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VIRGINIA: Bishop saddened by vestry recommendation to leave Episcopal Church

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

The Rt. Rev. Peter Lee  

[Episcopal News Service]  Episcopal Diocese of Virginia Bishop Peter Lee issued a statement November 15 saying he is "very, very sad" that the vestries of Truro Church, Fairfax and The Falls Church, Falls Church, voted November 13 to recommend to their congregations that they sever ties to the Episcopal Church.

Lee's comments are included in a statement posted on the diocese's website.

The vestry decisions came at the end of what was called "40 Days of Discernment" in each congregation.

"We are very, very sad that the vestries are going to recommend to the congregations that they sever ties to The Episcopal Church," said Lee.

According to the diocesan statement, the Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church, asserted in a letter that the congregation is following a protocol approved by the diocese that sets out a procedure for congregations considering whether to sever ties with the Episcopal Church.

Truro's Senior Warden John Oakes posted a letter on the parish's website November 15 making the same assertion.

But "there is no approved protocol," said Patrick Getlein, secretary of the diocese.

At a meeting of the diocesan Executive Board and Standing Committee November 9 in Burke, members of those bodies received and considered the report of a special committee set up by Lee in late 2005 to help congregations in conflict over the decisions of the 75th General Convention in 2003 "to get on with their mission in as close a union as possible with the Diocese of Virginia," the statement said. The report contains a section entitled Protocol for Departing Congregations.

"The Executive Board and Standing Committee both voted to receive the report but it is inaccurate to say it was endorsed or approved," Getlein said.

"There is no protocol," said Col. Jean Reed, president of the Standing Committee, in the statement. "The Standing Committee intends to meet with those churches proposing to separate from the Episcopal Church and review their situations on a case-by-case basis."
The Diocese of Virginia and the vestry of All Saints' Church in Dale City announced November 9 that they have reached an agreement on the disposition of real and personal property in the event that the congregation votes to end its affiliation with the Episcopal Church and the diocese.

The Falls Church website says that the congregation will vote on its vestry's recommendation sometime between December 10 and December 18. During the time in between, the parish will study the recommendation as well as host a meeting November 14 with Archbishops Peter Akinola of Nigeria; John Chew of South East Asia; Drexel Gomez of Nassau, Bahamas; Justice Akrofi of West Africa; Benjamin Nzimbi of Kenya; and Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori wrote to Akinola, Akrofi, Gomez and Nzimbi on November 1, the first day of her term as presiding bishop, saying that she hoped "that during your visit you might be willing to pay a call on me, so that we might begin to build toward . . . a missional relationship."

Oakes, the Truro senior warden, said in his letter that the vestry met with Yates on November 11 and after a "time of prayer and repentance" voted unanimously to sever its Episcopal Church ties.

He said the vestry wants to align the congregation with the "Anglican District of Virginia," part of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA).

CANA is a branch of the Church of Nigeria to which Truro's former rector, and now priest-in-charge, Martyn Minns was consecrated as a bishop August 20 by the Nigerian church. Lee and Minns negotiated his status at the parish through the end of this year.

"For us, as well as you, this has been a time of suffering, as though watching a loved one slowly perish," Oakes wrote. "But it is a necessary step, and it is time to take it."

He asked the parish to support the vestry's recommendation during a meeting December 10.

The Diocese of Virginia comprises about 90,000 Episcopalians worshipping in 195 congregations.