Episcopal Diocese of Virginia Settles With a Breakaway Congregation

In a development with important consequences for a major dispute in Falls Church, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia announced today a legal settlement with one of 11 breakaway congregations in the state.

Today the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church announced a settlement with Church of the Word (COTW), Gainesville, the second reached with one of the nine congregations that left the Episcopal Church in 2006 and then sought to retain Episcopal church property. Church of Our Saviour, Oatlands reached a settlement on February 20. “We are pleased to have reached another settlement, an important step toward enabling all involved to focus our shared energies on our important ministries,” said the Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston, bishop of Virginia.

“This settlement has a set of unique circumstances that led the Diocese to allow COTW to retain Episcopal property,” stated Henry D.W. Burt, secretary of the Diocese of Virginia. “Changes in the immediate vicinity of the church, namely massive construction along Route 29 that eliminates direct access to the church, create significant challenges for any congregation in that space. Should COTW ultimately decide to relocate, the Diocese of Virginia has given them the certainty and control they need to determine what is best for the congregation and the day school they offer to the Gainesville community.”

Under the agreement, the Diocese will retain $1.95 million from a payment by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) for loss of value to the property as a result of the construction. In exchange, COTW will retain the church building and personal property, and will be responsible for the mortgage on the property. COTW will also retain $85,000 in cash from the VDOT payment and be permitted to negotiate for additional monies from VDOT. In addition, COTW will voluntarily disaffiliate from the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), the Anglican District of Virginia (ADV) and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) for a period of five years. The pastor of COTW will be allowed to remain in the CANA healthcare plan and retirement plan, if permissible under the conditions of these benefit plans.

“This is a welcome and appropriate resolution for all involved,” said Bishop Johnston. “It allows everyone to continue their important work while we will continue to preserve and expand the legacy of the Episcopal Church for future generations.”

The trial on property issues for the remaining seven Episcopal Church properties will begin in the Fairfax Circuit Court on Monday, April 25.