Saturday, November 11, 2006

An Episcopal congregation in Woodbridge has become the first to strike a deal with the Diocese of Virginia about how it plans to leave the Episcopal Church.

All Saints Episcopal Church is one of seven Episcopal churches in Northern Virginia that are considering leaving the diocese because of the Episcopal Church’s decision in 2003 to consecrate a homosexual bishop.

The leaders of All Saints, a 500-member congregation, announced Thursday they will cede the church’s property to the diocese, which will pay the remaining $188,000 mortgage.

Then, All Saints will rent the property from the diocese for $1 a year for five years while it builds a new 800-seat church on a $2.7-million piece of property it bought in 2001. The site is on 28 acres near the Potomac Mills shopping mall in Prince William County.

“This is very, very encouraging for us,” said the Rev. John Guernsey, rector of All Saints. “It helps us move forward.”

Although Virginia Bishop Peter J. Lee has said that he will sue any church trying to leave his diocese, this agreement releases All Saints from further legal obligations.

The congregation will vote Dec. 10 on whether to ratify the agreement. Its vestry, or leadership council, is unanimously recommending the church adopt the agreement and separate from the diocese.

However, the bishop said in a press release that he hoped All Saints congregants might decide instead to stay.

“Should [leaving] be their choice, we will solemnly mourn their departure,” Bishop Lee said.

Church law mandates that any departing church cede its property to the diocese, an action most of the seven parishes — several of which sit on historic sites — are unwilling to take. However, All Saints, founded in 1980, had long been planning to relocate.

All Saints’ moving plans were particularly stymied by the election of New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, who is homosexual. Soon after the Episcopal Church ratified his election in July 2003, All Saints’ capital campaign — for which it had taken out a $2.7 million loan — dried up. Currently, it is $2.6 million in debt.

Mr. Guernsey said All Saints was helped financially by Truro Episcopal Church in Fairfax and the Falls Church — two large conservative parishes also considering leaving the denomination.

“I am very thankful for how the diocese has been willing to work with us,” he added. “This has been a model for an amicable agreement. We’ve been working on this for a long while and have all hung in there together.”

The other six conservative parishes: Truro, Falls Church, Church of the Apostles in Fairfax, St. Stephen’s in Heathsville, St. Peter in the Woods in Fairfax Station and Church of the Word in Gainesville, are expected to announce in December whether they will leave or remain with the diocese.

Meanwhile, four archbishops from the worldwide Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church is one part, will be in Northern Virginia Wednesday at a closed-door hearing for disaffected conservatives. The meeting, originally slated at the Falls Episcopal Church, has been moved elsewhere because of unwanted publicity.

Two Episcopal dioceses: Fort Worth in Texas and San Joaquin in central California, confirmed they are sending delegations. Five other dioceses are thought to be doing so as well.

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