To the Clergy and Lay Leaders of The Diocese of Virginia
August 8, 2007
Many of you have written, called and sent e-mails of support in recent months. I am grateful for all that you do in support of the mission of the Church to be the hands and feet of Christ at work in the world.
Our aim is to help preserve the integrity of the Church so that you can continue to do that as Episcopalians in The Diocese of Virginia and to make sure that future generations will be able to say “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.”
Clearly The Episcopal Church faces challenges as our church is beset by groups and individuals determined to hijack the legacy of our ancestors and make off with the inheritance we are honor bound to protect, preserve and pass on to future generations. We face opposition from groups that are not only leaving The Episcopal Church but are now also steering a new course away from the Archbishop of Canterbury. It is very telling that Dr. Ephraim Radner, one of the founders of the Anglican Communion Network, one of the realignment groups, has resigned and distanced himself from the mission of that group.
Closer to home, this is an important week in The Diocese of Virginia’s defense of its heritage and stewardship of its future. On Friday, August 10, The Diocese of Virginia and The Episcopal Church will appear in Fairfax Circuit Court to defend our claim to Episcopal Church property against non-Episcopal groups that are trying to appropriate our churches for their own uses. This Friday, those groups will press technical and procedural claims that the Diocese and the Church have failed to state a case. In other words, they will try to have our case dismissed. Naturally, we oppose their actions. Later, in November, the court will hear arguments on the lawsuits, styled as petitions, filed by the Nigerian congregations that started this dispute. The Diocese and The Episcopal Church are named as defendants in that action.
Someone recently remarked to me how sad it is that we find ourselves in court at this time. The situation we find ourselves in is regrettable and unfortunate. Nevertheless, we must protect and preserve our heritage for future generations. The truth of this came home poignantly to me in a call I received from an older woman whose congregation and property have been hijacked by forces outside The Episcopal Church. She called because she is concerned she may not be able to be buried in an Episcopal service by an Episcopal priest in the cemetery of her Episcopal Church, sacred ground where her family and ancestors are buried. It is in stories such as hers that our requirement to preserve, protect and pass on the legacy of our church ancestors has real meaning. Those of us in this generation with the responsibility of stewardship are working tirelessly to that end.
We cannot know how these matters will play out in the days, weeks, months and years ahead. We know it will take time and, even when the courts decide, the work of repairing relationships and rebuilding congregations will be in front of us for some time to come. But that is the work we are called to at this time, and it is an honor to serve you, our bishops and this diocese in these challenging days.
Patrick N. Getlein
Mr. Getlein is Secretary of the Diocese of Virginia.