Two of the country's largest and most historic Episcopal congregations -- both in Fairfax County -- will vote next week on whether to leave the U.S. church on ideological grounds and affiliate instead with a controversial Nigerian archbishop. The decision could lead to a bitter court battle and the loss of $25 million in property.Thanks to Scott of Hybla for the link.
Many members of The Falls Church and Truro Church, as well as some conservative leaders around the country, hope a split will establish a legal structure that would make it easier for dozens more like-minded congregations to also depart the national denomination.
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Three other churches in the 193-congregation Virginia diocese -- the nation's largest -- are also voting this month.
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If the votes at The Falls Church and Truro succeed, as their leaders predict, the 3,000 active members of the two churches would join a new, Fairfax-based organization that answers to Nigerian Archbishop Peter J. Akinola, leader of the 17 million-member Nigerian church and an advocate of jailing gays. The new group hopes to become a U.S.-based denomination for orthodox Episcopalians.
How many congregations will take this route is unknown, with the likelihood of costly litigation over historic, valuable properties and bitterness infecting a holy space. Even church centrists estimate that 15 percent of U.S. Episcopalians would leave the national church if their congregations could keep their church buildings and remain in the Communion.
The Falls Church and Truro alone are worth more than $25 million in real estate, according to county records, not to mention the powerful sentimental value of churches that were formed in the 1700s -- before the U.S. denomination even existed -- when they were still part of the Church of England. George Washington was a member of the vestry at The Falls Church.
UPDATE: Bringing us "just an update on the beliefs of some" Episcopalians (for now) in Virginia, Andrew Sullivan observes the Nigerian archbishop they seem to prefer answering to
believes that gays should be incarcerated for the crime of adult consensual sex and that their free speech should be controlled.