There are many reasons to applaud the tough stand by the Episcopal bishop of Virginia against the move by the Falls Church Episcopal Church to defect and align with a schismatic arch-conservative body created by an Anglican archbishop from Nigeria. The same goes for the resolve of many long-standing members of that church to persist in their worship as mainline Episcopalians. That can be said, too, for the welcome and hospitality these folks received from the nearby Falls Church Presbyterian, and the visible show of support for them by key people in the wider Falls Church civic community.
The tiny City of Falls Church has been assailed for years by the arrogance of those in the leadership of the Falls Church Episcopal, now rightfully called “the Nigerians.” Building up a membership of over 2,800, the vast majority from outside the City, at its historic site in the middle of the City, the church insinuated itself into the public schools of Falls Church, targeting the City’s youth with its right-wing evangelism, purchased and shut down a thriving shopping center, and leaned heavily on City Hall to permit its takeover and sealing off of a public street that was vital to hundreds of nearby residents.
It’s only been in the last few years that the City’s patience with all this has grown thin, leading to a decline of the church’s request for the street, including a subsequent proposal that the street to made narrower and one-way. Contrary to consistent pro-Democratic voting patterns of about two-thirds of the citizens of Falls Church, the church has attracted hoards of Bush administration loyalists from throughout the region. Its latest push, using the elevation of an openly gay clergyman from New England to standing as a bishop as its “final straw,” to orchestrate a formal defection from the denomination has come as no surprise to many here.
What is important for the City, as a wider if still small civic community, is not only to affirm religious freedom in the context of all this, including efforts by the mainline denomination fight back against the hijacking of its property and members. It is also to convey the message loud and clear to the surrounding region that the church defectors’ actions that have drawn so much national and global attention to Falls Church do not represent the character of the civic community in which they’re operating.
As the City of Falls Church fights its own battles to emerge as a fiscally-viable entity with long-term sustainability achieved through fresh economic development initiatives, it is essential that it becomes famous for a welcoming and affirming disposition toward racial, ethnic, sexual, gender and lifestyle diversity. A Falls Church City that is a bastion of the new so-called “Creative Class” is a Falls Church that will truly thrive. The world needs to know that this is who we really are.