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Virginia Anglican Controversy: Who is Guilty of Abandonment?

( [email protected] ) Jan 23, 2007 06:09 PM EST

Breakaway Anglican congregations in Virginia were deemed "abandoned" by the Episcopal diocese in a push toward recovering church property. But one Christian leader asks, who has done the abandoning here?

"It must not be forgotten that many faithful and even lifelong Episcopalians voted for the parishes’ departures," said Ralph Webb, Anglican Action Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. "They did this out of a strong conviction that the Episcopal Church has abandoned the Anglican Communion."

Nine congregations, including two megachurches, overwhelmingly voted to leave the Episcopal Church in December because of the church's departure from Scriptural authority. The congregations joined the U.S. outreach arm of the Anglican Church of Nigeria called the Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

Both the breakaway Anglicans and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia had agreed to avoid litigation over church property, but before the 30-day standstill expired, the diocese called off negotiations believing they would become cumbersome and alienate Episcopalians who remained, Virginia Bishop Peter Lee said. The churches were then declared "abandoned" as the diocese decided to take steps to court to recover and secure the property.

The state of abandonment would allow the diocese to help secure the multi-million dollar properties.

Calling the recent decisions of the diocese "tragic," Webb redirected the term "abandoned" to the Episcopal Church.

"They (Anglicans who voted to depart) believe that the Episcopal Church has taken unilateral actions that went expressly against the mind of the majority of Anglicans worldwide," he said in a statement. "They also hold that the Episcopal Church has abandoned historic Christian orthodoxy."

The Rev. John Yates and Os Guinness of The Falls Church, one of the Virginia megachurches that voted to leave, publicly clarified that their decision for departure was not because of the issue of homosexuality itself, but because of abandonment from the Bible.

"When the great truths of the Bible and the creeds are abandoned and there is no limit to what can be believed in their place, then the point is reached when there is little identifiably Christian in Episcopal revisionism," they stated earlier in The Washington Post.

As the Anglicans who voted to leave continue to worship at their present churches, they called the Episcopal diocese to return to the negotiating table. The minority group of congregants who voted against the split are worshipping at nearby churches.

"The parishioners currently remain at the properties where they have worshipped for years and invested their service, prayers, and money. They want to worship God faithfully and within an Anglican context. Who is guilty of abandonment here?" said Webb.