Clergy representing the 11 churches in Virginia that voted in December to depart the Episcopalian Church gathered for an extraordinary convocation at the historic chapel of the Falls Church Episcopal in downtown Falls Church last Saturday.
All had been placed under “ecclesiastical censure” by the Episcopal Bishop of Virginia Peter James Lee last month, a step toward defrocking if they don’t recant their role in their churches’ defections.
But they were all granted formal status Saturday under the auspices of the recently-formed Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), the association linked to the Anglican Bishop of Nigeria, at a standing-room-only ceremony at the F.C. chapel.
The Rev. Martin Minns of the Truro Episcopal Church of Fairfax, named the bishop of a new so-called Anglican district of Virginia affiliated with CANA, presented the clergy from each of the 11 separated churches in attendance with certification confirming their new status. They included, from the F.C. Episcopal, the Rev. John Yates and the Rev. Rick Wright.
The ceremony followed an all-day meeting of clergy and vestrymen from the 11 churches. Present was an ordained representative of the Anglican Church of Nigeria under Bishop Peter Akinola. The CANA-affiliated churches separated from the main Episcopal denomination in December on grounds of asserting the inerrancy of the Bible and in opposition to the elevation of an openly-gay clergyman as an Episcopal bishop in 2003.
While a legal dispute over ultimate control of the properties of the 11 churches, including the Falls Church Episcopal, between the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and the new CANA configuration of dissenting congregations remains before the courts, the split in Falls Church was underscored by Saturday’s event.
By contrast, across the street on Sunday morning, the service of those calling themselves “the continuing congregation” of the Falls Church Episcopal, namely those members who did not chose to defect, almost doubled in size from the previous week.
As word of the on-going operations and worship of the “continuing congregation” has grown around the city, its ranks have begun to swell, according to a member. Leading that effort is a former F.C. Episcopal vestryman, Bill Fetsch, who resigned when a majority from that church voted in December to defect. Falls Church Mayor Robin Gardner joined the service again last Sunday, as did former Vice Mayor Marty Meserve. A nine-person choir debuted.
The group has been gathering at the Falls Church Presbyterian Church, 225 E. Broad St., at 11:15 a.m. on Sundays, and will continue to do so. It has placed ads in the News-Press welcoming the public to its services. Services this Sunday will be led by the Rev. Michael Pitkin, chaplain at the Bethesda Naval Hospital.
Meanwhile, the News-Press has learned that at least one of the clergymen at the F.C. Episcopal censured by Bishop Lee last month has approached the bishop about wishing to maintain his status in the Episcopal diocese. Also, the church’s directors of music and worship, Marv and Alice Crawford, have resigned from the CANA church to move to Colorado.
Among the currently unresolved questions for some F.C. city parents is the control of the day school that operates in the F.C. Episcopal buildings. It has not been clarified whether the school is now under control of the CANA congregation or the Episcopal Church.