- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

About two dozen Episcopalians, most of them representing two of the largest parishes in the Diocese of Virginia, served notice Wednesday that a proposal to force congregations to finance the cash-strapped diocese could result in a massive walkout.

The majority of the 93 Episcopalians who attended a meeting at Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax rejected the 22-page plan, some calling it “disastrous” and “appalling.”

“The diocese will not gain anything by imposing a mandatory percentage or obligation,” said Steve Springmann, treasurer at Truro, the second-largest church in the 187-congregation diocese at 1,500 members. “It will only cause more people to leave the Episcopal Church.”

Representatives from the Falls Episcopal Church, the diocese’s largest parish with 2,200 members, also criticized the plan, which lists mandatory assessments, flat percentages, per capita giving and a fee-per-service approach as options.

Episcopalians from several other churches also criticized the plan, including the Rev. Tom Hayes, priest in charge at Little Fork Church in Rixeyville. He said the problem “is at the top” with the diocese’s leader, Virginia Episcopal Bishop Peter J. Lee.

“If confidence is restored in the office of the bishop, there will be no monetary problems in this diocese,” he said. “Until that confidence is restored, there will be problems.”

A small number disagreed, including the Rev. Vinnie Lainson of Trinity Episcopal Church in Manassas, who inferred that dissenting parishes don’t truly belong to the diocese.

“If you don’t give and you don’t allow any bishops from the diocese to come and visit, are you still an Episcopal Church?” she asked.

In January, the diocese took a $900,000 hit — 20 percent of its budget — after conservatives staged an economic boycott over Bishop Lee’s vote last August to confirm the election of the openly homosexual Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. Twenty-four parishes have either partially or totally cut off funding.

The meeting was one of four scheduled by a diocesan task force charged with figuring out how to make up the shortfall.

It is a daunting task in a diocese where several Northern Virginia parishes are refusing to even allow Bishop Lee or his two assistant bishops to perform confirmations on parish property. The two sides compromised this week by agreeing to fly in retired Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, who will preside over a mass confirmation ceremony on Sept. 15.

“[The task force] is asking the wrong question,” said the Rev. Martyn Minns, the rector of Truro who helped broker the compromise. “This is not about finance formulas. It’s about a fundamental disagreement with the leadership of the diocese … [which] has taken a stand on some fundamental issues that we cannot agree with.”

The task force eventually will make recommendations to a diocesan executive board, which will make several proposals to be voted on in January at the yearly diocesan convention.

Currently, donations from parishes to the diocesan budget is strictly voluntary.

One-third of the diocese’s parishes gives 10 percent or more of its income to the diocese; one-third gives 5 percent or less; and another third gives between 5 percent and 10 percent.

To date, the diocese has not punished defaulting parishes, although canon law allows it to remove a parish’s seat and vote at annual diocesan conventions and, in extreme cases, replace the rector (pastor) and vestry (governing board).

The Diocese of Virginia, one of three in the state, is the nation’s largest at 89,000 parishioners.

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