Following the Diocese of Virginia's January 18 action authorizing Bishop Peter James Lee to "recover or secure" property of 11 congregations in which a majority of members and leaders have left the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has underscored the Church's ongoing commitments to its mission of reconciliation, and a "fiduciary and moral duty" to preserve property for current and future ministries.
A full report on the January 18 actions of the Diocese of Virginia is online here. Among those decisions, the diocese's Executive Board declared "abandoned" the property of the 11 Episcopal congregations where, as stated in a diocesan news report, "a majority of members -- including the vestry and clergy -- have left the Episcopal Church but have not relinquished Church property and have continued to occupy the churches and use the property owned by the Diocese."
The complete text of the Presiding Bishop's January 19 statement follows.
Presiding Bishop's statement following property decisions in Virginia
The Episcopal Church, in consultation with the Diocese of Virginia, regrets the recent votes by members of some congregations in Virginia to leave this Church. We wish to be clear, however, that while individuals have the right and privilege to depart or return at any time, congregations do not. Congregations exist because they are in communion with the bishop of a diocese, through recognition by diocesan governing bodies (diocesan synods, councils, or conventions). Congregations cannot unilaterally disestablish themselves or remove themselves from a diocese. In addition, by canon law, property of all sorts held by parishes is held and must be used for the mission of the Episcopal Church through diocesan bishops and governing bodies. As a Church, we cannot abrogate our interest in such property, as it is a fiduciary and moral duty to preserve such property for generations to come and the ministries to be served both now and in the future.
The recent decisions by some members of congregations in Virginia to leave the Episcopal Church and ally with the Anglican Church of Nigeria have no cognizance in our polity. Ancient precedent (from as early as the fourth century) in the Church requires bishops to respect diocesan boundaries, and to refrain from crossing into or acting officially in dioceses other than their own. As a Church we cannot and will not work to subvert that ancient precedent by facilitating the establishment of congregations which are purportedly responsible to bishops in other parts of the Anglican Communion within the diocesan boundaries of the Episcopal Church.
The Episcopal Church continues to seek reconciliation with those who have decided to leave this Church, and reminds all parties that our doors are open to any who wish to return. Together with the Diocese of Virginia we seek to be clear about who we are as Episcopalians, and to continue to reach out in healing to this broken world. The overwhelming majority of the more than 7,600 congregations of the Episcopal Church are engaged in doing exactly that.
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church