Near the end of 2006, I was working on one of my biggest stories of the year: The mass exodus of 11 Episcopal churches from the Diocese of Virginia, the nation’s largest Episcopal diocese.
It was a huge story and it wasn’t completely certain that on that sunny, cold Sunday if all the theologically conservative churches in northern Virginia would decide to leave en mass.
They did and this created headlines for weeks after that. The largest church that left was The Falls Church Episcopal (TFCE), a large complex worth about $24.7 million with its new-ish sanctuary, a historic chapel and cemetery on 5.5 acres right in the middle of the city named after it (and only a few blocks from where I lived). Built in 1734, its vestry included George Washington, who was elected in 1763.
Members voted 1,228 to 127 to leave, which doesn’t reflect the fact that some 2,000 people regularly attended there.
Fast forward five years and it turns out the courts didn’t look too kindly on the 11 churches taking some $40 million worth of property with them. All of that had to be returned to the Episcopal Church, including money in their bank accounts.
The conservatives, now part of the Anglican Church of North America, were officially out on the street.
As for the Falls Church, as former GetReligionista Mollie Hemingway reported in 2012, the Episcopalians who moved back into that facility (see second photo) included 178 members with an average Sunday attendance of 74, which was 4% of what the Anglicans were bringing through the door. How this group was going to pay the mortgage and other bills — roughly $800,000 a year — was never brought up by anyone reporting on them at the time.