History Muddies Battle over Church; Va. Episcopalians Cite Records

Article excerpt


Lawyers for the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and nine conservative churches that broke away two years ago tangled Monday in Fairfax Circuit Court over who owns the Falls Church, a historic Northern Virginia parish that George Washington once attended.

And on Sunday in Alexandria, members of the historic Christ Church voted overwhelmingly that, should it be proved their parish owns part of the Falls Church land, they wish to deed it to Virginia Episcopal Bishop Peter J. Lee. When asked about the nature of the vote and an exact tally of yes and no votes, senior warden Rawles Jones said no comment.

The court hearing - and the church vote - is part of a multi-trial lawsuit that has lasted a year and is thought to be the largest property lawsuit in Episcopal Church history. When conservatives left the denomination in late 2006 and early 2007, they took millions of dollars of property with them, including property dating back to Colonial times.

Circuit Judge Randy I. Bellows has ruled against the diocese several times, saying the conservatives have a right to the property, thanks to a unique Virginia state division statute dating back to the Civil War. The diocese, in turn, has reached back to Colonial times to help establish a claim to the land.

Monday's trial was taken up with testimony by church historian Edward L. Bond, who told of how the Falls Church was established in the 1730s but had fallen into disuse 60 years later. …