Judge Randy Bellows ruled today that property disputed by The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia is indeed held in trust by Truro Church, Fairfax and therefore, subject to the Virginia Division Statute, 57-9.
This property was originally bought by Christ the Redeemer, a mission church-plant of Truro Church. The original mission dissolved and the property was given to the mother church. TEC and the Diocese intervened, claiming that this particular property was not subject to 57-9 but were unable to answer testimony given in court today by the former Senior Warden of Christ the Redeemer (Truro mission) and the current Senior Warden of Truro Church. The judge ruled from the bench that indeed this particular property is held in trust by Truro Church and therefore subject to 57-9.
The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia acknowledged just prior to trial that the Division Statute 57-9 applies to all the other property held in trust by Truro Church.
And from a Washington Post story about yesterday’s decision:
To date, Judge Bellows has dealt three consecutive defeats to the diocese and the denomination in their bid to retain millions of dollars of property held by the nine churches. A Civil War era statute unique to Virginia known as the “division statute” – which allows a departing congregation to hold onto its property – has been key to the AD’s victories.
The most dramatic testimony may be given Thursday, when the diocese will argue that the Falls Church, a 276-year-old congregation attended by George Washington shortly before he became president, belongs to the Christ Episcopal Church in Alexandria.
The diocese has unearthed two 19th-century land deeds stating the Falls Church’s 5.5 acres belonged at the time to a “Truro parish,” which encompassed several Colonial congregations in Northern Virginia. Christ Church, the diocese said, is the successor to Truro parish, citing two U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1815 and 1824.
The vestry of Christ Church on Sept. 24 voted – although with some dissent – to allow the diocese to represent the church. Christ Church, said Russ Candle, a Patron Bogs attorney representing the congregation, wanted to “carry out its fiduciary obligations” regarding “property about on we are informed that we are the successor to the grantee.”
Stiffen Johnson, attorney to the AD, said Christ Church has no claim over the Falls Church.
“We find it remarkable this supposed claim would go unnoticed for 185 years,” he said. “You will search land records in vain to prove Christ Church has ever held title or exercised dominion over the Falls Church property.”
How much more money will be spent by the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church on these pointless lawsuits?