members huddled in small groups to pray for the unity and preservation of their congregation Wednesday night. They asked for support for their vestry, the church's staff and the congregation's children in light of the latest ruling in their long-fought battle to keep the church they've cultivated for over a century.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows told Truro and six other congregations in the Northern Virginia area on Tuesday to give their church property to the diocese they divorced years ago.
The ruling comes after almost five years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in congregation-donated defense funds.
Now Truro is stuck in a limbo of sorts. The "unfortunate and ungodly" litigation, as described by Rector Tory Baucum, is coming to a close, and not on a good note for Truro's members.
"I was not happy yesterday," Baucum said. "But I was not devastated. I do have complete confidence that we are walking with the Lord."
Truro leadership urged its members to stay positive and show mercy and grace in dealing with the likely loss of their church. Bishop John Guernsey, of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, a branch of the Anglican Church of North America, dropped by the service with a few positive words for members.
"I love you, I love Truro, and you are all so dear," he said. "I'm so thankful we're in this together. Our diocese changed overnight and I can't wait to see what [God] does with us."
What follows is a summary of what convinced Truro and the other congregations to separate from The Episcopal Church (TEC) and what the court decision means for them.
[See editor's note at the bottom.]
Outrage at Truro Church
The election of Gene Robinson, a openly homosexual priest, as a bishop in one of the dioceses of The Episcopal Church raised controversy. After it was announced in 2003, TEC received "hundreds of letters" noting outrage at Robinson's election.
Truro and several other congregations held a vote to decide whether to stick with TEC. The decision was almost unanimous. At the December 2006 vote, 92 percent of the congregation voted to sever ties with TEC, according to a Truro pamphlet.
In all, 15 congregations voted to leave TEC between December 2006 and November 2007.
The congregations joined the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), formerly known as the American branch of The Church of Nigeria. They are now part of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, a branch of the Anglican Church of North America.
TEC declared that the congregations had abandoned their churches and were unlawfully using property that no longer belonged to them. It took seven congregations to court, including Truro Church and in Fairfax City, as well as The Church at the Falls in Falls Church.
Years of Litigation
They faced off in court for almost five years before receiving a final decision. The case went through the Fairfax County Circuit Court, where Bellows ruled in favor of the CANA congregations in January 2009, then to the Virginia Supreme Court, where his ruling was overturned in June 2010.
Bellows heard the case again during 22 days in April, May and June 2011. The court listened to testimony from over 60 witnesses and reviewed 1,000 pages of post-trial briefings.
The ruling? Bellows sided with TEC this time, ordering the congregations to give up their church buildings and other property.
What the Congregations Lose
As outlined in the court decision, Truro Church members need to give up:
- The church itself, which was initially built in 1872. Truro's congregation funded almost all of the property improvements, growing the church to what we see on the outskirts of downtown Fairfax today.
- The land on which is sits, seven- and a-half acres at Main and North streets.
- All the additions to the church the congregation funded since it's initial construction. That includes the Parish Hall, education building, parking lot and International Christian Ministry office building located across the street
Church of the Apostles members need to hand over:
- The Pickett Road property on which the church sits. This was acquired by TEC in 1958, before the Church of the Apostles existed. The congregation paid TEC $11,983 for the property in 1969.
- The extension to the property purchased by the congregation in 1988.
- Adjacent properties on Braddock Road outside the city limits. These properties were purchased by the congregation in the hopes of building a new church there. They never found a buyer for the Pickett Road property and never built the church. They were also unable to sell the 20 acres on Braddock.
Both churches also need to give up all personal property (such as church dues or pledges) acquired before Jan. 31, 2007.
Truro and Apostles wait for the TEC to submit a final order telling the congregations when and how to transfer the church properties. In the meantime, the congregations can request a court hearing to discuss the final order.
"The last few years the Lord has prepared us for this moment," said Baucum.
He plans to discuss Truro's next steps at his next Rector's Forum on Sunday. The congregation looks forward to welcoming six new vestry members on Feb. 12.
Check Patch for updates as this unfolds.
[Editor's Note: All of the above is summarized from the 113-page opinion court document written by Bellows and released Tuesday, unless otherwise noted. You can read the full document by clicking here.]