- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007

The leadership of two Northern Virginia churches urged Virginia Bishop Peter James Lee to return to the negotiating table yesterday, one day after the Episcopal leader renewed threats to sue.

“It is still not too late for Bishop Lee and the leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to stand down from making any more threats against faithful Christians who followed the Diocese of Virginia’s protocol for departing congregations,” said Tom Wilson, senior warden of the Falls Church — one of 11 churches whose congregations voted last month to leave the Episcopal Church.

“I still have hope, even now, that we can sit down and reason together,” Mr. Wilson said.

The diocese’s governing body on Thursday declared the departing churches’ property “abandoned” and said that it would take whatever steps necessary to keep the property under diocesan control.

In a letter to the diocese, Bishop Lee accused what he called “the dissidents” of being unwilling to negotiate.

“It became clear that no position other than relinquishing our claim to Episcopal Church property would be satisfactory to those who have left,” he wrote. “There would be no discussion of the issues on a case by case basis.”

Bishop Lee also indicated that litigation is likely, despite the fact that the diocese had worked to find a solution out of court. “No longer am I convinced that such an outcome is possible,” he wrote.

Diocesan officials were not immediately available for comment yesterday.

Leadership at both the Falls Church, and the Truro Church in Fairfax, another one of the departing congregations, have accused the diocese of being the first to renege on promises to find an amicable solution when Bishop Lee announced last week that he would not seek to renew a 30-day moratorium on legal action. The standstill ended Wednesday.

Under an Episcopal law known as the “Dennis canon,” any congregation that leaves the Episcopal Church must cede its buildings and land to the diocese.

The departing churches have challenged the canon, saying that Virginia law does not recognize denominational trusts in church property.

The lay leadership at the Falls Church and Truro hold the titles to their property, officials with the churches say.

“We remain confident in our position,” Jim Pierobon, a spokesman for the congregations, said yesterday.

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