US Supreme Court lets the Episcopal Church keep Falls Church property

The Falls Church, a landmark building in downtown Falls Church, Va.,

(RNS) The Supreme Court on Monday (March 10) let stand a Virginia court ruling that allows the Episcopal Church to keep the property of a large congregation that left the denomination over theological differences.

Falls Church

Photo courtesy of Michael Kotrady, via Wikimedia Commons

The Falls Church, a landmark building in downtown Falls Church, Va.

In 2013, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that the 3,000-member Falls Church, which voted in 2006 to leave the Episcopal Church and join an Anglican diocese, did not have the right to keep the property. It also ruled that some of the church’s nearly $3 million in assets belong to the Falls Church Anglican congregation.

As is their custom, the justices on the high court declined to give a reason for not hearing the case and allowing the Virginia Supreme Court decision to stand. The Falls Church, a landmark building in downtown Falls Church, Va., was one of several Episcopal congregations that left the denomination over theological differences, many stemming from the 2003 consecration of an openly gay bishop.

The Episcopal Church has fought for at least $40 million worth of church property in Virginia, according to The Washington Post. Similar property disputes have roiled Episcopal congregations around the country and other parts of mainline Christianity.


About the author

Sarah Pulliam Bailey

Sarah Pulliam Bailey is a national correspondent for RNS, covering how faith intersects with politics, culture and other news. She previously served as online editor for Christianity Today where she remains an editor-at-large.


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  • Another victory for Jefferts-Schori and her campaign to crush any and all dissenters in the TEC while bleeding millions of dollars which could have been used to feed, clothe and shelter the poor. What will the TEC do now with this property? Probably sell it for a fraction of what it is worth to a Muslim group or someone who wants to tear it down to build a mini-mall, but God forbid that the TEC hierarchy actually allow the place to be used to worship God according to the traditional Episcopalian Rites with traditional orthodox Episcopal theology. That’s flatly unacceptable.

  • To TEC & Jefferts-Schori: Pharoah, let my people go! … Shame on you that you would try to compel compliance by chaining their freedom of conscience to loss of their house of worship. This is NOT the American way – our ancestors fought the crown for freedom. Now here in America their posterity is fighting such as you! For shame indeed!

  • To be fair, the TEC owns the property. If the congregation, et al no longer consider themselves part of the TEC then they are free to go their own way as their conscientious dictates. However, to try and take property which does not belong to them on the way out is more than just criminal; it’s unchristian.

  • Actually it is the Diocese of Virginia that owns the property, not TEC and Bishop Schori. There have been several dioceses across the country to depart from TEC with their property.

  • Hooray! Now the malcontents can pack-off and rent a empty warehouse or whatever. How dare these people think that they can loot the Episcopal Church? If you don’t like the church, then leave; but you don’t get to pillage the church on your way out the door.

  • The diocese usually owns the churches in the Episcopal church, and most of the dissenters left their churches. In Falls Church’s case, it was built as an Anglican church before the American Revolution and therefore before the Episcopal Church existed. Now, the diocese owns it.

  • Loot the church ??

    1. The Falls Church building was built using money given by the members.
    2. The Dennis Canon imposed a property trust on the congregation without its consent. In many other states, this so-called trust is null and void.
    3. Over 40 MILLION dollars has been spent by TEC in attorney fees and court costs in the effort to keep property that often is left empty as there is no viable Episcopal congregation left to maintain it.

    Imagine what that 40 million could have been used for. Talk about looting the church ..

  • How about TFC congregation using the same amount of money on their side and not letting it go until every level of the court system? They could have stopped. They have the right to leave, granted but looting the Episcopal Church and it’s resources is outrageous. This was all a power grab by some of the leaders in this movement because they saw the chance. Open your eyes to your leadership and look at the real reasons for leaving.

  • This brings to light yet one more reason why much of the Episcopal Church is failing and will continue to be a failure. The Church has very poor leadership and as the saying goes, “a fish rots from the head down.” The perception any more is that money is the main focus within the Church … I see it within Western New York … if you want to be a member of the Episcopal Church … Open That Check Book! Additionally, don’t question why or the direction that the Church is going as the leadership doesn’t like that at all. It is indeed a sad day for those such as myself that are right on the edge of leaving the Episcopal Church… I have been a member of Vestry, and a Sr. Warden … but I would rather not continue to waste my time or energy with the Church as it stands today.