Heavenly Father, in this time of separation in our beloved Church, we pray for the just and amicable resolution of the litigation we are facing, for the healing of broken relationships, for softening of hearts hardened by hostility, and for common ground in our common prayer. Help us to marshal our mutual resources for the furtherance of your will, not ours, and to find some good outcome to the conflict that has engaged us for too long. We pray this in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Questioning Litigation

Letter to the editor in the Virginia Episcopalian, July 2011

Somebody said the devil does not need to attack the Church from the outside -- Christians do a very good job on the inside. It seems to me this litigation over church property fits well into that assessment. I wonder how many people in the pews of this diocese are aware of the millions of dollars being spent by both sides on property issues -- dollars that could have been used to help the poor, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned and to reach the unreached peoples of the world. What are we doing?

Our churches do reach out in many amazing ways, but somehow it is not enought to be a faithful, functioning member of my parish church, continuing to ignore this fight. Ignorance is no excuse. Bishop Lee had begun a dialogue which might have diverted this disaster, had he not been stopped, I suspect by the hierarchy. Now the Church of the Word which has dropped its part in the suit has been slapped with sanctions not to associate in any way with the Anglican break-away church for five years. We say we are "all inclusive" but to bar any church in this way flies in the face of freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly.

And what about Paul's instruction against "going to the law," brother against brother? What has happened -- on both sides -- that property is so important? Solomon would have probably divided it down the middle, handing half to each one. Why can't we as Christians worship side by side? I do not know the answer, but I know this litigation is wrong. Alcoholics Anonymous has a tradtiion that ends, "Lest money, property and prestige divert us from our primary spirtitual aim." Is it too late to take heed? Is there anyone who can bring about a peaceful, kind solution?

How we must be grieving the heart of God!

Virginia W. Stanley
Emmanual, Rapidan

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Another Virginia Parish, Church of the Word, settles

On April 19, Church of the Word (COTW) signed a settlement agreement with the Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church (TEC). Under the terms of the agreement, Church of the Word retains ownership of its property but surrenders virtually all of its interest in $2 million of Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) compensation for land taken to widen an adjacent highway, and it agrees to a five year separation from all Anglican bodies, including the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV), the Congregation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).

The leadership of COTW announced that it was able to achieve their major goals of "separating from TEC, retaining their property and preserving their tradition of worship and ministry." Rev. Robin Adams said that while the requirement to disaffiliate was difficult to accept, COTW's intention is to affiliate with ACNA as soon as the five year period is completed. He also said that the church has outgrown its property but has not been able to seriously explore a new building campaign because of the litigation.

The Diocese of Virginia press release stated that "unique circumstances" led it to "allow COTW to retain Episcopal property". These include the VDOT expansion of Rt 29 which eliminated direct access of the church to that road, and the agreement of COTW that the Diocese can keep $1.95 million of the VDOT compensation, with COTW retaining $85,000. This gives the Diocese an infusion of funds just as the lawsuits against ADV churches enters its trial phase on Monday, April 25.

That trial will consider the claims of the Diocese and TEC for ownership of the real and personal property held by seven remaining ADV parishes which voted to separate from TEC in late 2006. The litigation initially involved nine parishes; the Diocese and TEC reached an agreement with Church of Our Saviour, Oatlands in February.

Press releases concerning the settlements are available from Church of the Word, the Diocese of Virginia, and ADV.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Episcopal diocese, Anglican parishes consider church property issues in Pittsburgh

from Richard Robbis' article in the Tribune-Review:

The Pittsburgh Episcopal diocese and 41 breakaway Anglican parishes scattered throughout Western Pennsylvania are ready to discuss their financial differences.

"At this point, negotiations are the way forward," said Bishop William Ilgenfritz of St. Mary's, the Anglican parish in Charleroi, which is waiting for the Episcopal diocese to set a starting date for talks.

Negotiations over property issues are expected to take place on a parish-by-parish basis, church leaders said, although it's not clear when negotiations will begin.

....In February, Episcopal Bishop Kenneth Price Jr. invited the individual Anglican parishes to "contact me to begin a conversation seeking an amicable resolution" of property issues.

For the 24 parishes whose church building titles are held by the Episcopal diocese, the negotiations will revolve around the buildings themselves. The remaining parishes have bank accounts and other property, such as sound systems and office equipment, that could figure in reaching a financial arrangement with the Episcopal diocese.

....According to Anglican officials, a majority of parishes have replied to Price's letter and are awaiting an answer and the beginning of talks.

The Rev. John Bailey of St. Andrew's Anglican Church in New Kensington said his parish's negotiating team will include himself and a lay member of the congregation, likely "a seasoned attorney."

Bailey said that the Anglican diocese would act in an advisory capacity for the talks. At the suggestion of the diocese, Bailey said, the parish has completed an inventory of its property and has looked for a new building in which to worship.

"We are trying to find out what is the best option for us in the Allegheny Valley," Bailey said. "If it comes to that, and we would find better property in a better location, we would be willing to leave our property."

Bailey said he was not sure how strong a hand he will have in negotiations with Episcopal officials.  He said he would not negotiate a settlement in which the parish would be forced to sever its relationship with the Anglican diocese. That was part of the deal the Episcopal diocese struck with St. Philip's Church in Moon, which is barred from Anglican membership for five years or until their financial settlement is paid in full, Bailey said.

Read the whole article.

Monday, March 7, 2011

An Open Letter to the Clergy and People of The Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and to The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church USA

From the website of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh:

March 5, 2011

Hopes for Negotiations and A Call to Prayer

As we prepare to enter into good-faith negotiations, we ask the people of our two dioceses, and all Christian people in our communities, to pray that these negotiations will lead to fair and godly outcomes that will enable the mission of our churches to thrive.

We hope and pray that in the coming days the leaders and people in both our dioceses will find a way to seek blessing on one another. Specifically, we offer the following overarching principles in the hope that they might characterize the spirit of our efforts to resolve our differences:
1) Mutual Recognition: - that the members of each diocese may be able to recognize the other as seeking to be faithful to their Christian call as they perceive it, and to their conscience.

2) Mutual Forgiveness: - that the members of each diocese will work to forgive perceived wrongs and failures of charity.
3) Mutual Blessing and Release: - that anticipated settlements would not seek to damage the health and future of one another’s ministries.
It is our prayerful goal that our negotiations:
1) Assure that all the parishes and each diocese can survive and thrive;

2) Enable us all to move past litigation and focus on our respective missions;
3) Demonstrate our commitment to be at God’s best as we work to resolve our differences, mindful of the public and private impact of our disagreements.
Signed by clergy and lay leaders of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh gathered for a meeting at St. Martin’s, Monroeville.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Ottawa churches settle dispute

from Marites N. Sison's article in AnglicanJournal.com:

A three-year dispute between the diocese of Ottawa and two historic churches that left the Anglican Church of Canada over the blessing of same-sex unions has ended. A negotiated settlement will divide assets between the two parties.

In 2008, the parishes of St. Alban the Martyr and St. George’s voted to join the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), saying the Anglican Church of Canada “no longer adhered to the clear teaching of Scripture.”

As part of the agreement, the diocese will disestablish the parish of St. George’s and sell the property to ANiC. Once the sale is completed by March 1, the property will be renamed St. Peter & St. Paul’s Anglican Church.

At St. Alban’s, ANiC clergy will leave the parish by July 1, “with the understanding that members of the congregation are welcome to stay and become part of a renewed parish” with the diocese. The ANiC congregation at St. Alban’s has chosen the new name, Church of the Messiah, and plans to begin meeting in the Ottawa Little Theatre building.

The settlement also includes “a further undisclosed division of assets” between the parishes and the diocese, said ANiC in a statement.

The agreement, approved Jan. 16 by diocesan council and the congregations of St. Alban’s and St. George’s in downtown Ottawa, is the first of its kind in the Anglican Church of Canada.

“We worked together in good faith, mindful that the people of God deserve nothing less,” said a statement by Bishop John Chapman of the diocese of Ottawa. “We now look forward to renewing our ministry at St. Alban’s and investing the money received from the sale of St. George’s in new ministry elsewhere in the diocese.”

The Rev. George Sinclair, rector of St. Alban’s, said, “…We are looking forward to not having to deal with this issue any longer. We see ourselves as giving up the building for the cause of Christ.”

The Rev. David Crawley, rector of St. George’s, said, “While each party had to compromise, we are grateful to have reached an agreed upon division of assets in order to avoid the further cost and acrimony of litigation.”

Read the whole article.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Details of the Church of Our Saviour Oatlands Settlement

Sunday, February 20, the congregation of Church of Our Saviour Oatlands voted to approve a settlement negotiated with the Diocese of Virginia to end its part in the Virginia litigation. Church of Our Saviour had been one of nine churches involved in the litigation.

According to the Diocese' press release, Church of Our Saviour will sign over all of its legal interest in the church property in return for a lease of up to five years at modest rent. It will retain its parish funds with the understanding that a substantial portion of those will be used on repairs and maintenance of the building. The congregation will be allowed to keep several memorial items it requested.

In addition, Church of Our Saviour will sever all ties to the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV), the Congregation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and any other Anglican bodies. It may not host any Anglican bishops while occupying the property.

According to the Washington Post, Rev. Elijah White, the parish's rector, said that its motivation was to end the mounting legal fees due to the litigation. He said that the parish had spent $400,000 in legal fees to date, but that the property is worth only $314,000.

Earlier this year, Church of Our Saviour had asked Judge Bellows to consider its claims in a separate and expedited hearing because of the burden of legal fees. That motion was denied.

The Washington Post also quoted Henry Burt, Secretary and Chief of Staff of the Diocese, as saying that the Diocese was in negotiations with other parishes and hoped to reach settlement with them as well. ADV spokesman Jim Oakes said that no other parishes were in settlement talks. This discrepancy may be explained by letters received by some parishes from Diocesan lawyers offering terms similar to those accepted by Church of Our Saviour Oatlands. These proposals contain provisions more onerous than could be ordered by Judge Bellows if the parishes were to lose the litigation (such as to sever ties to Anglican bodies). We understand that these are viewed as so unreasonable by the ADV parishes as not to reflect a good faith interest in settlement on the part of the Diocese and TEC.

Meanwhile, legal costs continue to mount as discovery proceeds in preparation for the trial beginning April 25.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Details of Somerset Anglican Fellowship (PA) settlement

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has negotiated a second agreement with an Anglican parish. Unlike the first settlement, this one does not require the parish to break ties with the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh or the Anglican Church in North America.

Somerset Anglican Fellowship was formed in 2008 when members of St. Francis-in-the-Fields Episcopal left TEC. They took none of the St. Francis property and began worshiping in rented space. However, they had no hymnals, chalices, or other communion materials. So they received those from the Diocese.

Under the terms of the agreement, Somerset Anglican has 30 days to return that property. Somerset Anglican has also agreed not to support litigation against the Diocese by other churches.

The impetus for the settlement was Somerset Anglican's plans to purchase a former Presbyterian church. The Diocese and TEC have relinquished any claims they may have asserted concerning the new church buildings as part of the agreement.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Details of Moon, PA settlement

The congregation of St. Philips Church in Moon, PA has voted to accept the terms of a settlement negotiated with the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. The parish will receive clear title to its property in exchange for payment of an undisclosed sum and assumption of the existing mortgage.

However, it is the non-financial terms that have gained attention. St. Philips had left the Episcopal Church in 2008 with several dozen other parishes which subsequently formed the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh whose bishop is Robert Duncan. Under terms of the settlement, St. Philips has agreed to cut all ties with the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Anglican Church in North America for a period of five years. If they start any mission churches during that time, those new parishes cannot be Anglican.

According to one report, the rector of St Philips, Rev. Eric Taylor, explained the church's decision this way: "Our commitment is to the people in Moon Township. Our commitment is to the kids and families we care about, to tell them about Jesus. That's my first concern. I think it's my first responsibility, be it Anglican or Episcopal or independent." To another newspaper he added, "The other denomination stuff takes a back seat."

This and other similar requirements to sever ties with Anglican organizations have been proposed by TEC in negotiations in other property disputes. In her deposition in connection with the Virginia litigation, TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori explained that "the Episcopal Church, for matters of its own integrity, canot encourage other parts of the Anglican Communion to set up shop within its jurisdiction." Affiliation with a Baptist, Methodist or other denomination would be acceptable, as would no denominational affiliation at all. The latter is apparently what happened at St. Philips.

To our knowledge, this is the first time a departing parish has accepted those terms. In other instances the negotiations either ended or were concluded without inclusion of that condition.

One remarkable instance in which negotiations ended concerned Good Shepherd Church in Binghamton, NY. In 2007, it voted to leave TEC but remain part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. Although Good Shepherd offered to purchase its property from the Diocese of Central New York, the diocese rejected the offer and filed suit for possession of the church. In January 2009 the diocese won and took possession of the property, which it then attempted to sell. It was unable to do so until March 2010. The purchaser was the Islamic Awareness Center, whose Facebook page describes it as, "Open to all Muslims looking for a faith based community center. Our goal is to provide a comfortable place for Muslims to learn, grow, share and become active members of the communities we live in."

The Islamic Awareness Center reportedly paid $50,000 for the property. Good Shepherd's rejected offer to purchase the property had been for three times that amount.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The inside story of how the New Jersey settlement came to be

Raymond Dague is the attorney for St. George's Anglican Church, which recently completed negotiations with bishop George Councell of the Diocese of New Jersey whereby the parish will keep the disputed property in return for payments over fifteen years. He has prepared a memorandum that gives the history of the parish's decision to leave The Episcopal Church and the subsequent negotiations.

It is worth a careful reading.

Here are some portions that struck us as important and interesting:
....New Jersey law is one of the toughest in the country for a congregation which departs from the Episcopal Church. The 1980 case of Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of New Jersey v. Graves, 417 A.2d 19 (N.J. 1980) basically gives the greatest possible rights of any state in the nation to the diocese as against a departing congregation. Further, the New Jersey statutes (N.J.S.A. 16:12-16) allow the Episcopal diocesan convention to adopt a resolution which unilaterally dissolves an Episcopal Church which has ceased to exist by declaring it so, and filing a Certificate of Extinction of the parish. Upon the filing of the Certificate of Extinction with the county clerk, the title to the former property of the congregation transfers to the diocese without the necessity of a deed transfer or any action by the congregation....

....Yet despite the strong legal position of the diocese, Bishop Councell assured Fr. Guerard that this in no way would interfere with the continued use by the parish of the property. Bishop Councell asked that they continue to try to negotiate a resolution to the use and ownership by the new Anglican parish. St. George’s took no legal action against the diocese to challenge this in court. But the diocese likewise did not go to court. The bishop and the diocese continued to talk and negotiate with the parish.

In September of 2008 the parish had an appraiser do a formal written appraisal of the property value which came to $1.7 million. In early 2010 the diocese paid the same real estate appraiser to reappraise the property, and the figure was revised to $1.6 million. According to the tax assessment records of Helmetta, the land is worth $732,000 and the improvements to the property were worth $1,066,800 for a total value of $1,798,800. Numbers in this magnitude were a non-starter for the congregation, and the parish told the diocese that.

In early 2010 the parish made another offer to the diocese. The proposal was for a total of $700,276.80 consisting of a $30,000 down payment and a mortgage amortized over 30 years with zero interest to be held by the diocese for the $670,276.80 balance of the purchase price. The parish offer was that they would pay the $1,881.88 per month payments for 15 years and at the end of 15 years, the diocese would get the remaining unpaid balance as a balloon payment of $335,138.40. The parish told the diocese that this was all they could afford to pay....

....It is hard to say for certain why this transaction worked an amicable settlement rather than litigation while so many other cases around the country have resulted in lawsuits. Litigation has resulted in great cost to all parties and the ensuing bad publicity for everyone. However it is clear to me that the very good relationship between this particular Episcopal Bishop and the rector of the parish played a huge part in the settlement. The parish was willing to walk away from the property if the bishop said so. The bishop was willing to negotiate with the parish rather than take over an empty building which would then be sold to someone else. The legal framework, despite being highly favorable to the diocese because of the law and court decisions in New Jersey, was never allowed to drive the interactions between the parties. This negotiation was conducted over the course of over two years with the presiding bishop and her chancellor well aware of what was happening and the terms of the deal.

Much can be said and much has been written about the litigiousness of these kinds of cases. But the St. George’s in Helmetta, New Jersey goes to prove that when the parties both desire to find an amicable way to sell a formerly Episcopal Church to an Anglican Church which has disaffiliated from TEC, that a way can be found. There is no legal bar to such a sale, nor is such a sale, even at a fraction of the appraised and assessed value of the property, in violation of the fiduciary duty of the diocese or TEC.

Where there is the will to be gracious and settle without lawsuits, there is a way that it can be done, because it was done here. Can it be repeated elsewhere?

Perhaps the Helmetta experience might be repeated. It need not be an isolated incident if both parties in other cases have the good will to try it.
Read the whole memorandum.

Promising news from VA Diocese Annual Council meeting

The resolution urging VA Episcopalians to pray for settlement of the property disputes currently in litigation was adopted at the Annual Council meeting. (Check here for background on that resolution.)

According to the Diocese's website, the adopted resolution reads as follows:
R-12s: A Call to Prayer
Adopted as substituted, text pending final approval.
Resolved, that the 216th Annual Council request the members of the Diocese of Virginia, corporately and individually, to pray regularly for God's guidance for the resolution of the property issues in the Diocese that are presently the subject of litigation.
While not a part of the resolution itself, the Background to the resolution was instructive:
We agree that this matter of property ownership needs to come to a resolution that is according to God's will and that brings him glory. What we may not agree upon is what our expectations of that outcome should be. Therefore, we will lay our differences and our desires before God in the faith that through the Holy Spirit the path of the Diocese in this matter will be his path.
Bishop Johnstone, in his pastoral address, addressed the litigation. He spoke about the Diocese's rationale for pursuing the matter in courts, but also had this to say about negotiation:
That being said, litigation is not the only means we have to resolve matters.  We have pursued litigation because up to this point there has been little choice.  We will continue to do so if that remains the case.  But I’m sure that neither side wants the litigation to continue.  So, be assured that in the past we have opened dialogue for settlement and we are even now pursuing settlement.  Given the need for confidentiality in these matters, I cannot say any more than this, but do know that we will continue to pursue all avenues to the just and appropriate resolution of this dispute.

In addition, Russ Palmore, the Chancellor of the Diocese, underscored that the Diocese is willing to negotiate. According to Baby Blue, he said:
You may hear that the diocese has not been willing to negotiate. That is wrong. As Bishop Shannon mentioned we are willing to negotiate ... Our willingness to negotiate continues. We have been in touch with one of the other congregations about settlement. We will be reasonable but reasonableness is a two way street.
This is hopeful news. The ADV press releases following noteworthy developments in this litigation always seem to include a call for negotiation. Let us all pray that the two sides will indeed get together and work out a resolution that respects the interests of each, demonstrates to a skeptical world that Christians can reach peace among themselves, and save our limited resources for mission.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Resolutions on litigation to be considered at Diocese of Virginia Annual Council

The Diocesan Annual Council meets in Reston VA from January 20-22. Two resolutions related to the property litigation were submitted in advance. One called on the Diocese to enter into negotiations with the departing congregations "so that a bilaterally beneficial outcome might be achieved and an increasingly prolonged and mutually destructive process of civil litigation be avoided." (Read the full text here.)  The other called on the Bishop to pursue recovery of the disputed property "by all available means.” (Read the full text here.)

In the time-honored Episcopal tradition of finding an approach that everyone can support, those who submitted these mutually-exclusive resolutions have drafted a proposed substitute resolution which turns out to be quite promising. The resolution and background statement read as follows:

PROPOSED SUBSTITUTION FOR R-8 AND R-9
Resolved, That the 216th Annual Council request the members of the Diocese of Virginia, corporately and individually, to commit to praying regularly for God's guidance for the resolution of the property issues in the Diocese that are presently the subject of litigation.
Background:
We agree that this matter of property ownership needs to come to a resolution that is according to God's will and that brings him glory. What we may not agree upon is what our expectations of that outcome should be. Therefore, we will lay our differences and our desires before God in the faith that through the Holy Spirit the path of the Diocese in this matter will be his path.
VA Laity for a Win-Win Settlement agrees with the drafters that the way to deal with what appear to be irresolvable differences is to lay them before God and wait for his guidance. In that sense, this resolution has a similar spirit to VA Laity’s call to pray for a win-win settlement.

Our suggestion to the drafters would be to add this phrase in the second paragraph of the Background statement: “What we may not agree upon is the best way to arrive at that resolution and what our expectations of that outcome should be.”

Negotiation becomes attractive when all parties believe that it is a feasible alternative to achieving their objectives. The same is true, of course, for litigation. In the end, there is a better chance that all parties will be satisfied when they negotiate; if they litigate, it is certain that one or all will be unhappy with the outcome. We think it makes sense to give negotiations a try.

But when there is disagreement over even that strategic question, the place to begin is prayer.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Options for Resolving Conflict

Ron Claassen, a mediator and faculty member at the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Fresno Pacific University, has developed a very useful diagram that outlines the options faced by those who are in conflict. The conflict may be between individuals, groups, even countries but the options for resolving it are essentially the same. What is helpful about this diagram is that it deals forthrightly with power.

Each of the | symbols represents a party to the conflict (there may be more than two). The X represents an outside party. The circle/oval symbol indicates the party with the power to resolve the conflict. 

So in Option 1 one of the parties has the power to decide how the conflict ends (example: a boss and employee). In Option 2 an outside party makes the decision (examples: a judge or arbitrator). In Option 3 the outside party helps the parties in conflict make a mutual decision (examples: a mediator or restorative facilitator). In Option 4 the parties in conflict make a mutual decision without outside help.

Right now we are squarely in Option 2: the cases are in Fairfax County Court with all parties preparing to present their positions to Judge Bellows who will make the decision. VA Laity for a Win-Win Settlement believes that Options 3 or 4 have a number of advantages over Option 2. Given the degree of mistrust and hostility between the parties, Option 3 seems like the more practical way to proceed.

In Matthew 5:25-26 Jesus advises his followers to settle disputes with adversaries even on the way to court in order to avoid a judge's adverse ruling. In other words, use Options 3 or 4 to avoid Option 2.

In the first eight verses of 1 Corinthians 6, Paul is astounded that members of the young church would take their disputes to court (Option 2) to be decided by unbelievers. Surely there are people in the church wise enough to serve as judges between believers (also Option 2). He doesn't speak directly about Option 3, but presumably would have no objection to a mediated settlement.

There is a surprise in verse 7. Paul points out that all parties have an Option 1 choice available: they can walk away from the dispute, allowing themselves to be wronged and cheated. In fact, he argues that this is preferable to going to a secular judge.

Something to think about. 

Thursday, December 30, 2010

William Ury on the third side | Video on TED.com

William Ury is famous for his book, "Getting to Yes." In this TED lecture, he describes the key to peace, which he calls the third side.

In every conflict there are two sides. Each becomes entrenched in their positions, hostility develops producing depersonalization and eventually even terrorism can be justified. Ury has concluded, after spending nearly 4 decades helping resolve disputes, that the key to peace is to introduce a third side. The third side is made up of the community surrounding those in dispute. They are the ones who try to stop active hostilities, who help the two sides gain perspective, and who encourage them to talk.

His key message is this: The third side is us.

Virginia Laity for a Win-Win Settlement is a third side. We want to help bring the two sides to the table by using our influence as lay members of both groups.

Enjoy the lecture.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Why TEC insisted on litigation rather than settlement

From the Church of England Newspaper article by George Conger, November 23, 2007:
Presiding Bishop: "I ordered U-turn on deal"
In testimony before a Virginia court last week, US Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori stated she had directed the Diocese of Virginia to sue the clergy and lay leaders of 11 congregations after they had quit the Episcopal Church for the Churches of Nigeria and Uganda.

In video taped testimony presented to the Fairfax County Circuit Court, Bishop Schori said she ordered Virginia Bishop Peter Lee to break a verbal agreement allowing the 11 parishes to withdraw from the diocese so as to prevent “incursions by foreign bishops.”

....Testimony in the week long trial, revealed that shortly after her installation as Presiding Bishop in November, Bishop Schori met with Bishop Lee, telling him she “could not support negotiations for sale if the congregations intended to set up as other parts of the Anglican Communion.”

In December the diocese broke off negotiations with the congregations, and filed suit in January to recover the assets of the congregation....

....Had the 11 parishes been offered to sale to Methodist or Baptist groups, Bishop Schori said she would not have objected, but “the Episcopal Church, for matters of its own integrity, cannot encourage other parts of the Anglican Communion to set up shop within its jurisdiction,” she said in her deposition.

At the Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam in February, Bishop Schori endorsed the communiqué which called upon the US Church to cease litigation with traditionalist breakaway groups, and seek reconciliation.

However, in her deposition, Bishop Schori said the Primates’ communiqué was not binding upon the American Church....

Sunday, December 26, 2010

How long will the second phase of litigation take?

Now that Judge Bellows has set a date for a trial in the second phase of the litigation, it is possible to estimate the length of time that we can expect this to take.

The trial is set to start on April 25, 2011. It is likely to extend into June, after which Judge Bellows will ask for briefings from all parties. If these are completed in July, his ruling might come in September. The Diocese, in its proposals concerning the conduct of this second trial projected that final orders concerning each congregation could be entered in early November 2011.

The first phase of the litigation (concerning the division statute) ended with a Letter Opinion from Judge Bellows dated December 19, 2008. This was appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court which ultimately issued its Opinion on June 10, 2010. In other words, the appeal was decided roughly 18 months after Judge Bellow's ruling.

Assuming that any appellate process for the second phase would be similar in length to that of the first phase, the appeals would be concluded sometime in the second quarter of 2013.

This means there could be 30 more months of mounting legal expenses.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Details of New Jersey legal settlement

Just before Christmas came the announcement that St George's Anglican Church had reached an agreement with Bishop George Councell of the Diocese of New Jersey allowing it to purchase its property.

In January and February 2008 the congregation voted to leave TEC and the Diocese of New Jersey and joined CANA. In January 2009 it and the Bishop began negotiations for purchase of the property. These negotiations were concluded November 23.

We do not know the amount of the financial payment, but understand that it was an amount that the parish leadership felt was the most that it could undertake. Published reports say that there was a $30,000 down payment. We understand that the balance will be paid, interest free, on a 30 year mortgage with a balloon clause in 15 years. In other words, the monthly payments are an amount that would result in complete payoff over 30 years, but after 15 years of those payments the entire amount (roughly half the purchase price) will come due.

There are several interesting aspects to this decision. First, it happened in New Jersey, where the Episcopal church is much more liberal than CANA. But rather than this increasing hostility the Bishop chose to settle the matter amicably. Second, there is a financial payment being made to the Diocese, which is an implicit acknowledgement on the part of St George's that the Diocese had an interest (or at least, a plausible argument that it had an interest) in the property. Third, the Diocese was willing to negotiate both an amount and a payment schedule that was feasible for the parish to pay. Finally, although TEC was apparently not in favor of the settlement, the Bishop nevertheless proceeded to negotiate and conclude the agreement.

This is encouraging news, given the Diocese in which it took place and the assertion by the Bishop that this was a diocesan matter.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Details of Central Florida legal settlement

In May 2008, the Diocese of Central Florida reached an agreement with the majority of the members of Trinity Church, Vero Beach who had voted to leave the Episcopal Church. Here is how the Living Church described the agreement:
Under terms of the agreement, those members who wish to remain with The Episcopal Church, referred to in the mediation settlement agreement as “Stayers,” will retain the historic church property and pay the “Leavers” $700,000, with $200,000 paid in cash upon departure set for July 1 and the rest in $50,000 monthly installments guaranteed by the diocese.
The two sides have agreed not to lobby undecided members and to issue no media releases “concerning the disaffiliation except what counsel for the Leavers and Stayers agree upon.”
The leavers, who include most of the ordained clergy including the Rev. Canon Lorne Coyle, rector, retain sole operational authority of the plant until the date of separation. If the continuing Episcopal congregation later decides that it cannot afford to maintain the church plant, the Leavers have the first right to purchase the property.
An addendum to the six-page agreement notes that Bishop John W. Howe of Central Florida has agreed to transfer the canonical license of departing clergy to another Anglican province if they so desire. The Very Rev. G. Richard Lobs, retired dean of the Cathedral of St. Luke in Orlando, has agreed to serve as the interim of the Episcopal parish.
Notice that the settlement recognized that the Leavers had an interest in the existing property. This was addressed in two ways: first, through financial compensation and second, through granting the Leavers first right to purchase the property if the Stayers decide to sell.

Also notice the provisions designed to preserve civility: an agreement by both sides not to lobby undecided members and not to issue press releases not cleared by counsel for both sides, and Bishop John Howe's agreement to transfer the canonical license of the Leavers' clergy to other Anglican provinces if they wish.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Baby Blue joins the cause!

Read what Baby Blue says about Finding Common Ground in Common Prayer!

"As the next round of litigation is heating up in Virginia on the fate of nine church properties, a coalition of prayerful Episcopalians and Anglicans is forming to pray and seek ways to find an amicable settlement between the The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and nine Anglican churches. "Virginia Laity for a Win-Win Settlement" has all ready launched their website called "Seeking Common Ground in Common Prayer" that aims to provide helpful information, encouragement, and insight on how the different sides in the Virginia litigation between the Episcopal Church/Diocese of Virginia and nine Anglican churches that voted to separate from The Episcopal Church four years might approach a "win-win" settlement.

"....Here at the Cafe we are very excited by the forming of this coalition and pray that it will flourish.... To God be the glory."

Details of South Carolina legal settlement

In March 2010, the vestries of All Saints Church (AMiA) near Pawley's Island and All Saints Episcopal (now Christ the King Episcopal) entered into a settlement ending six years' of litigation. A majority of the All Saints congregation had voted to leave the Episcopal Church and join AMiA and had retained possession of their property. The lawsuits dealt primarily with state law, and in September 2009 the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the AMiA parish was the owner of the property under state law.

The Episcopal vestry filed an appeal to the US Supreme Court. However, before that appeal was heard, the two sides settled. According to a letter to his parish from Terrell Glenn, rector of the AMiA church, the settlement included the following elements:
  1. Both sides accepted the Supreme Court ruling that the AMiA church owned the property.
  2. The AMiA vestry gave the Episcopal congregation $375,000 to help it acquire its own property.
  3. The AMiA parish gave the Episcopal congregation "several items that represent their participation in the heritage of All Saints Church."
  4. Members of the Episcopal congregation with historic ties to the property will be allowed "the opportunity to use the appropriate buildings in the event of funerals, weddings and other pastoral occasions."
Glenn explained why the AMiA congregation agreed to settle: "While we indeed see this as good news, the Vestry recognizes that there are some who will be disappointed that we simply did not wait in expectation for the Supreme Court to deny the Episcopalians’ Petition for an appeal. Please know that the Vestry has spent hours upon hours prayerfully considering what our Lord would have us do to bring this dispute to an end. In addition, all of us are all too aware of the unresolved conflicts, broken relationships and compromised testimony that are a result of this ten-year ordeal. It is the hope of both Vestries that this agreement allows our two church families a graceful way to go forward in ministry, seek reconciliation of relationships and forge healthy ways of partnering in the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ."

Notice two elements of the agreement. First, it acknowledged the needs of both congregations for a place of worship (it recognized that the AMiA parish owned the old property and included that parish's gift to the Episcopal parish to help it acquire its own property). Second, it acknowledged the common heritage of both congregations (the Episcopal parish was given certain artifacts and its members with ties to the old property were promised access for important pastoral events).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Scripture on litigation

A fellow parishioner at Saint Francis has suggested I post the following excerpt from the New Testament:

Corinthians 6
Lawsuits Among Believers

1 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4  Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church![a] 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to  judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother goes to  law against another—and this in front of unbelievers! 7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

Diocese of Virginia Annual Council on peaceful resolution of conflicts

from the 2010 Annual Council resolutions....

R-7s: Peaceful Resolution of Conflicts

Adopted as substituted.

Resolved, that the 215th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia affirms the Anglican Consultative Council Resolution 14-27 which “urges Anglicans everywhere to be bold in preaching reconciliation and facilitating peace-making dialogues in every situation of war and conflict.”

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Trial date set

On December 17 Judge Randy Bellows set April 25, 2011 for the start of the trial in the second phase of litigation. The trial will be a bench trial (conducted before Judge Bellows rather than a jury).

General Convention 2009 resolution on litigation

from Episcopal News Service, 14 July 2009....

Deputies defeated a resolution addressing the disclosure of the costs of Episcopal Church property litigation.

The House of Bishops had asked deputies to concur with their recommendation to refer the resolution to the Standing Commission on Stewardship and Development. The resolution had called for revealing the dollar amount the church spent "on litigation against dioceses, parishes, groups of churches and individuals since General Convention 2006" as well as information about where the funds came from, the money budgeted for litigation in the next triennium and "an estimate of the amount of property value retained and expected to be retained" by the church "because of pending and completed litigation as of General Convention 2009."

"We all need to know about the litigation going on in our church," said the Rev. Ellen Neufeld (Albany). "I speak very strongly in favor of this resolution so that information can be shared."

Deputies debated various options, including referring it to the Joint Standing Committee on Program, Budget and Finance or substituting previous wording to direct the Presiding Bishop and Executive Council to release the litigation information.

Thomas Fitzhugh III (Texas) said he was concerned that the resolution could put the Presiding Bishop and Executive Council "in a bad spot" because divulging information about ongoing litigation would reveal strategy to the other side. "Let's just kill it. This is nothing but an effort by people who try to steal our property" to find out how much the church has spent. "If they didn't try to walk off with it, we wouldn't have this motion."

Deputies ultimately voted not to concur with the bishops' recommendation, killing the legislation.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Archbishop of Canterbury on litigation

from his press conference in Tanzania, 20 February 2007:

You'll notice that we also suggested, to pick up an unfortunate metaphor that's been around quite a bit, the kind of ceasefire in terms of litigation. At the very end of the recommendations you'll see that in the very last paragraph that the Primates urge representatives of The Episcopal Church and of those congregations in property disputes with it, to suspend all actions in law arising from this situation, None of us- none of us- believe that litigation and counter litigation can be a proper way forward and we don't see that we can move towards sensible balanced reconciliation while that remains a threat in wide use.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

From Wikipedia....

The conduct of a lawsuit is called litigation. One who has a tendency to litigate rather than seek non-judicial remedies is called litigious.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

How much have the lawsuits cost?

Litigation is expensive. Because the litigation is between us, we need to total the costs of all sides to understand the total financial toll.

The financial costs are largely attorney fees, although there are a certain amount of court costs and miscellaneous expenses. These costs are generally not disclosed publicly in the course of a lawsuit because it parties generally want to conceal the costs from their opponents. But in denominations and parishes, there is also concern that if members understand the full costs, they may begin to question the continuing value of litigation.

The ADV parishes and the Diocese of Virginia have provided reasonably reliable indicators of cost. TEC has not, in spite of demands to do so from a number of sources, including current and retired bishops.

According to a newspaper account of the Diocese of Virginia’s Annual Council meeting in early 2010, the Diocese has spent $3.5 million to date:

Diocesan officials also addressed a $4 million line of credit — of which $3.5 million has been spent to date — that it has taken out to fund a three-year lawsuit against 11 conservative churches that left the diocese in 2006 and early 2007. When market conditions approve, the diocese will sell parcels of unconsecrated land to help pay the $3.5 million. Washington Times, Feb 22, 2010.

ADV representatives estimate that litigation has cost the departing parishes between $2.5 and $3 million to date, and they are estimating that the next phase will cost as much as $2 million.

So Virginia Episcopalians and Anglicans have incurred debts so far of $6-6.5 million, and could spend another $3.5-4.5 million during phase two. The ADV parishes have raised the money so far; the Diocese of Virginia has borrowed the money.

As mentioned above, TEC has not disclosed the costs of litigation. Even after accumulating the available information on attorney fees and other litigation costs, it is difficult to estimate how much the Virginia litigation is costing it because it is engaged in a number of lawsuits across the country.

Blogger A.S. Haley, who writes under the pseudonym Anglican Curmudgeon, has reviewed audited financial reports of TEC and its budget and concluded in a September 2010 post that between 2001-2009, TEC spent a total of $17.6 million in legal fees and other litigation-related costs over departing parishes and dioceses as well as disciplinary action against clergy and bishops (primarily related to the division in the church). Another $4 million has been budgeted for 2010-2012, making a total of $21.6 million. There is no way of knowing how much of this has been devoted to the Virginia lawsuits, but if we estimate that it has been 10%, this would bring the total cost so far of the Virginia litigation to roughly $8.7 million.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Why is a win-win settlement better?

There are lots of reasons for looking for a win-win settlement:
  1. Litigation costs money we could be spending on mission. For more information on costs, go here.
  2. Litigation turns people into enemies. We all have heard of situations where a dispute between neighbors divided the neighborhood when the case went to court, or when families were split apart by a bitter divorce. The same thing can happen in parishes as we have learned in the four places where there are both Episcopal and ADV congregations.
  3. Litigation between Christians causes scandal.  1 Cor 6:7 says, “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already.” As former Secretary of State James A Baker has said, “Squabbling over church assets is the wrong way to resolve this impasse. The predictable result of continuing this battle will be public conflict without end in sight, to the utter dismay of most Episcopalians.”
  4. Win-win settlement allows creative solutions. Courts must apply the law and the result can be unsatisfactory. For example, some of the pieces of property in dispute have multiple deeds. It is possible that a judge or jury would determine that the wording of the deeds means some parcels belong to one side and others belong to the other. Furthermore, in negotiating a win-win settlement it is possible to find solutions to problems created by the separation that aren’t even part of the litigation (like figuring out how to deal with the conflicting claims to be part of the Anglican Communion).
  5. Win-win settlement is faster. If there is a trial for this second phase of the litigation it is possible there will be no judgment until Summer 2011. The appeal process took an additional 18 months in the first phase, so litigation may not be over until 2013 or later. While we might need the help of a mediator to do it, negotiation could produce a win-win settlement by Spring 2011.

Friday, December 3, 2010

What can we do to encourage a win-win settlement?

It is important to make our voices heard. The people making decisions are doing the best they can to win the lawsuits, but once litigation begins it is possible to get locked into a win-lose frame of mind. The purpose of Common Ground in Common Prayer is to give voice to those of us who believe that this is wrong. It is time to sit down together in good faith and work out a win-win solution.
There are five things we can do:
  1. Pray. Use the prayer at the top of the blog. It was prepared by people on both sides of the dispute. Modify it to fit your situation and begin praying this on a daily basis. Ask your Rector to include this in the prayers of the people during worship.
  2. Sign on. Become a follower of this blog and encourage others to do the same.
  3. Talk. Who are other parishioners who should know about this movement? Drop them an email with the link to this blog, tell them that you’ve signed on and ask them to do the same.
  4. Act. Tell your clergy, Vestry and Diocesan or District leaders that you think it is time for a win-win settlement. Let them know that you are praying for them and for the others who are making decisions about the litigation. Send them a copy of the prayer.
  5. Live the future. The point of settlement is to remove an obstacle to our finding areas of common cause. But we can live as though the future is now. Look for ways to join with people from the “other side” on projects or events you can support. For example:
  • Work for social justice. Find a project that needs volunteers and recruit people on both sides to join in.
  • Share beauty with each other. Invite people from the other side to attend concerts, art exhibits and other events that your parish is involved in. Visit those offered by parishes on the other side.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Has there been any attempt at a win-win settlement?

Just before the Dec 2006 vote by parishes to leave TEC, the Diocese and All Saints, Dale City concluded a negotiated agreement which had been worked on for a year. All Saints was paying mortgages on two pieces of property: one where their current church was located and a second property on which they intended to build a new church. Unable to maintain both mortgages, and unable to raise funds for new construction given the uncertainty of the impending vote, it entered into negotiations with the Diocese. 

According to the joint press release announcing the agreement, All Saints agreed to transfer the existing property to the Diocese and the Diocese agreed to release any claim to the new property. They also agreed that All Saints could retain use of its existing property while it constructed a facility on the new property. Its rental was $1 per year plus utilities, insurance, routine maintenance and capital repairs.

Shortly after the Dec 2006 vote, Bishop Lee appointed a Property Committee made up of diocesan representatives as well as members from the departing parishes that owned real property. However, the Property Committee never met because TEC refused to entertain the idea of negotiations.

The ADV has routinely included calls for an end to litigation with its press releases at various stages of the lawsuits. However, it is not clear whether the Diocese or TEC has considered those to be genuine offers to negotiate or a public relations ploy.

To date, neither side made an offer to the other.

In October 2010, the attorney for the Diocese asked Truro Church’s attorney if there was any interest in settlement. Truro’s vestry responded that while it was prepared for litigation it was interested in settlement. This position was passed along to the Diocese’ attorney; a day later he responded that the Diocese was not interested in settlement. All that it was willing to negotiate was how long Truro would have to move out.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Prayer

It will take a great deal of prayer to bring enough peace in this conflict for the sides to construct a win-win settlement.

The prayer above was prepared by a member of the Diocese of Virginia and a member of the Anglican District of Virginia. Feel free to modify this to fit your situation, and pray every day for “just and speedy resolution” of the lawsuits.

Some parishes will be using this during the prayers of the people each Sunday. Check with your Rector to see if your congregation can do this as well.

Monday, November 29, 2010

James A Baker on “Finding Our Way Forward”

The Honorable James A Baker III was Secretary of State during the George H.W. Bush Administration. He is also an Episcopalian. In the March 2010 issue of News from the Hill, the newsletter of Virginia Theological Seminary, he proposed a “local option” that would allow parishes to vote on the position they will take on the controversial issues related to sexuality.

The proposal is creative and worthy of consideration. However, it is a comment he makes about litigation over property that is of particular interest to us:

Squabbling over church assets is the wrong way to resolve this impasse. The predictable result of continuing this battle will be public conflict without end in sight, to the utter dismay of most Episcopalians.

Amen.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Trust

There appears to be little trust right now among the Diocese of Virginia, TEC and ADV. This is not surprising, given the decision of ADV churches to leave TEC and the subsequent litigation over property.

When trust is low, it is difficult to get parties to agree to sit down together. But agreeing to meet is just the way to begin building trust.

Ron Claassen, a mediator and professor at Fresno Pacific University, suggests that when agreements are made, trust begins to be built. When those agreements are completed, trust grows further. And when completion is acknowledged, it grows exponentially.

The initial agreement does not have to be about the most important things. Agreeing to a meeting to set an agenda for future meetings, for example, can be a start. As agreements are completed and as completion is acknowledged, trust builds and it becomes possible to tackle bigger issues.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Ephraim Radner's Unrealistic Proposal

Something to think about from Ephraim Radner of Wycliffe College in Canada:

In the face of the tragedy in Haiti, I want to make a proposal. It’s not a realistic proposal, I grant; but it is a serious one. My proposal is this: that all those Anglicans involved in litigation amongst one another in North America — both in the Episcopal Church and those outside of TEC; in the Anglican Church of Canada, and those outside — herewith cease all court battles over property. And, having done this, they do two further things:

a. devote the forecast amount they were planning to spend on such litigation to the rebuilding of the Episcopal Church and its people in Haiti; and
b. sit down with one another, prayerfully and for however long it takes, and with whatever mediating and facilitating presence they accept, and agree to a mutually agreed process for dealing with contested property.

 Read the whole proposal.

What is the status of the litigation?

There are two phases to the litigation. One, concerning a statute related to denominational divisions, is complete. The second, concerning application of Virginia property law to the departure of parishes, has begun. For a complete collection of the court documents to date, check out the Diocese of Virginia web site.
Phase 1: The Division Statute litigation
The Commonwealth of Virginia has a statute that dates from the civil war, concerning what happens to the property of local churches when there is a denominational split. It provides that local churches may decide by majority vote which side of the split retains ownership.
The departing parishes claimed that this statute applied to their situation. The Diocese of Virginia and TEC argued that it did not apply and that in any event, the statute was unconstitutional.

These arguments were decided upon by Judge Randy Bellows of the Fairfax Circuit Court, and a trial was held in October 2008. In December of that year Judge Bellows ruled that the statute applied was constitutional, and that the departing parishes were the owners of the property they possessed. (Breakaway Anglican parishes win lawsuit over property, Christian Post, December 20, 2008.
The Diocese of Virginia and TEC appealed the ruling and verdict to the Virginia Supreme Court. After petitions were filed and a hearing was conducted, the Supreme Court ruled that the statute did not apply in this situation. It overturned the trial court judgment and returned the dispute to the court for resolution under Virginia property law. (Virginia diocese, Episcopal Church prevail with state Supreme Court, Episcopal Life Online, June 10, 2010)

Phase 2: Virginia trust, property and contract law litigation
When the departing parishes voted to leave TEC in December 2006, they filed a report of the vote in the relevant Circuit Court asking that it be approved under the Division Statute. The Diocese and TEC filed a response which asked for a ruling that under Virginia trust, property and contract law they own the real and personal property the departing parishes claimed to possess.
Because the first phase of the litigation focused solely on the Division Statute, the trust, property and contract law claims of the Diocese and TEC were never addressed. When the Virginia Supreme Court overturned the trial court’s ruling on the Division Statute, it directed that the cases be returned to the Circuit Court and that those claims be litigated.
This phase has just begun. All but one of the departing parishes have requested a jury trial on the factual matters in dispute. A hearing has been set for December 17 on this and other procedural matters. The trial is expected to take place in Spring.

What is the purpose of this blog?

We are Virginian lay members of Episcopal and Anglican parishes who believe that the current litigation between the Anglican District of Virginia, the Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church (TEC) must end.
The litigation concerns who owns the real and personal property held by nine parishes who were among those voting to leave TEC in December 2006. There has already been a trial and appeal to the Virginia Supreme Court, and the matter has been sent back for another trial. The results of the new trial could very well be appealed again.
We think that enough is enough. The lawsuits are an expensive distraction from what parishes should be doing, which is proclaiming and living out the Gospel.
We all use the Book of Common Prayer. Surely we can find enough Common Ground in Common Prayer to live at peace with each other.
The purpose of this blog is to provide a gathering place for Virginia lay people who agree with us. Who are willing to speak up, insisting that all sides come to the table to settle this dispute through negotiation. Who believe that the time has come to find areas of common ministry to do together.
The organizers of this blog are Kathryn Peyton, a member of St Francis Episcopal Church in Great Falls, and Dan Van Ness, a member of Truro Church in Fairfax.