s how it begins:

For the past five years, the remaining members of several Episcopal congregations in Northern Virginia have been worshiping in borrowed basements and empty houses while praying to return to the prominent sanctuaries where they married, baptized their children and buried their parents.

Now, after a prolonged and bitter legal battle with former members who broke away and took with them more than $40 million worth of church property, the Episcopal Church and the members who stayed with the denomination are on the verge of taking back their buildings, which include some the faith’s largest, most prominent churches in the region.

The story is very well written and covers the basics of where things are in the legal dispute. Attorneys explain that everyone is operating under the assumption that the congregations need to be prepared to move. We learn a lot about the winning side — the Falls Church Episcopal folks are planning Easter services and St. Stephen’s Episcopal members are planning the prayers they’ll say as they march to reclaim their building. The bishop in the area says this is one of the most defining moments in the diocese’s 400-year-history. We get a summary of the nature of the dispute and where the departing Episcopalians went, albeit a summary laser-focused on homosexuality as opposed to larger disagreements on Scripture. The legal dispute is summarized with an economy of words (much more challenging than it looks, I assure you!). And we learn that the breakaway folks are now having to account for prayer books, robes, artwork in preparation for leaving their “sprawling complexes” and figuring out what to do with the schools the congregations run.

And while we learn that “the vast majority” went with the departing congregations, I’m kind of surprised how little of that comes through in the story. Take this snippet, for instance:

As the thousands of conservative members prepare to vacate churches where they also have strong ties, members said their relocation plan is taken from a Bible verse that commands: “Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Carol Jackson, a lay leader at the Falls Church congregation aligned with the Church of Nigeria, said she and her fellow members are trying to view the court loss through a divine lens.

“We’re all here because God wants us to be. In a secular world those aren’t very wise words, but that’s what we think is true,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Episcopal members who had left their old pews after the votes are eagerly anticipating their return to houses of worship that hold special meaning.

“All three of my children were baptized there,” said Deborah Miller, a 59-year-old nurse who joined the original Falls Church congregation in 1982 and stayed with the Episcopal group. “I buried my dad there. We’ve been to funerals of dear friends there. I have shed so many tears in that building, for joy and for sorrow. It’s within the fabric of who we are. It’s a holy place.”

Great quotes and a very nice job of talking to people about the moves they’re about to face.

But let’s just look at the numbers here. The Episcopal Church reports “Average Sunday Attendance” as a key figure for congregational health. The departing congregation, that has inhabited the large Falls Church complex, reports a church membership of just over 2,000 and probably features an average Sunday attendance of at least that figure. The congregation that will be moving back into Falls Church reports — after 61 transfers from other Episcopal congregations in the last three years — a membership of 178 with an average Sunday attendance of 74.

No way around it. That’s an attendance of less than 4 percent what the Anglican congregation sees.

Or look at the budgets of the respective congregations. The Falls Church Anglicans reported disbursements of about $6.1 million in 2009. Of that total, just under $800,000 (or 13%) was for building and maintenance alone. Another 13 percent was for general administrative costs, including fixed costs for utilities and salaries for staff and clergy. If you look at page 26 of the Falls Church Episcopal congregation’s report, total income was just $233,641. That’s less than 4 percent of the Anglican congregation’s disbursements. So to just pay for the physical plant they will be taking back over, they’ll have to triple their income. And that’s before they even begin to pay for clergy or other staff. And that doesn’t leave any money for the many activities that are currently being run out of the Falls Church plant.

So here are some journalistic questions. What’s the plan here? Are they really going to be able to keep the physical plant running? Is the Diocese going to help them out? How much? Are other congregations going to sponsor them?

And what is going to happen with the schools? The Falls Church Day School is run by the Anglican vestry and I’m assuming it can’t be run if separated from its parent congregation. But am I right? What’s the plan? Does the diocese have a plan to allow the day schools to keep operating in their current location or what? Are the children going to be kicked out mid-school year? And where will they go? Will the Anglicans be able to keep schools going as they scramble to worship in school gymnasiums?

And another thing I wonder is about another one of the “losing” congregations, Truro. It’s a sister congregation to the Falls Church and has a significant physical plant with a large “average Sunday attendance” to support it. When it left the Episcopal Church, I believe the entire congregation left. There is no Episcopal congregation with a competing claim. What will happen to that building? What is the diocese’s plan there? I don’t even think that’s the only one of the “losing” congregations without a competing claim. I believe that is also the situation for Church of the Apostles in Fairfax. So what happens to that building?

If this story were more about the theological battles in play, these questions might be less important. But the whole point of the story is that the remnant congregations with few members are about to take over these huge physical plants that currently serve large congregations and flourishing social ministries. Now, maybe I should just be patient and wait for the follow-up. Maybe this is just the first in a series of stories about what’s going to happen. But is Falls Church Episcopal about to be sold to the highest non-Anglican bidder? Will the diocese be in a position to subsidize it heavily?

I’m sure the Diocese thought about these questions when it waged its huge legal battle, but what are the answers? Did journalists ask these questions?

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  • William

    This isn’t really very clear, and the fatal flaw comes right at the beginning. From the Wall Street Journal piece initially quoted:

    In return the Episcopal Church sued to seize the building, then sold it for a fraction of the price to someone who turned it into a mosque.

    Sounds dreadful, unless you know that Episcopal Church property is held by the congregation in trust for the Episcopal Church. So, they didn’t sue to sieze the building. They sued to retain it. Not relly sure why this ghost is present unless it is to make the larger church look like the bad guy.

    Also, Episcopalians who choose to disaffiliate are no longer Episcopalians by definition. They are usually called “breakaway congregations”, or Anglicans if that’s what they want, a distinction lost in this post. Likewise, I’m not sure if it’s really a numbers game when questions of doctrine and scriptural interpretation are involved, and I’m wondering why no one bothered to ask any of the Episcopalians who stayed why it was important enough to let their brethren go their own way.

    But not before counting the silverware.

  • Robert

    You are correct. Property is “held in trust” … B U T … that has only been since the Dennis Canon was passed in 1979. Up to that point congregations owned their own property. And all of these congregations precede the Dennis Canon by hundreds of years … they precede the establishment of the PECUSA and the PECUSA diocese in which they were resident, for that matter, very much like Christ Church, Savannah, GA. This legal decision is a travesty of justice.

  • William Sulik

    Thank you, Mollie, for your analysis. I was pretty disappointed in the WaPo story when I read it on Sunday. I’m a member of Truro church and you are right – there is no rump congregation waiting to take over there. My thought on reading the story was that it seemed this was pretty well manipulated by Jim Naughton, the former Washington Post reporter and now director of communications of the Episcopal Diocese of DC. It helps to have well place friends.

    If I had talked to the reporter from the WaPo, I would have told her about my 15-year old daughter who cried for hours on the night (my birthday, by the way) we learned of the loss of our church building. You see, when she was 4 year old, she lost her grandmother to cancer. Her grandmother loved music and especially loved bells. At the time of her passing, Truro Church started a bell choir and we made a small donation to help purchase the bells. For my daughter, over the past decade, ringing the bells has been a point of contact with her grandmother as we believe her grandmother can hear the music in heaven. We never intended these bells to be transferred to another church, nor given to the Diocese of Virginia, nor sold on ebay.

    There are hundreds, if not thousands of similar stories which could be told, not just for the Sunday worship congregation but the many ministries impacted. As you indicated, what will happen to the children – this is a huge story – is the DioVa going to toss the kids and their teachers out on the streets? What will happen to the homeless congregation, Love the World fellowship? What will happen to the international students? Etc. And this is just one of the many congregations.

    All-in-all, it proved to be a very shallow story.

  • Martha

    Sure, William, but from the outside it looks odd to see how they’re holding property in trust for the next generation of Episcopalians when, once they get that property, they then sell it.

    As regards Falls Church, it seems like too historic a building to get rid of it, so I don’t imagine they would sell it on, Mollie. Just from reading other reports of lawsuits, I wonder if there is an endowment with the building – because The Episcopal Church is suing for the endowment in one of the cases (will have to trawl through a few Episcopalian/Anglican sites to get the exact details of that one) and that’s what is keeping the buildings going for the moment – the money in trust from past donations and benefactions.

    Also, I presume The Episcopal Church is anticipating growing the ‘real’ Episcopalian congregation once it gets back into the Falls Church. How that will work out, I have no idea.

  • Mark Baddeley

    I’m sure the Diocese thought about these questions when it waged its huge legal battle, but what are the answers? Did journalists ask these questions?

    I’m not sure the Dioceses always have asked those questions when they enter into the legal battle. Unless one suspects the bishops over speaking out of both sides of their mouth (which isn’t impossible) then they come across as confused – of thinking that wracking up a win in an expensive legal case will somehow bring many of those who left back to TEC, while at the same time indicating that they’re quite happy to sell the buildings on to cover their growing shortfall in maintaining the budgets of the Diocese and the national office (not so much the remaining parishes).

    And I’m not sure that journalists want to ask those questions. Asking those questions, and pressing for a clear and substantial answer shorn of doublespeak, will probably result in a report that doesn’t reflect well on TEC – that they’re claiming a building that could have been used for a Christian purpose when they can’t use it for that purpose. It reinforces a perception that, for all the more noble rhetoric they proclaim, churches are just about getting whatever money they can.

    Depending on how you see reports like this one, they’re either trying to make no-one look bad, just report the victory for TEC with a small nod to the human dimension on both sides, or they’re slightly positive in TEC’s favor. Asking the questions you raise would change the feel of the report a lot, I think.

  • Martha

    Okay, the court case in Georgia over Christ Church, Savannah (which seems to be between the Episcopal church congregation which have won the court case to move back into the church, and the departing Christ Church Savannah congregation) is about the $2 million dollar endowment fund and other property.

    Looks like a prolonged, nasty fight.

    And maybe this is a mischievous question, but if there can be three (at least?) separate Lutheran synods, various branches of Baptists, and a multitude of smaller denominations, why can’t there be another branch of the Anglican Communion in America, despite all that Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori said about not letting “no competing branch of the Anglican Communion impose on the mission strategy of the Episcopal Church”?

    After all, if particular ministers in Protestant denominations are quite happy to permit their churches to be used for the ordinations of Roman Catholic Women Priests, why should one particular denomination be able to claim the “brand name” of Anglicanism when other national churches of the Anglican Communion are just as Anglican as they are? I mean, suppose there was an American Episcopalian diocese in Europe – wouldn’t that be seen as infringing on the brand of, say, English Anglicanism?

    Oh, wait a minute – there is an American Episcopalian diocese in Europe! :-)

  • northcoast

    William, it comes down to the question of who can claim ownership of the property and then why an Episcopal diocese, which does not have a congregation remnant large enough to maintain the property, would not be willing to sell it at market value to the new Anglican congregation. What did you mean by, “why it was important enough to let their brethren go their own way.” What hold would the Episcopal congregation have on those who decide to leave? There is certainly no question in my mind why I left the Episcopal Church.

    Since I’m not a lawyer I’m on dangerous ground, but a contract normally involves some kind of exchange. As far as I know Episcopal congregations, including mine at the time, submitted to the Dennis Canon without complaint since they had no intention of ever leaving the denomination. It was years before I even know the Dennis canon existed, and I have no idea how it didn’t get more attention in 1979.

    Martha, I don’t think the Anglican Communion has favored having rival Anglican bodies sharing the same geography. (However the Archbishop of Canterbury has been more receptive than the Episcopal Presiding Bishop to the Anglican Church in North America.) I assume there are historical reasons why the English have not expanded the Anglican Church into Europe. There is an Episcopal diocese that serves Americans living in Europe.

  • Matt

    So a couple hundred Episcopalians have been separated from their old pews and the place where their family members were baptized and are buried. Now a couple thousand Anglicans are about to be put in the exact same situation. And WaPo gives several paragraphs to the former and doesn’t even mention the latter? That’s some pretty egregious bias there.

  • William

    To Martha at 4:

    Sure, William, but from the outside it looks odd to see how they’re holding property in trust for the next generation of Episcopalians when, once they get that property, they then sell it.

    You misunderstand. The congregation holds the property in trust for the Episcopal church, which owns it outright. No congregation? The Episcopal church may do as it pleases with the building and land. Why has no journalist, or even Mollie for that matter, sought to clarify this? And as to congregations predating the Dennis Canon, I’m not sure that they are exempt from said Canon. They did sign on to it, after all.

    Methinks that coverage of Catholic women “priests” seeking to officiate Mass on Roman Catholic Church property, with full consent of all in the parish, would meet with much, much different attention here. Especially if the Vatican shut them down. I don’t think that the tone of “they’re stealing our building” would prevail.

    Northcoast says

    What did you mean by, “why it was important enough to let their brethren go their own way.” What hold would the Episcopal congregation have on those who decide to leave? There is certainly no question in my mind why I left the Episcopal Church.

    Again, that’s not the issue nor the question. Where is the coverage in any of the linked stories of those who stayed and why? Moreover, where is the coverage of the decision making process that drew a firm line in the sand, regretfully telling those who felt uncomfortable with it to go if they must? I know where I can find it on the TEC’s website. But I wonder why it isn’t here. Hmm.

    Either a church authority is empowered to make decisions for itself and its members or it is not. Focusing on those who left after a decision that they found disagreeable, as well as their sense of entitlement to property belonging to the larger church is certainly a story.

    But only half of one.

  • William

    To Martha at 4:

    Sure, William, but from the outside it looks odd to see how they’re holding property in trust for the next generation of Episcopalians when, once they get that property, they then sell it.

    You misunderstand. The congregation holds the property in trust for the Episcopal church, which owns it outright. No congregation? The Episcopal church may do as it pleases with the building and land. Why has no journalist, or even Mollie for that matter, sought to clarify this? And as to congregations predating the Dennis Canon, I’m not sure that they are exempt from said Canon. They did sign on to it, after all.

    Methinks that coverage of Catholic women “priests” seeking to officiate Mass on Roman Catholic Church property, with full consent of all in the parish, would meet with much, much different attention here. Especially if the Vatican shut them down. I don’t think that the tone of “they’re stealing our building” would prevail.

    Northcoast says

    What did you mean by, “why it was important enough to let their brethren go their own way.” What hold would the Episcopal congregation have on those who decide to leave? There is certainly no question in my mind why I left the Episcopal Church.

    Again, that’s not the issue nor the question. Where is the coverage in any of the linked stories of those who stayed and why? Moreover, where is the coverage of the decision making process that drew a firm line in the sand, regretfully telling those who felt uncomfortable with it to go if they must? I know where I can find it on the TEC’s website. But I wonder why it isn’t here. Hmm.

    Either a church authority is empowered to make decisions for itself and its members or it is not. Focusing on those who left after a decision that they found disagreeable, as well as their sense of entitlement to property belonging to the larger church is certainly a story.

    But only half of one.

  • http://kingslynn.blogspot.com C. Wingate

    The other thread running through all this is that the presiding bishop has stated a policy of specifically refusing to sell to the departing congregations. In practice, it appears that she cannot enforce this, as some dioceses have gone ahead and cut deals anyway, or even (I believe) in some cases given the buildings away. But in many dioceses the policy has been followed through.

  • Mollie

    William,

    Actually, I agree with you. I’m much more biased toward a theological discussion and, for that matter, I think that it’s the strongest argument the Episcopal Church has in litigating these disputes. And I wish stories would discuss the theological nature of the debates between the departing and remaining groups. I find it fascinating, although I know it’s very complicated.

    All I’m saying is that if you’re NOT going to focus on that theological debate and instead look at the practical side, I’d like more of the practical discussion. I’m curious what’s going to happen (to each of the groups) and the buildings. I’m not second-guessing the reporter’s approach for this story — small groups prepare to reclaim property after legal victory — just wondering if the relevant questions were answered.

    And if I didn’t say it before, I’m sure this is just the first in a series of stories. Sometimes you just have to get the basic facts out before you can dig deeper. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a follow-up here.

  • Julia

    Either a church authority is empowered to make decisions for itself and its members or it is not. Focusing on those who left after a decision that they found disagreeable, as well as their sense of entitlement to property belonging to the larger church is certainly a story.

    Hmm It happened in England under Cromwell and Henry VIII and the breakways who became Anglicans still own that property.

    Of course, lots of it was given away or sold. How else would you have a place called Downtown Abbey, that isn’t an abbey?

  • Chip

    Mollie,

    Your links to the Fall Churches reports are backwards.

  • ccinnova

    But the whole point of the story is that the remnant congregations with few members are about to take over these huge physical plants that currently serve large congregations and flourishing social ministries. Now, maybe I should just be patient and wait for the follow-up. Maybe this is just the first in a series of stories about what’s going to happen. But is Falls Church Episcopal about to be sold to the highest non-Anglican bidder? Will the diocese be in a position to subsidize it heavily?

    In the case of Falls Church Episcopal, I expect the Diocese of Virginia will try to sell the rectory along with a former shopping center slated to be demolished for a since-scrapped expansion. How much will they get in this stagnant economy, and will the proceeds be used to benefit the Episcopal congregation or pay off legal fees?

    Other properties may be more problematic. Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, for example, is located next to a fuel tank farm with a history of environmental problems, thus depressing its value. Like Truro, there is no Episcopal congregation waiting to reclaim the property.

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Chip,

    Thanks. Someone alerted me to it earlier but I was on a train and couldn’t fix it. But it’s fixed now!

  • http://www.magdalenesegg.blogspot.com Rev. Michael Church

    Northcoast — They have “expanded.” There is also an Anglican (CofE) “Diocese in Europe.”

    Martha — just an aside, since you mention Lutherans, some of whom are going through conflicts which parallel those of the various Anglican groups. There are three larger Lutheran church bodies in the US, and many smaller ones. We are all united by a common confession of faith, although our interpretations of it vary widely. But of these church bodies, only one is associated with the Lutheran World Federation, the rough equivalent of the Anglican Communion — and as with the ACNA, there will probably be some internal arguments when and if the NALC seeks admission to the LWF.

  • Steven in Falls Church

    In the case of Falls Church Episcopal, I expect the Diocese of Virginia will try to sell the rectory along with a former shopping center slated to be demolished for a since-scrapped expansion. How much will they get in this stagnant economy, and will the proceeds be used to benefit the Episcopal congregation or pay off legal fees?

    Breaking off properties and selling them is a bit like eating your seed corn. The rectory may net up to a million in this market, which after deduction of fees and closing costs could pay for the maintenance costs of The Falls Church — for a year. But then what? And where will the new rector live? If the Diocese is serious about keeping the church going, it is going to have to do better than a recent seminary graduate content to live out of a cheap one-bedroom apartment, so they will probably have to keep the rectory. The adjacent shopping center and parking lot could probably be sold for a few million, although I think there is a mortgage note that would have to be paid off so who knows what the net result would be. And eventually that money will run out too. In the end, if you keep losing worshippers and can’t attract new ones, your church will die.

  • Martha

    “The congregation holds the property in trust for the Episcopal church, which owns it outright. No congregation? The Episcopal church may do as it pleases with the building and land.”

    Then may I suggest, William, that before going into court and arguing that you (as the representative of the national church) want to reclaim the property for the original congregation and their successors, you actually count the numbers and see if you’re going to have a viable congregation? Would it not be more honest to make the argument you make: this is our property, plain and simple, and we can do what we like with it?

    From the 2007 statement2007 by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori following property decisions in Virginia:

    “As a Church, we cannot abrogate our interest in such property, as it is a fiduciary and moral duty to preserve such property for generations to come and the ministries to be served both now and in the future.”

    From a 2011 newspaper story about the visit of Presiding Bishop to Pittsburgh:

    “”The buildings and the bank accounts are the legacy of generations before us. I don’t have the right to give those away for other purposes. My fiduciary responsibility, my moral responsibility, is to see that those gifts are used for the ministry to which God calls us in the Episcopal Church. I can’t give it away to the Methodists or the Orthodox Church or a Jewish synagogue,” she said.”

    So – how on earth does selling a church to a Muslim centre work out there? (Good luck to the Muslims, by the way; they’re perfectly entitled to buy a building to further their community needs, and if a former church is going cheap, why not purchase it?) The diocese of New York didn’t even have a rump congregation to put into Good Shepherd in Binghamton; they immediately padlocked the place and put it on the market.

    If they didn’t even have enough loyal or true or orthodox or real Episcopalians to use the church, how are they fulfilling the gifts of former generations? And how on earth are they going to stifle all competition from other Christian denominations, in America of all places, and considering that the largest single denominational group is the Roman Catholic, followed by the Southern Baptists, with the Episcopalians coming in around the same level of population as the Seventh-Day Adventists or Church of the Nazarene?

  • Laura

    Mollie, do you have statistics to support your assertion:
    the departing congregation, that has inhabited the large Falls Church complex, reports a church membership of just over 2,000 and probably features an average Sunday attendance of at least that figure. The congregation that will be moving back into Falls Church reports — after 61 transfers from other Episcopal congregations in the last three years — a membership of 178 with an average Sunday attendance of 74. ? It would be rare in any congregation for the Average Weekly attendance to run higher than the total membership (except maybe on Christmas and Easter).

  • http://www.getreligion.org Mollie

    Laura,

    It would be rare in many situations, although this DC area sees quite a few people going to high-profile churches where they aren’t actually members. Falls Church doesn’t keep statistics on ASA, though. But the sanctuary shown above seats close to 1,000, I believe, and according to members it goes overflow at one service and comes close at another. There are also two services in the historic sanctuary. So between those four services, the average is high. But perhaps there are better numbers available or it’s best to just say its average is about 2000. I was just trying to find a comparison to the Falls Church Episcopal ASA.

    From the few times I’ve attended there (for the baptisms of friends’ children and the like) — I’ve witnessed the inability to get seats in the sanctuary and standing room only and the like.

    I don’t think these numbers indicate anything about which side is right or anything — just important for understanding what will happen to the two congregations.

  • John Hanna

    Laura, while it might be rare for mainline churches for attendance to exceed membership, it’s actually the norm in mainly broadly evangelical churches, especially new ones, and in evangelical churches that belong to newer – usually breakaway – denominations.

  • ccinnova

    But the sanctuary shown above seats close to 1,000, I believe, and according to members it goes overflow at one service and comes close at another.

    It’s not uncommon for the overflow to be seated in the upper narthex at the 11:00 AM service in the Main Sanctuary. I’ve also attended Easter Sunday services at
    The Falls Church and there’s typically an overflow crowd in the Fellowship Hall downstairs.

    TFC hosts five services each weekend; there’s also a Saturday evening service, which usually draws a smaller crowd than the four Sunday services.

  • Steven in Falls Church

    Mollie, do you have statistics to support your assertion:

    the departing congregation, that has inhabited the large Falls Church complex, reports a church membership of just over 2,000 and probably features an average Sunday attendance of at least that figure. The congregation that will be moving back into Falls Church reports — after 61 transfers from other Episcopal congregations in the last three years — a membership of 178 with an average Sunday attendance of 74. ? It would be rare in any congregation for the Average Weekly attendance to run higher than the total membership (except maybe on Christmas and Easter).

    This chart of attendance and giving at The Falls Church is from the Episcopal Church’s website, and can substantiate Mollie’s statement on attendance. The red bar is ASA, which as you can see was nearly 2,000 in 2005. The data drop off dramatically after that, representing the disaffiliation, and the minimal numbers following is where the chart starts tracking data for the continuing congregation. You can’t say the TEC statisticians are dishonest.

    Since the disaffiliation, attendance at TFC has only gone up, and probably would number around 2,500 today, given all of the Sunday services plus the Saturday evening service (churches generally count all weekend services as part of ASA).

  • northcoast

    “Sounds dreadful, unless you know that Episcopal Church property is held by the congregation in trust for the Episcopal Church. So, they didn’t sue to sieze the building. They sued to retain it.” Going back to the first comment, anybody can see that what is dreadful about it is the attitude that the Church of the Good Shepherd property could not simply be sold to the Anglican congregation, and the Episcopal diocese disposed of the property for less than the Anglican congregation would have paid. Dreadful is not a judgement that is normally covered by the law. I certainly would not try to argue that TEC did anything illegal; however, what is legal is not always right — might even be dreadful.

    No doubt the Virginia churches have significant endowment funds which will go with them. These funds could probably be used to maintain the property for some time, but if the church buildings are not used as churches the designated purpose of the funds may no longer exist. This could lead to more expensive litigation if the Episcopal Church does not devote the funds to the purposes specified in the establishing documents.

  • William

    Wow, Martha.

    Then may I suggest, William, that before going into court and arguing that you (as the representative of the national church) want to reclaim the property for the original congregation and their successors, you actually count the numbers and see if you’re going to have a viable congregation? Would it not be more honest to make the argument you make: this is our property, plain and simple, and we can do what we like with it?

    That’s exactly what the Episcopal Church HAS said, Martha.This is not, and never has been, a numbers game – much as Mollie and the press would like to cover it that way, despite mild protestations to the contrary. The Episcopal Church has acted within its polity to make decision – a fact missing from most of the coverage – and some people don’t like it. They left and are no longer Episcopalians. They can’t take the property of the Church with them – period. I would suggest – strongly – that you examine internally how you think the press would and should cover this issue if the Episcopal church had come to the opposite conclusion.

    And this?

    If they didn’t even have enough loyal or true or orthodox or real Episcopalians to use the church, how are they fulfilling the gifts of former generations? And how on earth are they going to stifle all competition from other Christian denominations, in America of all places, and considering that the largest single denominational group is the Roman Catholic, followed by the Southern Baptists, with the Episcopalians coming in around the same level of population as the Seventh-Day Adventists or Church of the Nazarene?

    Stick to the coverage, Martha. This isn’t the place for that.

  • William

    Sorry, northcoast:

    Going back to the first comment, anybody can see that what is dreadful about it is the attitude that the Church of the Good Shepherd property could not simply be sold to the Anglican congregation, and the Episcopal diocese disposed of the property for less than the Anglican congregation would have paid.

    YOU may think it dreadful. But Episcopalians who chose to remain would probably prefer that the property revert back to the church coffers than be used by a group of people who outright rejected Church authority as opposed to those who simply follow another path.

    This could lead to more expensive litigation if the Episcopal Church does not devote the funds to the purposes specified in the establishing documents.

    No, it doesn’t work that way. (I can’t predict who may sue, obviously.) If an endowment for a particular church exists, but that church no longer has an Episcopal congregation, the endowment reverts to the larger church trust.

  • Josie Lopez

    Much has been said that there is “no congregation” for Truro Episcopal Church but to the contrary there are many in the Northern Virginia area of Fairfax who have been waiting. they been excluded over the years from worshiping at Truro due a zealot by the name of Mims who systematically provided a hostile environment to those who found themselves in disagreement with him. You will find that there will be a thriving Episcopal community at Truro Episcopal Church in the very near future.

  • Jennifer

    I started donating to The Falls Church in 2006. I thought I was donating to a church that followed basic biblical teachings, b/c of what I heard coming from the pulpit. It makes me sick to think that even $1 of my money is going to an organization where key leaders assert that Jesus may not be the only way. (Don’t put God in a box theology!!! God revealed that he was the Way, the Truth, and the Light. Who are you to dispute Him?) Where is the justice? What should I have written on my checks to ensure that the money went to the kinds of ministries I wanted to support?

  • Sam

    According to the following article, average attendance is now between 180 and 220. Far short of what it was previously, but not as dire as the author here predicted.

    http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2013/05/15/falls-church-episcopal-celebrates-past-looks-to-future/


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