Why Bishop Lee ain’t going to get the church buildings

Chris Johnson has highlighted some teensy weensy conflicts between the Canons of the Diocese of Virginia and the law of the State of Virginia. The Canons state:

“All real and personal property held by or for the benefit of any Church or Mission within this Diocese is held in trust for The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia.” (Canon 15.1

“No part of the real property of a Church, except abandoned property, shall be alienated, sold, exchanged, encumbered or otherwise transferred for any purpose without the consent of the congregation … [and] the Bishop, acting with the advice and consent of the Standing Committee of the Diocese.” (Canon 15.2)

“[W]henever any property, real or personal, formerly owned or used by any congregation of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia for any purpose for which religious congregations are authorized to hold property under the provisions of the Code of Virginia or any amendment thereof, has ceased to be so occupied or used by such congregation, so that the same may be regarded as abandoned property by the Executive Board, which shall have the authority to declare such property abandoned and shall have the authority to take charge and custody thereof, the Executive Board shall take such steps as may be necessary to transfer the property to the Bishop…” (Canon 15.3)

Looks bad for Truro et al n’est ce pas?? But looky looky what the law of the State of Virginia says:

A. If a division has heretofore occurred or shall hereafter occur in a church or religious society, to which any such congregation whose property is held by trustees is attached, the members of such congregation over 18 years of age may, by a vote of a majority of the whole number, determine to which branch of the church or society such congregation shall thereafter belong. Such determination shall be reported to the circuit court of the county or city, wherein the property held in trust for such congregation or the greater part thereof is; and if the determination be approved by the court, it shall be so entered in the court’s civil order book, and shall be conclusive as to the title to and control of any property held in trust for such congregation, and be respected and enforced accordingly in all of the courts of the Commonwealth.

B. If a division has heretofore occurred or shall hereafter occur in a congregation whose property is held by trustees which, in its organization and government, is a church or society entirely independent of any other church or general society, a majority of the members of such congregation, entitled to vote by its constitution as existing at the time of the division, or where it has no written constitution, entitled to vote by its ordinary practice or custom, may decide the right, title, and control of all property held in trust for such congregation. Their decision shall be reported to such court, and if approved by it, shall be so entered as aforesaid, and shall be final as to such right of property so held.

Hmmmm…. Let me put this another way. Suppose I start a cult that has a Canon stating that all 8 year olds are to be ritually sacrificed on their birthday. The law of the land I’m in however says “Thou shalt not commit murder or even attempt to commit murder”. I go ahead and arrange for one of the children of my cultees to do a re-run of Apocalypto. The police arrest me and haul me up in front of a judge. In my defence I argue “But the Canons of my church say that I’m entitled to kill all 8 year olds. Who cares what the law of the land is.” The judge and jury are going to laugh at me…

1 Comment on “Why Bishop Lee ain’t going to get the church buildings

  1. Very interesting and informative as usual, Peter.

    The Anglican canons applicable in the Deaneries of Jersey and Guernsey do not mirror those of Virginia.The Diocese of Winchester (to which the Channel Islands have been attached since they left the Diocese of Coutances oin 1568) does not get its hands on church property in any of the Islands. The property is vested for the christian people of each parish or ecclesiastical district in the Islands.

    I presume if the congregation voted to leave the Church of England (e.g. for a Forward in Faith “Third Province”) then this wouldn’t result in too much upheaval because the church building itself belonged to that congregation.

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