January 19, 2007
A property dispute between the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and 11 churches whose congregations voted to leave the denomination took one step closer to court yesterday after the diocese's governing body declared the churches' property "abandoned."
This will be a disaster for both sides but I think the Diocese of Virginia and ECUSA will pay the greater price. Unless it's settled, it could drag on for years and if the diocese loses, it will have little to show for it save a whopping legal bill. If it wins, they face the prospect of cops dragging sobbing parishioners out of their churches, all to be broadcast on the evening news and YouTubed around the world; won't that be great PR for a church that trumpets its "inclusiveness?" I suspect by now, however, the PB, 815 and most of the church hierarchy long ago became immune to any charges of double standards.
I think the parishioners are entitled to keep their property, they paid for it after all. However, should the diocese not relent and it looks as if the court fight will be protracted, it would be a savvy move on the parishes' part if they called litigation to a halt and proclaimed to the diocese: "This is getting us nowhere: Here are the keys, take the property, it's yours. May God bless and keep you." A Christian act like that should make the raising of funds to buy new properties a much easier task, I should think.
Down yonder in Birmingham, Alabama, the ageing white parishioners of a formerly thriving Baptist Church took stock and determined they weren't going to survive. Rather than close up and sell the property, worth nearly $2 million, they instead turned it over to a growing black Baptist congregation that desperately needed a home. As the pastor of the closing church put it, "it's the Lord's house anyway." What a truly Christian act; would that ECUSA's leadership could be so moved. I'm afraid that's not likely, but read the story anyway, it will surely touch your heart.