- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 24, 2006

An Episcopal congregation in Woodbridge whose members were unhappy with liberal trends in the Episcopal Church suddenly dissolved itself last week, leaving the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia with a $420,000 bill from the property’s mortgage.

The members of Christ Our Lord Episcopal Church, a mission congregation founded in 1992, has since reconstituted under the Anglican Diocese of North Kigezi in Uganda as Christ Our Lord Anglican Church. It is the third mission to leave the diocese because of the 2003 consecration of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson as the world’s first openly homosexual bishop, but the first to abandon its property.

“I am saddened by this departure and by the mission’s apparent failure to thrive,” Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee said. “I am also disappointed to not have heard of plans for this action directly from the leadership of the congregation prior to their taking this action.”

Christ Our Lord’s vicar, the Rev. George Beaven, said his congregation tried in April to strike a deal with the diocese to depart with its property, but the diocese refused.

“I would have loved to have done this whole thing in consultation with the bishop, and I’ve appreciated Bishop Lee’s restraint in dealing with the aftermath of this crisis,” Mr. Beaven said, “but you have to realize our environment in which we’re operating here.”

He added that his congregation has lost one-third of its members since the Robinson consecration and that would-be members are turned off by the denomination’s liberal stances.

“When people find out you’re involved in perpetual battles about foundational truths, they say, ‘There are three churches up the road that aren’t involved in that,’ ” he said. “They’re looking for a safe place for their family, and there’s a lot other options that are more attractive.”

The congregation is one of dozens across the country that have fled the denomination since 2003. Several have left since June, when the Episcopal General Convention elected as its presiding bishop Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, who favors ordaining active homosexuals and performing same-sex unions.

By August, the congregation was making plans to leave, and on Oct. 15, 95 percent of its 200 members voted to dissolve. The next day, it informed the Rev. John Guernsey, rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Dale City, the mission’s sponsoring congregation, of the vote. But it was not until Thursday, four days after the vote, that Mr. Guernsey informed the diocese via e-mail that Christ Our Lord had left.

“I got the letter done as expeditiously as I could and meant no disrespect by it,” said Mr. Guernsey, adding that he was out of the office part of last week and that his governing board had to approve it first.

Diocesan spokesman Patrick Getlein said diocesan officials, all of whom were away on a clergy retreat from Monday to Wednesday of last week, got an anonymous phone call about Christ Our Lord during the retreat. A suffragan bishop with the Virginia Diocese, Bishop David Jones, called Mr. Beaven on Tuesday.

“He was sad. He was hurt,” Mr. Beaven said of their conversation.

The bishop came by the church Thursday to secure the abandoned property. Mr. Beaven, 62 — who is leading the reconstituted congregation, which will meet at Woodbridge Seventh-day Adventist Church — plans to retire from the Episcopal priesthood soon.

The diocese, which will continue services in the old building, says the former members left behind a $420,000 mortgage on which no payments had been made since May. The building on Omisol Road was purchased in 1997 for $700,000, with the help of a $500,000 loan from the diocese, which is considering making All Saints pay the bill.

Mr. Guernsey did not comment on that possibility, especially because his own church is in negotiations with the diocese about leaving.

Mr. Beaven said his church had made “extensive improvement” to the property, which has appreciated in value to $1.82 million.

The departing church chose North Kigezi because its members had visited the Ugandan diocese on mission trips and Bishop Edward Muhima has visited Christ Our Lord.

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