Report of the Secretary
Report of Henry D.W. Burt II, Secretary of the Diocese
Mr. President, Bishop Jones, Bishop Gulick, Bishop Dixon and members of Council:
I stand before you to report on the efforts of this diocese and this Church to recover Episcopal properties for the mission of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia.
I shouldn’t be, and I wish I wasn’t.
Last spring, we lost Russ Palmore, our chancellor.
What is a chancellor?
The word derives from a late Latin word called “cancellarius.” That word means “secretary, usher of a law court, keeper of the barrier.” Chancellors gained their names because they worked behind the lattice that separated the chancel from the nave in a church.
In the Diocese of Virginia, “chancellor” has meant – for a quarter century – “just call Russ.”
He lived into the ancient meaning of chancellor: he served as our parliamentarian and counselor to ensure the right motion, or statement or decision was made, and he ushered us through the courts of law of every manner of circumstance. He helped us keep our boundaries, particularly in disciplinary matters, with patience, perseverance and perspicacity – that wonderful word that means “acute moral judgment.” Russ guided us in difficult situations, ones that he might have said require the separation of a knave from a chancel.
In ushering through those courts of law, Russ’s guidance and advice in securing outstanding legal counsel has led us to where we are today: Dayspring. A new day in the Diocese of Virginia.
On the evening of January 10, 2011 – a Tuesday - the Circuit Court of Fairfax County issued an opinion returning all real property, personal property (tangible and intangible) to the Diocese of Virginia. The road we have traveled up to that point deserves, perhaps, a brief review to place where we are – and where we’re going – into context.
In December 2006, 11 congregations voted to “disaffiliate” from the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church. These congregations then affiliated with CANA, the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, a missionary district sponsored by the Church of Nigeria. The votes also expressed their desire on the part of those congregations to retain Episcopal property. Attorneys for those congregations then filed petitions under the “Division Statute,” an arcane, Reconstruction-era statute. Those petitions reported the vote and petitioned the court to grant title to the property solely to the CANA congregations. On January 31 and February 1, 2007 the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church filed responsive declaratory judgment actions asking the court to declare that the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church have trust, contractual and/or proprietary rights and thus those properties could not be alienated from the Diocese.
Following a trial in 2007, the CANA congregations prevailed in 2008. The Diocese and the Episcopal Church, our partners, appealed. Along the way, the Diocese settled with two of the congregations who, as it turned out, had no real property, some of it having been transferred shortly before the vote. We did so for small sums of money. In June 2010, the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed the lower court’s ruling, and remanded the declaratory judgment actions to the Fairfax Circuit Court for hearing. That trial was scheduled for April 25, 2011.
This takes us to Council a year ago. In this last year, a great deal has transpired.
First, in the spring the Diocese of Virginia settled with two more churches: Church of Our Saviour in Oatlands, and that was in February, and Church of the Word, Gainesville in April. In the Oatlands situation, the Diocese agreed to lease the property to them for a period of up to five years. Shortly after that settlement was reached, the Oatlands congregation announced the purchase of a tract of land where they are building a new church. With Church of the Word, the congregation retained ownership of the property, and the responsibility for the mortgage on it. In exchange, they paid the Diocese of Virginia $1.95 million, which was compensation for a VDOT eminent domain take of property. Both congregations agreed to disaffiliate from CANA for a period of time.
On Thursday afternoon, April 7, having returned from an Executive Board meeting, I received a call from the Rev. Wallace Adams-Riley that Russ Palmore had died suddenly at his home. His funeral was held at St. Paul’s five days later. That packed service included bishops and leaders from across our diocese and our church, across the legal community, across Richmond and across Virginia. The standing-room-only crowd also included several attorneys for the CANA congregations, who were welcomed by all as they paid their respects to our beloved chancellor.
Thirteen days later, on April 25, our legal team began trial in the declaratory judgment action. That trial lasted over six weeks, and was ably tried by both sides. Our trial team exhibited the finest qualities of our profession: zealous representation, dedication to their client, professionalism and tremendous competence.
I must also commend to you in particular our lead trial counsel, Brad Davenport, a member of Grace and Holy Trinity in Richmond. His devotion to and love for his diocese, this diocese, is frankly beyond measure, and that could never be more apparent than when he led us so ably and so well in trial for seven weeks, having 18 days earlier lost a childhood friend and treasured law partner. Brad is here in this room, and we should congratulate him, not on the result but for his service.
Following the conclusion of trial in early June, both sides submitted written legal arguments, legal briefs – 1,000 pages of these briefs. That concluded in mid-October.
Most of us expected the court to have a hearing so that we could answer the court’s questions. We learned shortly after Christmas, however, that the court, surprisingly, saw no need after that 1,000 pages.
In December, also, property that was once occupied by All Saints Church in Dale City was returned to the Diocese of Virginia under a property lease agreement that dated from 2006. That property is, at present, unoccupied. We have a great deal of interest from other denominations in that property. We also have a number of internal options for that property, including that St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in Woodbridge may, and is considering, whether to relocate into that property.
So this brings us to the ruling. Under the opinion, we are to submit a final order by February 24, which the judge will enter at some date after that. That order will provide a date specific when all property – real and personal, tangible and intangible – must be conveyed or returned to the Diocese of Virginia. It is important to remember that the CANA congregations have the right to seek an appeal. The Supreme Court of Virginia also has discretion over whether to hear that appeal. The CANA congregations have not yet informed us of their plans.
Now that being said, Bishop Johnston has made it clear from the moment he became our diocesan bishop, if not many times before, that he – and we – will be gracious. That would be the case had we lost. It is even more so imperative that we do so, having prevailed.
So what does “gracious” mean?
First, it means that we pray for our brothers and sisters in the CANA congregations, acknowledging the uncertainty, the sense of loss and the pain they are experiencing. We know too well that uncertainty, that sense of loss and that pain, as we have experienced it as a diocese and in our continuing congregations. We are open to a variety of creative arrangements. Those could allow some CANA congregations to remain in place under negotiated terms for some period of time, and we are in regular contact on that issue. We will report developments as soon as we can. It is also without question that we will move forward in a way that will not disrupt – and that we will not disrupt – certain key ministries of these churches: four of them have pre-schools that serve their communities; one of them hosts the Prince William Free Clinic, which provides indigent medical care to a large and ever growing population. I can report to this Council that we will be entering into discussions with the Free Clinic the Monday after next about not simply remaining at St. Margaret’s property on Church Hill Road, but perhaps expanding their clinic to meet the needs of their clientele.
So where do we go long-term? Where are we called to go? That is what the Dayspring effort that Bishop Johnston announced will work – with all stakeholders – to determine. Dayspring Vision will work with our continuing congregations – and honestly, it’s time to let that term go – so they will work with our Episcopal congregations on their future plans and ministries – whether to return, replant or revision. Dayspring Vision will also look at the ways to best leverage our returned real estate and other assets to situate this diocese for powerful, creative and transformative ministry. And the question will be – always – how can the mission of this diocese and its people best be served by a building, a house, a piece of land or a fund. Every layer of this diocese will and must have input into this effort.
Dayspring Resources will bring together banking, real estate and other strategic expertise to execute on that vision for the Episcopal properties and for those Episcopal congregations. I have read much in the blogosphere, and expect to later today – and I have to tell you I am looking forward to this litigation being concluded because I have a number of bookmarks in my browser that I will be eliminating – nevertheless, I have read much that this is a “Pyrrhic victory” and we are going to sell everything that is returning to us because we cannot handle it. I simply cannot imagine that being the case. It remains to be seen what the decisions will be – but the Episcopal Church has a powerful story to tell and a transformative ministry to offer. And we will do so, I am sure and certain, in new and creative ways everywhere we possibly can with and in these Episcopal properties. To those who criticize us and presumptively condemn us to failure I would say this, to take a phrase from Churchill Gibson: do not underestimate the power of the Living God in his transforming works in this diocese.
Dayspring Messaging will tell the story – to you, to your parish churches, to the world – of where we – all of us – are going on this path. In a charged situation like this, misinformation – some of it unintentional, much of it unintentional, regrettably some of it intentional – can run rampant and cause tremendous anxiety and pain. We will work to keep such nonsense, frankly, to a minimum. As a result, we will have regular Dayspring updates on the e-Communiqué, on the Web site and in the newly redesigned Virginia Episcopalian. I do want here to commend Emily Cherry for that effort – it was all her. She worked so hard, and she did so well.
Finally, I want to thank you – you, Bishop Johnston, you, Council of this diocese – for the privilege of serving you as a member of your diocesan staff. I want to thank JP Causey for his immediate willingness – in a difficult year for everyone – to step in as our acting chancellor with wise and steady counsel. I want to thank Michael Kerr for his ability to find the way for us to have the resources we need to keep this effort going. And I want to recognize also our partners in this effort at the Episcopal Church, David Beers and Mary Kostel, and our presiding bishop. This is the diocese that formed me – at The Falls Church, at Shrine Mont camps, at both St. Andrew’s and St. Paul’s, Richmond, and in countless other ways. To serve in the role of secretary in this historic time in the life of our diocese is a unique privilege. A lot of you have congratulated me. All of those congratulations belong to others, including my predecessor Patrick Getlein, who got us started on this path. I treasure these days, I treasure this staff, I treasure the challenges before us, and I treasure the saints around us – seen and unseen.
This diocese – this grand old diocese – is moving through a time that has been fraught with tremendous difficulty, and we have struggled to address those difficulties without being consumed by them. And, true to who we are, we have done exactly that. We remained focused on our mission while at times seemingly beset by strife.
We face a time of singular challenge – but of singular possibility.
As the hymn says, “Come thou dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here.” The dawn is come. The work of the new day is before us. Let us rejoice that we’ve been given such a grand task.