Congregation of The Falls Church must begin again

In 2006, The Falls Church and six sister congregations in Northern Virginia voted (overwhelmingly) to pull out of the Episcopal Church because, in our view, it had drifted so far from orthodox Christianity that we could not remain in good conscience.

Reasons for the division have been mainly theological, particularly focused on how we interpret the Bible, and what doctrines of the Christian faith are essential for leaders to maintain. The doctrinal divides have been widening for several decades, and in 2003 when a practicing homosexual was consecrated as Episcopal bishop, many realized that the divisions in the church were unresolvable.

Following our decision to withdraw were a series of lawsuits over the ownership of the church property we believed to be ours: the original church dating back almost 300 years, the new sanctuary that seats 1,000 that was built in 1991, the house in which my wife and I have lived for 33 years, most of the funds in the church’s accounts, and so forth.

A trial court decided in our favor, but that decision was reversed on appeal. After a second trial, a Fairfax County judge has given us the final order to depart.

Congregation of The Falls Church Must Begin Again

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There's a larger story with a considerable amount of background (and some further news now that they've been displaced) available via World Magazine:

Tuesday, May 15, was final move-out day. Yates glanced down the hallway where the robes he has preached in for 33 years were hanging. He would be leaving them behind also. The coffee table in his office was piled with keys to return. He could take his books, which he himself purchased, "So that's a blessing," he said. As part of the ruling, the Anglican church loses the rectory, Yates' home where he and his wife have raised their five children, most of whom were married at the church. The diocese has said he and his wife can stay at the house for a few months while they find a new place to rent, but they don't know where they will go.

The children's choir held rehearsals on the last day the Anglican church was in the building for their production of Joseph: From the Pit to the Palace.

"I'd like Curt to be the cupbearer," said McCarten in a room of about 30 kids.

"Yessssss," said the diminutive Curt, pumping his fist.

McCarten told the children they would be performing the musical in nearby Columbia Baptist Church. "It'll be a great place for our musical," she assured them.

After going through several musical numbers, McCarten led the children into the sanctuary, where they sang a benediction they knew by heart: "Go with us Lord and guide the way through this and every coming day." McCarten asked the children to pray to close their practice. One small voice prayed "that there would be love in the new church—that the people who are moving to the church we're now in would enjoy it." Another prayed "that we wouldn't be so depressed about not being in the church and that we would be close to God." The children ate cookies and cleared out, congregants cleaned the place, and a locksmith arrived to change the locks. Yates' daughter made a cake that she left for the Episcopalians.

The Falls Church Anglican is now itinerant, meeting in a middle school one week, a Catholic high school the next, and a Baptist church for one service. Given only a few weeks' notice to move out of their building by the court, the congregation hasn't firmed up its long-term schedule. Part of the church staff is squeezing into an office suite nearby, but most are working wherever they can. At a nearby Starbucks I saw two of the Anglican clergy sitting at a table, typing and talking.

Church staff emphasize that the eviction has been good for The Falls Church Anglican. For one thing, the church had outgrown its Falls Church sanctuary, piling in hundreds more each week than fire codes allowed. And the church has deepened relationships with other churches in the area. The staff now holds its weekly meetings at Columbia Baptist Church. Before the congregation broke away from TEC, the church had to get permission from the denomination to plant churches, and had planted two. In the five years since the breakaway, it has planted four churches in Virginia and is planning to plant another this year in Washington, D.C.

On the last day in the building, Yates sat in his empty office, talking to the young rector of Christ the King, one of the plants, who brought coffee and to-go cups. One of Yates' central missions has been to cultivate young leaders within the church, and he told the children sitting in the last service, "You kids, I can't tell you how important you are to what God wants to do. Give yourself to Jesus. He wants to use you in ways people in my generation have not been used."

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells