Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Falls Church (Episcopal) -- Alive and Well

Several years ago, when A. and I had first moved back to Northern Virginia from Alabama, we went through a pretty intense process of trying to identify the Episcopal Church that we wanted to make our home. One of those that we visited was The Falls Church, a suburban Washington parish located in the city of the same name. While we enjoyed our visit, a combination of a small Sunday congregation (typical for Episcopal churches headed into the summer months), a guest minister (preventing us from getting a feel for the full-time clergy), and a lack of young couples/families (at least on that particular Sunday) led us to continue searching -- and after visiting other area churches we selected Christ Church in Alexandria.

As you're probably well aware from the news, The Falls Church was one of the earliest congregations in the Diocese of Virginia to vote to abandon the diocese as a result of the election of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire (in fact, 90 percent of the nearly 1,350 eligible voting members of the congregation voted to leave) and align itself with one of the Anglican dioceses in Africa. The minority portion of the congregation was forced to leave the property (the subject of an ongoing lawsuit that is still in the early stages of being resolved), but they were not without a home for long. A large Presbyterian church in Falls Church invited them to use space in the parish house for Sunday services, nursery, and classes for the kids; adult education forums and other activities are hosted in different homes of members of the congregation, which I think is a wonderful way to hold these activities.

For the past two weeks, members of the clery at Christ Church have been filling in while the priest-in-charge at The Falls Church - Episcopal (as it is now known) has been recovering from back surgery, and my family and I have been acting as unofficial missionaries from our church to support our priests and the small but very much alive congregation. I'm sure part of it comes as a result from my recent reading of Sundays in America, but I have noticed I've become very aware of the way parishioners in various places welcome visitors -- and I have to say that my family has been warmly received by TFCE.

Our large parish home encourages folks to wear nametags each Sunday so that people can greet each other by name, but it seems to meet with mixed results; I have to admit that I rarely if ever do it. The past two weeks, however, I have enthusiastically put on a tag as I've walked through the door and have been greeted by numerous folks before even getting completely into the room. We were welcomed as if they hadn't seen us in one week, not as complete strangers; one gentleman even recognized me this morning and gave me a hearty "It's great to see you again!" The congregation each week has only numbered about 40, but they're lively, engaged, and genuinely enjoying the time together and the time to worship.

The focus on fellowship is there; the focus on worship is there; the focus on education is there. Above all, the congregation possesses and incredible optimism about the future and warmth about the present. I think they have a bright future ahead of them, and depending on the outcome of the lawsuits regarding ownership of the church property tremendous potential for growth and an increased impact in the community.

They've certainly made an impact on us...
As an aside, I wanted to quickly mention a project underway at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Chatham, NJ. Gene Robinson, despite being un-invited to attend the upcoming Lambeth Conference, will nonetheless be in England to meet with anyone willing to sit and engage him in conversation. However, because of the ongoing threats against his life, this will be a dangerous time for him.

Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton, rector of St. Paul's, has established a fund to help defray the costs of security for Gene during his trip. To date, the "Christmas in July" fund has raised around $3,000, and there's still time to contribute. Rev. Kaeton's blog, "Telling Secrets," includes a link to a Paypal account where contributions can be made. Aside from that, her blog is definitely worth the visit in its own right -- fascinating content.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks so very much for this "plug" NoVA Dad, and for your contribution. I hope your readers will be as generous as they can be. No contribution is insignificant.

I've posted a link to an interview with Susan Russell, president of Integrity, about Gene and Mark's Big Fat Gay Civil Union. Enjoy.

BTW, the music in the background is great fun. I may come back here to figure out how to do that on my blog. Thanks for the idea.

God Bless you this most beautiful Spring Monday morning.

Kansas Bob said...

A local Kansas congregation also abandoned the Episcopal diocese as a result of the election of Gene Robinson and aligned itself with one of the Anglican dioceses in Africa. They also seem to be doing okay.

What I don't understand is why Africa? Is there not an Anglican denomination here in the USA or is the Episcopal church the official US Anglican denomination? Seems that Africa is a long ways from Kansas :)

Art Pedersen said...

Hopefully following GAFCON, there will be a North American Anglican alternative for Biblically faithful and Orthodox believers.

There are of course existing alternatives in AMIA and the Reformed Anglican Church as well as the American bishops leading CANA, Uganda, Kenya, Southern Cone, etc. churches.

But God is very much working and I trust he'll provide a Biblical American Anglican church structure in the near future.

Blessings to you all.