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Breakaway churches struggle to raise legal funds
Eleven Virginia churches being sued by the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia for leaving the denomination with their property last year have set a goal of raising a combined $3 million to $5 million for their pooled legal expenses.
But an informal poll by The Washington Times revealed that more than half of these churches can’t afford to give funds or have made no plans to do so.
United against them is their former denomination, whose New York headquarters alone claims $300 million in assets.
The two largest parishes, Truro Church in Fairfax and the Falls Church in Falls Church, plan to provide at least $1 million each. So far, Truro has raised $900,000. But estimated contributions from the other nine churches are less than $200,000.
An official for the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV), a confederation formed by the 11 churches, says the money will be raised somehow.
“From our perspective, the Episcopal Church has limitless resources,” said Jim Oakes, ADV vice president. “We don’t, but we have enough for this situation. They are throwing everything they can at us, but we are in a very solid position legally. I think they know that. But they want to make this such an unpleasant and terrorizing process so that others won’t try the same thing.”
Some churches have paid a steep price for breaking away from the diocese.
“It’s hard to raise money for legal funds,” said the Rev. Neal Brown, rector of St. Margaret’s Church in Woodbridge, a 170-member church that lost one-third of its members when it left the denomination and the diocese over matters of sexuality and biblical authority.
The Episcopal Church, the U.S. branch of the Anglican Communion, is threatened with losing that status over, among other things, its ordaining an openly homosexual bishop. The breakaway parishes support the worldwide Communion against the Diocese of Virginia, which backed the 2003 consecration of Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
“We have not the slightest idea how and how much we’ll give,” Mr. Brown said. “Suing people is not in the Bible, so it’s a hard call for conservative pastors. The biblical admonition was to settle out of court.”
St. Margaret’s has put all its resources into buying land for a new church. So little money is available that the church has yet to fix two broken air conditioners. The priest has a trash can on his desk to catch rainwater dripping from the roof.
The Falls Church sought to raise $342,576 on June 10 to pay off past legal bills before embarking on its $1 million goal. But it fell short, raising $274,919.
“Based on past experience, the congregation will continue to give, if we ask,” said Bill Deiss, parish administrator.
Carol Jackson, the junior warden, says the parish plans to approach major donors.
Truro has taken a different tack by issuing “Save Our Sanctuary,” a brochure that lists the properties at stake and estimates their replacement value at $30 million if the ADV loses the lawsuit and members are evicted.
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