After digesting the opinion of the Supreme Court of Virginia, the congregations of the Anglican District who are in dispute with the Diocese of Virginia over church property have changed their tune. The Supreme Court concluded there is no division in the Anglican Communion, and that therefore any branch under the statute must be a branch of The Episcopal Church.
ADV's request for rehearing, that we reported Monday, does not contest that decision. Instead, where once they wanted to be as far away from The Episcopal Church as possible, they now want to play down their association with Church of Nigeria as much as possible. The Episcopal Church is the embraceable you.
As the saying goes, sometimes you do a good job of shooting yourself in the foot. Their motion for a rehearing lacks merit.
Here are the reassuring facts:
1. On page 8 of its opinion the Supreme Court noted both of the facts that ADV claims the Court missed, first regarding formation of CANA in 2005 and second that some member congregations of ADV had Church of Uganda connections.
2. ADV now claims CANA is a branch of TEC and the Diocese, but the congregations’ own carefully-crafted ballots taken in the vote to leave the diocese contained this resolution:
shall sever its denominational ties with The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia and affiliate with the Anglican District of Virginia, an association of churches under the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a branch of the Anglican Communion; …
3. David Allison, Treasurer of ADV, testified in the lower court trial that ADV is “a unit, a branch under CANA” and “a constituent member of CANA,” and he agreed with the trial judge that ADV was “a subordinate body of CANA.”
4. Their second trial brief stated “the CANA Congregations are attached to ADV and CANA, and ... ADV and CANA are affiliated with the Church of Nigeria.... Through their affiliation with ADV and CANA, the Congregations are also attached to the Church of Nigeria.... All parties acknowledge that the Church of Nigeria is a branch of the Anglican Communion.... Thus, the Congregations have affiliated with a ‘branch’ within the meaning of § 57-9.”
5. Articles of Incorporation: CANA’s state we “operate as a convocation or association of Anglican churches in North America as part of the Church of Nigeria.” ADV’s state that ADV is under the “ecclesiastical jurisdiction of [CANA], a missionary diocese of the Church of Nigeria.”
6. At trial, Bishop Minns testified that CANA was “simply not a separate entity” from the Church of Nigeria and that CANA was “connected through” the Church of Nigeria “and therefore is a branch of the Communion by its connection through the Church of Nigeria.”
7. The Supreme Court stated that the Circuit Court “erred in giving particular significance to the fact that the majority of the congregations in the ADV and CANA were formerly affiliated with TEC and its dioceses.” It's a fact, but it is (or, rather, was) irrelevant to ADV's case as its lawyer proved under questioning from Supreme Court Judge Millette. When asked whether a Baptist group could be considered a branch, the lawyer answered yes. While avoiding saying it, the motion for rehearing asks the judges to give particular "significance to the fact that the majority of the congregations in the ADV and CANA were formerly affiliated with TEC and its dioceses” and to forget what they said about their connections to Nigeria.
8. ADV has repeatedly said it wants to bring litigation to a speedy conclusion.
Contrary to fact #8, it's easy to conclude ADV is stalling and doesn't like its chances at remand to the trial court. (Or, and this seem likely too, nine trials for nine congregations is likely to see some of the seceding congregations concede that the property belongs to The Episcopal Church.) As we all know, courts across the country have repeatedly ruled in favor of the interest of The Episcopal Church. An exception is in the Diocese of South Carolina where the diocese has elected to no longer take departing congregation to court if they seek to keep the property held in trust for all Episcopalians.