Friday, May 25, 2012

The Costly Faithfulness of The Falls Church

Instead of a soaring room flooded with natural light, they took their places in a cramped, fluorescent-lit auditorium. Instead of the sounds of a pipe organ, they heard the drone of a temperamental air conditioner. Instead of pews fitted with fabric kneelers, congregants filed into rows of theater-style folding seats. But in their first Sunday worship away from their 280-year-old historic property, the members of The Falls Church Anglican congregation in Falls Church, Virginia were too busy laughing and greeting one another to notice the new inconveniences.

"The people of the church have been full of joy and thankfulness," says Laura Smethurst, "buoyed by the conviction that to stand up for the Son of God is of ultimate importance." It was the Anglican congregation's firm stance on the authority of God's word and the moral wrong of homosexuality that cost the 4,000-member church nearly everything they owned. Six years ago, after the mainline Episcopal Church ordained an openly practicing homosexual bishop, 90 percent of The Falls Church congregation voted to break with the denomination and align with the conservative branch of the worldwide Anglican church.

As a result of the decision, the Episcopal diocese brought the Anglican congregation to court to dispute ownership of the historic Falls Church building. The congregation argued that the property deed is in the name of the church and a Circuit Court judge initially agreed. But the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church appealed that ruling and the Virginia Supreme Court said the particular statute used in their defense did not apply. The case was remanded back to the Circuit Court to be decided under neutral principles of contract and property law. This time the same Circuit Court judge ruled against them, ordering the Anglican congregation to turn their $26 million historic church building and all the church's other property over to the Episcopalian diocese. Read more

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