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IRD on Church Split: 'Abandoned' Is in the Eye of the Beholder

“Who is guilty of abandonment here?” -Ralph Webb, IRD Anglican Action Director

Contact: Loralei Coyle, 202-682-4131, 202-905-6852 cell, lcoyle@ird-renew.org; Radio Interviews, Jeff Walton, jwalton@ird-renew.org; both with Institute on Religion and Democracy 

WASHINGTON, Jan. 22 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Diocese of Virginia announced on Thursday, June 18, that its Executive Board had passed a resolution declaring the property of the 11 Virginia parishes that recently had left the diocese as “abandoned” and “authorize[d] [Bishop Peter Lee] to take such steps as may be necessary to recover or secure such … property.”

IRD Anglican Action Director Ralph Webb commented,

“It is tragic to see that the diocese has so quickly concluded that it cannot negotiate with the Virginia parishes. The diocese is using the term ‘abandoned’ with certain canonical connotations in an attempt to bolster its case against the parishes. But who has done the abandoning here?

“It must not be forgotten that many faithful and even lifelong Episcopalians voted for the parishes’ departures. They did this out of a strong conviction that the Episcopal Church has abandoned the Anglican Communion.

“They believe that the Episcopal Church has taken unilateral actions that went expressly against the mind of the majority of Anglicans worldwide. They also hold that the Episcopal Church has abandoned historic Christian orthodoxy. The parishioners currently remain at the properties where they have worshipped for years and invested their service, prayers, and money. They want to worship God faithfully and within an Anglican context. Who is guilty of abandonment here?”

In a letter to the diocese, Bishop Lee also argued that the diocese’s concern was “not about property but about the legacy we have received for the mission of Christ and our obligation to preserve that legacy for the future." Webb continues:

“The diocese’s ‘obligation’ seems misplaced…It cannot automatically assume that in this case those who left a ‘legacy’ would support the Episcopal Church’s departure from historic Christian faith and practice.

“Two years ago, the diocese’s reconciliation commission concluded that each side in the current conflict that holds firmly entrenched positions that are essentially impossible to surmount. Given this high level of conflict, the diocese’s ‘obligation’ should be to work deliberatively and peacefully with the Virginia parishes.

“Such an approach does not require the diocese to give up all claims to either the parish properties or the ‘legacy’ of which it says it is concerned. It does, though, ask the diocese to ascertain how its tagline, ‘so much to be done as one,’ applies to even a painful situation such as the departure of parishes.”