In the long awaited decision, concerning the properties held by seven CANA churches, by the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit Court of Virginia, Judge Randy I. Bellows presiding, was made yesterday. The conclusion of the judgments says this:
"the Court finds for TEC and the Diocese in the Declaratory Judgment actions and against each of the seven CANA Congregations. The trustees of the churches must, therefore, promptly convey the properties to the Diocese and the CANA Congregations must promptly relinquish control over the properties to the Diocese. Further, the Court finds the Amended Counterclaims to be without merit and grants TEC‟s and the Diocese‟s Motions to Strike the claims for unjust enrichment, quantum meruit, and constructive trust. Further, the Court finds that the Vestry entitled to elect the directors of the Falls Church Endowment Fund is the Falls Church Episcopal congregation recognized by the Diocese.
"The Court orders that all personal property acquired by the congregations before January 31, 2007 or February 1, 2007 (depending on the congregation) shall be conveyed to the Diocese and all liquid personal property (e.g., contributions and donations of money) acquired after these dates shall remain with the CANA Congregations. As to tangible personal property acquired by the CANA Congregations after these dates, they shall be conveyed to the Diocese unless the CANA Congregations can establish that they were purchased solely with funds acquired after these dates or were donated to the CANA Congregations after these dates."
Well there it is. It will be interesting to see if the CANA congregations want to appeal, but I think this judgment has all but finished the legal process in Virginia.
Now the Diocese of Virginia has an opportunity to renew the congregations in those churches, working with the continuing Episcopal Church congregations that have been without their church buildings for this time. It may also be time to explore with the CANA congregations new ways of cooperating even across the divide of theological differences.
What did all this decide? That the property belongs to The Episcopal Church, locally by the Parish part of the Diocese of Virginia, and more widely by the Diocese in trust for use by members of the Episcopal Church.
It may well be that the Episcopal Church parish or Diocese might find ways to cooperate with groups of its congregation that leave to form another church. But it would do so with the understanding by all parties that it is the Episcopal Parish leadership that exercises stewardship over the holdings of the parish and determines how the properties will be used.
Now the CANA congregations will have their transitional time without permanent residence. It may be a source of strength to them as it has been for some of the Episcopal Church congregations who have been without buildings. But in the end there will be CANA congregations and Diocese of Virginia congregations and somewhere down the path there will be new convergences in prayer and action, for which we can only hope and pray.