Members of the Truro Church in Fairfax, along with seven other Virginia Episcopal churches, voted overwhelmingly to sever ties with the Episcopal Church of the United States last week, citing concerns about the cultural adaptability the U.S. Church has had to such issues as abortion and homosexuality.
“To me, this is a vote of no confidence against the Episcopalian Church and the Diocese of Virginia,” said Dennis Egan, a Truro Church member for more than 20 years and formerly a member of its vestry, or governing body. “I have no confidence they can provide Christian leadership to their congregations.”
The week-long voting process at Truro came to an end Sunday, Dec. 17, when Jim Oakes, senior warden at the church, announced the results at the end of the 11:15 a.m. service. More than 1,000 members voted on two resolutions. The first was on whether the church should split off and join the Anglican District of Virginia through the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) — an initiative of the Anglican Church of Nigeria developed for orthodox Anglicans in the United States. The second resolution asked members if they thought the church property should remain with the parish or with the Virginia Diocese, if the split passed.
Oakes announced that 1,010 voters, or 90 percent, favored the split. As for the resolution asking voters' opinion about who should own the property, 1,034 were in favor of keeping the property with the parish, and 55 were against. City records indicate Truro's property to be worth just under $5 million.
THE DIVISION WITHIN the Episcopalian Church began in 2003 when the U.S. church confirmed Gene Robinson, an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire, said Jim Pierobon, parishioner at The Falls Church and spokesman for both that church and Truro. The U.S. Church's acceptance of abortion has also divided the church, said Egan. The U.S. Episcopal Church brought the division on itself by departing from its foundational beliefs that are documented in the Bible and in prayer books, he said.
“I believe the Episcopal Church has redefined what is sinful and what is not,” said Egan. “We’re making a statement that we want to be founded in Biblical truth, not current social philosophy.”
Martyn Minns, missionary bishop of CANA and priest-in-charge of Truro Church, said the split is both sad and exciting. The struggle between the Diocese and the opposing churches has been painful, but also respectful, he said. “This is a family struggle, no question about that.”
Minns was elected missionary bishop of CANA after Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria decided the local structure in America was necessary, said Minns.
“[CANA] is a gift that allows us to stay firmly connected to the rest of the Anglican Communion, and the heritage that we treasure, while responding to the particular challenges of mission and ministry in our own context,” said Minns, at a news conference following Truro’s announcement of the split.
CANA is part of a new structure, established as a response to what’s been happening within the Episcopalian church, said Minns.
In the U.S., about 20 congregations have made the split and aligned with CANA. While that may not seem like a lot, Minns said, the sum of members in those congregations equal more than the 90,000-member Virginia Diocese — the largest Episcopalian Diocese in the country.
“It’s incredibly reassuring and reinforcing that we’re not just one isolated group in the wilderness,” said Oakes.
The Falls Church, in Falls Church, also voted to disaffiliate from the Episcopalians. Ninety percent of more than 1,300 voting members at The Falls Church favored the split and the parish’s right to keep its church property. Both Truro Church and The Falls Church are united in the belief that the Episcopalian Church of the United States has wrongly departed from historic Christianity and God’s written word. The two churches are the largest in the Diocese of Virginia and date back to the 18th century.
“We’re shocked that it really had to come to this,” said Martha Vander Haar, a 15-year member of Truro Church, on the verge of tears. “The Episcopalian denomination is the one that went their own way, even though we’re the ones that have left.”
REV. CANON KENNETH Kearon, the secretary general of the Anglican Communion, said in a statement Friday, Dec. 15, that CANA is merely a mission of the Church of Nigeria, not a branch of the Anglican Communion. It has no official status within the Communion, and the Archbishop of Canterbury — the leader of the Anglican Communion — has not “indicated his support for its establishment,” read the statement.
John Yates, the rector of The Falls Church, said the splitting congregations are more concerned with following Christ than with carrying denominational banners.
Rev. Peter James Lee, bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, issued a statement after The Falls Church and Truro Church announced their departure Sunday. Lee said he is “saddened by this development” and asserted the Diocese’s intent to fight for the ownership of the parish properties. “As stewards of this historic trust, we fully intend to assert the Church’s canonical and legal rights over these properties.”
“We want to settle this thing of property ownership in a peaceful way,” said John Yates, rector of The Falls Church.
Minns said the congregations and the Diocese have a process in place to try to settle the property disputes privately and out of court. Lee sent letter to the congregations Dec. 1 threatening legal action.
“These are complicated things,” said Minns. “There are historic properties that pre-date the Diocese.”