Thursday, April 18, 2013

VA Supreme Court hands down split decision in Falls Church case

April 18, 2013
By George Conger

From the court's website:

120919 The Falls Church v. Protestant Episcopal Church 04/18/2013 In a protracted and complex dispute between the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia and the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America (together, the plaintiffs) and seven local congregations which disaffiliated from the plaintiffs, raising issues about whether the trial court properly applied neutral principles of law in deciding the ownership of church property, whether that application was constitutional, and whether the trial court granted the proper relief, the plaintiffs have shown that they have a proprietary interest in the property at issue, and that the fiduciary relationship required to impose a constructive trust exists under the facts presented. Thus, equity dictates that a constructive denominational trust be imposed on such property for the benefit of the plaintiffs. The judgment of the trial court with regard to the disposition of personal property acquired by the congregations after the vote to disaffiliate is reversed and that matter is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion. The judgment of the trial court regarding Code § 57-7.1 is reversed. The remainder of the trial court’s judgment is affirmed.

Here at Anglican Ink

The Falls Church statement on VA Supreme Court decision
April 18, 2013
By John Yates

Dear Friends,

We have received word from the Virginia Supreme Court that it has ruled in our appeal.  The Court’s decision reverses the trial court’s ruling as to a part of our church’s funds, and sends the case back to the trial court for further proceedings regarding that point. But the Court has affirmed the trial court’s decision as to our church’s real property and much of the personal property, meaning that our lands, building, and much of our money have not been returned to us.  The Court’s decision is now posted on its web site at

Please join me in praising and thanking God for his faithfulness to us despite this result.  Although this is not the outcome we had hoped for, our faith and our future do not depend on court decisions.  The Lord works all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), and we had purposed to praise Him regardless of the outcome.  It is difficult to face the prospect of losing things that are precious to us, but ultimately we do not place our hope in land, buildings, or money.  We have followed the course that we prayerfully believed was right.  We have consistently sought to resolve this dispute outside the courts.  We are grateful that we live in a country in which recourse to the courts was open to us.  And it is a privilege to count this cost to be obedient to Christ.

There is no doubt in my mind that we as a church are much stronger as a result of the trials that we have undergone.  Our witness remains strong.  God has enabled us to continue to plant new churches and establish new ministries.  And we have been blessed by the friendship, support, and assistance that so many other churches continue to provide to us.  It is the body of Christ in action.  And together we are determined to move forward in faith, to continue to provide a beacon of Christ’s love to Northern Virginia, and to serve our brothers and sisters in our community and beyond.

We will be in touch after we have had a chance to review the Court’s written opinion more carefully, and our vestry plans to meet tomorrow to prayerfully consider our next steps.  We will keep you informed of further developments.

In the meantime, let’s continue to pray boldly that God would expand our vision and do beyond all that we can ask or imagine in our life as a church.  Nothing is impossible with Him.  To Him alone be all the honor, praise, and glory.

In the family,
John Yates


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