VIRGINIA: Departure Bittersweet for Member of The Falls Church Anglican
Bill Deiss and one of his sons both married inside the church and now the Anglican parishioners must be out of the church by May 15
By Andre L. Taylor
May 13, 2012
The departure of the Anglican congregation by close of business May 15 from The Falls Church leaves Bill Deiss with mixed feelings.
In 1985 Deiss, parish administrator for the last 16 years, wed his second wife in the church. His son also married there. He watched the baptism of his grandchildren inside the church.
Now the Anglican congregation has been asked to leave the premises.
“It was always a possibility but we didn’t think it would actually happen,” Deiss said Friday. “It’s sad but exciting as well.”
The Anglican congregation of more than 4,000 worshipers will hold their last service at The Falls Church on Mother’s Day at 11 a.m.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows told The Falls Church and six other congregations in the Northern Virginia area in December to give their church property to the diocese they divorced years ago. The 113-page ruling came after almost five years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in congregation-donated defense funds.
The Episcopalian congregation at the church will continue worshiping at the historic location. The Falls Church has been around for almost 300 years.
The squeaking wheels of handcarts and the thump of cardboard boxes broke the silence throughout the halls of The Falls Church Friday as church members continued moving out. An office building across the street from the main sanctuary is where the church will store some of its office supplies and equipment. As for services, Deiss said area schools and churches have opened their doors to Anglican parishioners from The Falls Church.
“If it wasn’t OK with God, he’d let us stay,” said Deiss who has been a member of the church since 1984.
In a written statement, The Rev. Dr. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church Anglican, said the parishioners have established independent “daughter” churches in Alexandria, Arlington, Vienna and hope to plant a seventh daughter church this year in Washington, D.C.
“While we are saddened by leaving this Christ-centered place of worship, we rejoice at the outpouring of encouragement and offers of assistance, including furnishings and building space from Presbyterians, Baptists, Catholics and other friends,” Yates said in the statement. “Through these many blessings, we are equipped with the knowledge that God has great plans in store for our congregation. Ultimately, our passion for spreading the Gospel and reaching the lost will not wane.”
According to the statement, between 2005 and 2007, The Falls Church Anglican and 14 sister Virginia congregations voted by overwhelming majorities to separate from the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. The move was taken because the congregations determined that The Episcopal Church had drifted so far from orthodox Christianity that they could not in good conscience remain under its spiritual authority.
“For several years we have been experiencing the power of healing prayer in our own congregation and recently began a partnership to extend that ministry in the Baileys Crossroads area, with Columbia Baptist Church and St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church,” Junior Warden Carol Jackson said in a statement. “Together, we minister to the poor and the immigrants among us in the Culmore Clinic. People from all walks of life, all faiths, and all economic situations, now have a safe place to ask for and receive prayer and excellent medical treatment.”
Even though the Anglican congregation has been forced out of The Falls Church by the courts, Deiss said the sanctuary would always hold special memories for him and his family. He said he looks forward to continuing the work of the parish wherever that may be but knows he will be back to the grounds someday.
“We have a memorial garden here and I’ll probably be buried here or have my ashes put in the ground here,” he said.
This further removal of members of congregations from their TEC Church properties highlights the dangers of schismatic separation from historic Episcopalian leadership in the U.S.A. Despite efforts by the dissenting parties in disputes about TEC’s decision to include the LGBT community in its life, ministry and worship, to hang on to their former home church buildings and plant, the courts have decided that TEC is the legal and rightful owner, and that the dissenters have no prior ownership rights over the remaining, loyal, congregations.
The painful lesson learnt is that dissidents cannot expect to retain church property that does not belong to them. The legal action that has been made necessary by the dissident congregations refusal to leave the property behind when they leave the authority of the Episcopal Church that owns the property has been costly to both sides of the arguments. Perhaps the better way would have been for dissidents to just say farewell to their former churches and seek to build their own – in order to forward the particular mission they feel exclusively theirs, and no longer that of their former church.
No doubt the departing congregation members will find life very difficult, in having to find new places of worship, but no-one asked them to leave The Episcopal Church – it was entirely their own decision – together with those responsible for their alienation from the life and polity of TEC. They cannot blame anyone but themselves.
In the meantime, those members of the congregation who have remained loyal to their TEC foundation, though no doubt saddened by the departure of former church members, will be able to resume their worship and other community activities – without being made to feel sub-Christian because of their acceptance of LGBTs as fellow members of the Body of Christ in their local church.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand