However, the church home that God led me to came with some baggage when I walked into it. After a lot of prayer and discussion, the church decided several years ago that it could no longer try to reform their denomination from within. There were too many signs of going down a path that permanently rejected key tenets of the Christian faith (most notably, the uniqueness of Christ's salvation... kind of Christianity 101 :)). The church voted and decided to leave that denomination. Along with several other parishes in the Northern Virginia area, our church decided to place itself under the authority of the Convocation of Anglican of North America. This is a missionary district of the Anglican Church of Nigeria-- so basically, the English brought Anglicanism to Nigeria, and now Nigeria is sending missionaries to America to reinstate Biblically based Anglicanism. My archbishop is Nigerian- so cool to be connected to the international church so closely!
Anyways, all this to say, when the church decided to leave the old diocese, the former bishop worked with our church along with several others to negotiate a peaceful separation, where everyone could walk away as happy as possible. However, right before we were about to wrap up and walk away, the national denomination leadership ordered the local bishop to stop negotiations and instructed their lawyers to sue all the churches in our area who were leaving for possession of our buildings.
Now, if you know anything about our facilities, you will know that George Washington commissioned the building we hold many of our services in. The property actually predates the existence of the denomination our church was leaving. We have paid all the bills, taxes, costs, etc. associated with our building- the entire campus has always been funded by the congregants, not the national church. Yet, because of a church act passed in the 80s, the old denomination is claiming rights over the property.
Our church, along with the others, has been engaged in a long bout of litigation to keep our property. The initial judge ruled in our favor, but the Virginia Supreme Court overruled his decision and remanded it back to the first judge. This new wave of proceedings is gearing up this week.
To all of you out there who do pray, I would ask that you think about our church and lift up your prayers for these things:
- That the national leaders in the old denomination would see their hardness of heart and seek reconciliation. The various churches have tried numerous times to discuss negotiations and have been categorically rebuffed, with the answer of "The only discussion we're interested in is when you will turn over the keys." The head bishop gave testimony and essentially said that she would rather see our building turned into a saloon than ever see us worship there again. I feel comfortable giving these examples because they were shared with our church body- they are only meant to illustrate the spirit behind the proceedings from their side and why I perceive them as being hardhearted. For people who are supposed to be in the same body as us, and whose theological predilections are supposed to be more progressive than ours, these reactions are very harsh and very hurtful, especially in since our leadership are former colleagues of these folks.
- That funds to continue this legal battle would be made available. We have spent an incredible amount of money trying to keep our property, money that had been allocated for other uses. Our church has also helped pay for the legal expenses of other, smaller sister churches.
- That our leadership would continue to hear from the Lord on when to push, when to retreat, when to press forward, and when to concede. That Jesus would be glorified by the actions of every church representative, whether they be a lawyer or clergy.
- That the judges who hear our case would be equitable and fair, seeking justice above political drama. This case is an important one for setting precedent and one that should be very important to other religious bodies, Christian or no. It is a question of whether or not a congregation has the right to keep its property if it has a theological disagreement with the body it has affiliated itself with and wants to leave.
- That the American church as a whole would be gearing itself up for continuing conflicts like this. However small this suffering is in the grand scheme of things, this is an intra-church instance of persecution. The church is being punished for defending its position to adhere to the truths that Jesus taught as they are laid out in the Bible. This is not an isolated incident and will continue to spread as every church is forced to decide whether it will succumb to secular pressure to be PC or continue to stick by orthodox theology that has been with us for 2,000 years.