Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Randy Bellows told and six other congregations in the Northern Virginia area on Tuesday to give their church property to the diocese they divorced years ago.
The 113-page ruling comes after almost five years of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in congregation-donated defense funds.
According to a story on Catholic Online, The Falls Church and Truro Church are two of the most famous Episcopal parishes in the country. The other five are Church of the Apostles, Fairfax; Church of the Epiphany, Herndon; St. Margaret's Church, Woodbridge; St. Paul's Church, Haymarket; St. Stephen's Church, Heathsville.
The Rev. John Yates, rector of The Falls Church said the parish will continue as a strong church family, according to a story in the Washington Post. He said the parish will move forward in Christ together with an invigorated sense of purpose as well, Yates told the Washington Post.
If they decide not to appeal, the congregations would have to vacate their churches, according to the Washington Post.
“Of course we are disappointed, but we will not look back,” Yates said to the Washington Post.
In all, 15 congregations voted to leave The Episcopal Church between December 2006 and November 2007. The congregations joined the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), formerly known as the American branch of The Church of Nigeria. They are now part of the Diocese of the Mid-Atlantic, a branch of the Anglican Church of North America. TEC declared that the congregations had abandoned their churches and were unlawfully using property that no longer belonged to them. It took seven Northern Virginia congregations to court, including The Falls Church.
Bellows was charged in this phase of the case with deciding whether the diocese or the congregants owned the property under Virginia real estate law, according to the Washington Post. Evidence included questions about who paid for the property, who maintained it and whose names were on the deeds, according to the Washington Post.
In a statement from the Diocese of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia said the “goal throughout this litigation has been to return faithful Episcopalians to their church homes and Episcopal properties to the mission of the Church.” According to the release, the court ruled that the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia have “a contractual and proprietary interest” in each of the properties subject to the litigation. The court ordered that all property subject to its ruling be turned over to the Diocese.