Last weekend, the Falls Church Episcopal celebrated its 250th anniversary with over 300 parishioners, friends and dignitaries. The historic chapel, frequently renovated since its maiden service on Christmas Eve 1769 and still functional and home to weekly worship services every Sunday to this day, was packed to the rafters for the simple but elegant service that featured the bishop of the Diocese of Virginia and the echoes of the ages rebounding amid the carols and anthems through the hall.
The great names of George Washington and George Mason were evoked as among the first vestrymen of the church, founded prior to the American Revolution and upon whose steps the Declaration of Independence in 1776 was read to the fledgling congregation and citizens of the surrounding community.
With the U.S. Constitution that these founders of the American republic drafted and ratified in 1787, the most progressive advance in the striving for justice and the rule of just laws in modern human history, being put to the test most strenuously by the criminal regime in the White House today, it could not be more important now than for the American people to reconnect with these founders in a serious way and affirm what they gave to achieve for all of us.
It is also important to appreciate and affirm the modern day struggle of this historic church to reclaim its ties to this history, a struggle that occurred over seven long years of exile, so to speak, when the church property was seized and claimed in 2006 for that long time by defectors who’d voted to leave the national Episcopal denomination. Led by an insurgent rector who was subsequently defrocked by the Episcopal Church, they voted to defect in December 2005 as a reaction to the election of an openly gay priest as a bishop of the national denomination. But while they had the right to leave the denomination, they took the unprecedented step of claiming the right to the historic church property and prohibiting continuing Episcopalian members of the church congregation to set foot there. It took years of a long, arduous series of court battles for them to be ordered off the property. Moreover, it took great diligence and persistence for the continuing Episcopalians of that parish to sustain their allegiance until the point they were able to exercise their legal right (established at last by the refusal of the U.S. Supreme Court to take on a lower court decision) to return to the hallowed property.
For thousands of City of Falls Church residents who’ve moved here since those events, and for all who need to be reminded of these struggles, it is important to appreciate this history from 250 years ago and this history from seven years ago, to appreciate this iconic institution that has reclaimed so heroically its rightful role as a distinct benefit to the wider community and democracy it serves.