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Episcopal Church sees first defection

- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

All Saints Episcopal Church in Dale City, whose members voted 402-6 on Sunday to leave the Episcopal Church, has become the first Northern Virginia church to flee the denomination out of several expected defections.

The 500-member church was one of nine churches to vote last weekend whether to leave the Episcopal Church over disagreements on biblical authority and the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual.

All Saints' vote ratified an agreement its leaders had struck last month with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to cede their property to the diocese, then rent it back for five years until the church completes a new 800-seat sanctuary near Potomac Mills Shopping Center in Prince William County.

"We are heartened by the congregation's vote to move forward with our mission to be a church overflowing with God's love and healing power," said the Rev. John Guernsey, rector of All Saints. "We are grateful to the diocese that we were able to reach an amicable settlement and we pray that this may be a model for others in the [Episcopal] Church."

Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee released a statement yesterday mourning the loss of All Saints.

"As the first of several churches to vote, I am disappointed with the result at All Saints and I sincerely hope that the result in the other congregations will be different," he said.

The remaining eight churches are keeping their polls open throughout the week and will announce their voting results Sunday.

At Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax, a sign proclaiming "God's Church, Our Future, Your Vote" was posted by the front door on Sunday. At the Falls Church Episcopal in Falls Church, parishioners gathered in a sun-filled downstairs reception area to cast their ballots into yellow boxes covered with daisy patterns.

Roped-off aisles led into the voting area, which resembled a precinct polling spot with election volunteers seated at multiple desks. Some were poll judges who answered questions or ascertained membership qualifications; others directed parishioners how to fill out the two-part ballot. The first vote would separate the church from the denomination and the diocese; the second would empower the parish to fight to keep its multimillion-dollar historic property.

Posted in the voting area was a sign informing parishioners that the parish's rector and vestry, or governing board, "recommend a yes vote on both resolutions."

Stacked by church entrances was a booklet, "I Will Welcome You," about how the parish, if members decide to split, will go about "finding a new home in the Anglican Communion."

Russ Randle, the former head of the diocesan standing committee, which advises Bishop Lee, questioned whether diocesan canon law allows for multiple days of voting.

"While I am sympathetic to the difficulties of voting in a large congregation," he wrote in an e-mail, "it would appear that the voting procedures adopted are facially invalid and any vote taken by this means open to serious procedural challenge. I have called this deficiency to the attention of some in leadership at one of these parishes, but no correction has been made."

Jim Pierobon, spokesman for both the Falls Church and Truro, said both churches are conducting their votes legally within the confines of a parish meeting, which can be called and recessed throughout the week.