December 2, 2006

Yes, Virginia, There is a Bishop Here

Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia has issued a clarifying letter to congregations that had been engaged in a period of 40 days of "Discernment" concerning their future. In it, he lays out, in no uncertain terms, the time-worn polity of the Episcopal Church, the trustee relationship that Vestries play in relation to parish assets and real property, the significance of the Oath of Conformity for clergy and a similar undertaking required in Virginia of all members of Vestries, and the consequences (legal and canonical) of abrogating these oaths and undertakings. It concludes

As I have made clear on a number of occasions, each of you has my prayers if you feel that you must leave the Episcopal Church. You have freedom of conscience but that freedom does not include alienating the property of the church you have sworn to serve.

You and I have undertaken solemn commitments and made binding promises to be good stewards and caretakers of the real and personal property of the Diocese of Virginia and of the Episcopal Church. Those are commitments we are obliged to keep no matter what our future church affiliation may be. I pray that as the persons responsible for maintaining [your] Church, you will keep all of this in mind as you consider your actions as leaders of that parish and fiduciaries of the properties it holds in trust for the Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Virginia.

I pray that together we can reach a resolution to the issues where we differ that takes into account the promises we have made, our obligations of respect and care for one another and most of all expresses our obedience to Christ.

Faithfully yours,

Peter James Lee

Thank you, Bishop. You may don your gloves once more for the time being.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

An additional note:

There are three very significant turns of phrase in the last three paragraphs: "alienating the property" ... "persons responsible for maintaining [your] church" ... and "fiduciaries of the properties it holds in trust."

The first is a reminder that the canon -- which required consent from the bishop and standing committee of the diocese before a parish could "alienate or encumber" real property -- antedates the so-called Dennis Canon of 1979, and has been held sufficient in a number of courts to indicate the superior position of a diocese in connection with parish "property." (Prior to the 1940s is was part of the old Canon 59 on Parish Vestries, according to White and Dykman.)

I'm inclined to think that the use of brackets around "your" in the second phrase is fulfilling the function of scare quotes, as an additional reminder that the property isn't really "theirs" but held in trust.

Finally, the use of "fiduciaries" again emphasizes the importance of the trustee relationship. Clearly Bishop Lee had some good legal advice in framing this excellent letter.

Dave said...

Thanks be to God that +Lee is my bishop!

David said...

You know something ? It looks like Bp. Lee has, to put it crudely, finally found his 'nads ;) Honestly I was wondering there for awhile, esp. after he said he'd vote differently on +Robinson's consent now than he did in '03.

Good on him!