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When I wrote, two weeks ago, about the breakaway Episcopal churches in Virginia whose members are so horrified by gay priests and bishops that they are trying to align their parishes with ultra-conservative bishops in Africa, I provoked quite a bit of hostile commentary.

For example, check out this conservative site, where a number of commenters took me to task for my supposed ignorance of how liberals have been perverting the traditional nature of the church. One concludes his (or he) analysis of my errors with the remark, "I would guess he is not an Episcopalian." And commenters on my home blog (World Wide Webers) wrote things like this:

Since the conservative, orthodox, whatever we are called these days, are the ones following "the faith once delivered," and the liberals, progressives, whatever, are the ones making the "innovations," perhaps they are the ones who need to find their own path. Why change an organization if you don't like its basic tenets? Just start your own!

But this article from WaPo sheds another light on the controversy. It details how the two leading churches among the Virginia secessionists have, for the past thirty years, been gradually taken over by non-Episcopalians with a style of theology and a form of worship normally associated with very different branches of Protestantism. A few highlights:

Parishioners say it happens quietly, unobtrusively: As the sick make their way to the altar, some worshipers begin speaking in tongues. Occasionally, one is "arrested in the spirit," falling unconscious into the arms of a fellow congregant.

The special faith-healing services, held one Sunday night a month at The Falls Church in Fairfax, are a rarity in the Episcopal Church. But members of The Falls Church have long felt at odds with fellow Episcopalians, who they believe have been drifting theologically in an ever more liberal direction.

Shortly before Christmas, The Falls Church and neighboring Truro Church -- which in Colonial times belonged to a single parish -- vented those feelings by voting overwhelmingly to break away from the 2.3 million-member Episcopal Church.

The vote reverberated across the country because Truro and The Falls Church are two of the Washington area's most wealthy, historic and prestigious congregations. Their pews are studded on Sunday mornings with such regulars as Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and former CIA director Porter J. Goss.

Moreover, they are reversing the usual relationship between Christians in the United States and the developing world by joining seven other Northern Virginia congregations in a new missionary branch of the Anglican province of Nigeria.

The decision was emotionally wrenching and fraught with legal issues, not least of which is a potential battle with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia for control of the two congregations' land and buildings, conservatively valued at $25 million.

But the votes appear less sudden or surprising when one realizes that for more than 30 years, Truro and The Falls Church have been part of a "charismatic revival" within mainline Protestantism, said the Rev. Robert W. Prichard, professor of Christianity in America at the Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria.

Charismatic, in this case, refers to an ecstatic style of worship that includes speaking in tongues, a stream of unintelligible syllables signifying that the Holy Spirit has entered the worshiper. It is a hallmark of the fast-growing Pentecostal movement but unusual for Episcopalians, who are so thoroughly associated with solemnity and tradition that they are sometimes referred to teasingly as "the frozen chosen."

Prichard, who grew up attending Truro, said many of its members and almost of all its lay leaders spoke in tongues in the 1970s. "There was a kind of coaching in which people who had spoken in tongues would surround a person who was praying for the gift of tongues," he said.

Parishioners say the practice continues today in both congregations, though not at Sunday morning services. Some members have never seen it.


These days, Truro is a magnet for conservatives across the Washington area, and the percentage of "cradle" Episcopalians among its 2,000 regular worshipers has dropped steadily. In the 1980s, more than two-thirds of its members had been raised Episcopalian, according to church surveys. Today, fewer than 40 percent grew up in the church.


At least two-thirds of the worshipers [at the Falls Church] are Methodists, Presbyterians or Baptists, and there is no pressure on them to be confirmed as Episcopalians, said the Rev. Rick Wright, associate rector.

Wright said the diverse membership of both congregations illustrates one of the great changes in American religion of the past half-century: The divisions between denominations are far less important today than the divisions within denominations.

"I tend to feel very comfortable rubbing shoulders with folks at McLean Bible or Columbia Baptist . . . that are real orthodox, evangelical, biblical churches," said Truro's chief warden, or lay leader, Jim Oakes, referring to two Northern Virginia megachurches. "We share core beliefs. I think I would be more comfortable with them than with anyone I might run into at an Episcopal Diocesan Council meeting."

In some popular services, Truro and The Falls Church blend the traditional liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer with such megachurch touches as huge choirs, bass guitars and drums. Neither offers "smells and bells," the incense and chimes favored by "high church" Episcopal congregations. But some parishioners affectionately describe Truro as "McLean Bible with candles."

(McLean Bible is a non-denominational, evangelical megachurch in the Washington, D.C. suburb of McLean, Virginia.)

Reading this story makes me wonder, Who are the true innovators and interlopers here?

I've been a committed (baptised and confirmed) Episcopalian for the past thirty years, serving as a vestry member, Sunday School teacher, and lay eucharistic minister. Over the years, I've had occasion to attend Episcopal services at a variety of churches, mostly in the New York area, and found them all more or less familiar and congenial. The commonalities among them constitute what I think of as "my church," which I have been nourished by and which I love.

I have nothing against Methodists, Baptists, or Pentecostalists, and I don't even object to people who speak in tongues. (I've never experienced it myself, and I think it's a little odd that people would pray for this "gift," since it doesn't seem to offer any spiritual or practical benefits--unlike the original episode of "speaking in tongues" in Acts 2, where God enabled the early Christians to preach in many languages so they could proselytize among the many foreigners in Jerusalem, not just to dramatize their religious fervor. But if people find this experience uplifting, so be it.)

However, I do think it's a bit much for these various types of Christian seekers to move into an Episcopal parish, introduce new beliefs and forms of worship, gradually increase their numbers until they constitute a majority, vote to hijack the parish from its original owners--and then claim to represent "traditional Episcopalianism."

cross-posted on

Originally posted to KWeberLit on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 04:41 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  'nuff said......... (5+ / 0-)

    Their pews are studded on Sunday mornings with such regulars as Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and former CIA director Porter J. Goss.

    Those who hear not the music-think the dancers mad

    by Eiron on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 04:42:09 AM PST

  •  Those services... (8+ / 0-)

    bear no resemblance to the Episcopal churches I have attended for over 40 years in four different states. As a former presiding bishop once said, "the strength of the Episcopal Church is its comfort with ambiguity". I believe this "comfort" is where you find forgiveness, a pillar of the Christian faith.

    "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both." - Louis D. Brandeis

    by VA6thDem on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 04:55:37 AM PST

  •  What are ya there for? (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    VolvoDrivingLiberal, Allogenes

    To worship God or to worship the power and wealth of the Church.  Churches have always broken off down through the ages.  Gone their seperate ways because of disagreements.  I would rather go to a church that has no further motives of power and might and teaches God's word.

  •  Read this diary for the background (5+ / 0-)

    on this 'schism': Episcopal split on gays manufactured by conservative money

    The IRD has been plotting to take overthe mainline churches for 30 years in order to twist Christianity into a pro-capitalism, pro-Republican party voting bloc.

    I wouldn't be at all surprised if people from 'The Fellowship' are inflitrating those NOVA churches to bring this about. Read Jeff SHarlet's Jesus Plus Nothing.

  •  i was raised an episcopalian (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

      but don't consider myself attached to any church now and don't attend. My elderly parents have quit going to church because of the homosexual issue. "I haven't left the church, the church left me" my father says, though I think when they moved to a different area the minister and parishioners made no effort to know them or be bothered to remember them after introductions, being the more likely reason they stopped going. Thanks for the update Kweberlit. When I read your diary last week I thought the conservative takeover was winning. I'm thinking of keeping an eye on the church here where I live and possibly start attending if any of this conservative nonsense tries to take root here.

    music- the universal language

    by daveygodigaditch on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 05:13:31 AM PST

  •  Gays in the Church (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Allogenes, Owllwoman

    I was reared in a frozen chosen High Episcopal Church and loved the tradition, solitude and quiet peacefulness each service provided.  When the new Prayer Book was issued and used, I was horrified; when the Peace prayer was changed and people started shaking hands, I was mortified (as one fabled story tells of a woman who said "I didn't become an Episcopalian to have to shake hands with Just Anyone.")

    Times change, people change and want different emphasis placed on ceremonies.  While I mourn about what was lost, I find it incomprehensible Gayness is now a defining issue in the church.  

    "Man's life's a vapor Full of woe. He cuts a caper, Down he goes. Down de down de down he goes.

    by JFinNe on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 05:16:20 AM PST

    •  I understand how traumatic it is (7+ / 0-)

      when a church you love changes.  Sometimes God seems to want us to adjust and learn from changes around us--other times it just is too hard and we have to move on.  I hope you've found or will found a church home that is nourishing for you.

      As for gays in the church, let's not forget that "they" have always been among us--including among the clergy.  The "movement" to include gays is just about recognizing and appreciating their presence and their contributions rather than pretending they don't exist.

      Thanks for the comment.

      by KWeberLit on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 05:22:33 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I meant to write (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        "found or will FIND a church home that is nourishing for you."  Didn't mean to imply that you need to "found" your own church!

        by KWeberLit on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 05:23:32 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  As a UU I'm all for people (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Wee Mama, Crystal Patterson, LynneK

          founding their own churches.
          Lutherans have a joke about a Norwegian sailor who was marooned on an island all by himself for several years. When people finally came to rescue him he showed them proudly how he survived, the house he built for himself, even a nice little church. Then someone noticed another little church building a little ways distant and asked him about it. He said with disgust, "I don't go there anymore."

          "I belong to no organized party. I am a Democrat." -- Will Rogers

          by Allogenes on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 06:18:04 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  Marshmallow angels (0+ / 0-)

        In my church, there was never co-mingling during the services.  It was one hour or so each week that was our own very quiet personal time to "commune" with God (or whomever.)  When that hour became a social event, I lost interest.  I discovered I liked the service more than I did the Church - if that makes sense. I tend to think the Native Americans have a lovely, workable philosophy by which to live.

        Reflecting back, I suspect the Priest who so influenced us as budding teenagers, was gay.  He brought into the church what the adult members called "marshmallow angels" and they hated them.  Personally, I thought they were peachy.  (Not implying only a gay man would want marshmallow angels - just an observation from the past.)

        "Man's life's a vapor Full of woe. He cuts a caper, Down he goes. Down de down de down he goes.

        by JFinNe on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 05:48:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  My Niece's husband is a Minister(Youth) (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    at a church in New Jersey.  He is looking for a new church because they have cut his wages and cut his funding for the youth.  They are trying to build a mega church and all the money is going to that purpose.  He feels that the church should be doing more for the poor and sick instead of going into debt to build this great church.  When you build these mega churches you lose the small town closeness.  I realize that the repubs are behind much of this but I see more people now with their eyes open to what is going on.  It just isn't floating with people like it used to. That gives me a small measure of hope.

  •  Scaife bought this schism (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Wee Mama, daveygodigaditch

      Scaife money has been going into trying to break up mainstream churches for some time now.  Only in the past few years have these efforts been taken seriously; and many bishops and other clergy are still in denial about it.

    •  Not Even Episcopalians (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Apparently, the schism in this case is being funded by people who aren't even Episcopalians.  I believe that Scaife is a Presbyterian.  I'm not sure what religion the Coors family -- who is also involved in this -- is.

      •  A parish in our District... (0+ / 0-)

        ...has gone virulently anti-gay, so much so that the descendants of the founding Rector are going elsewhere.  In fact it has lost 2/3 of its parishioners.

        So how do they pay their bills?

        Scaife's Institute on Religion and Democracy (I think that's what it's called) has been suggested by many people in the District as the Parish's sugar daddy.

        Here's the punchline:  

        Years before all of this blew up, or before I even knew who he was, I'd see that parishs Rector at District or Diocesan events, and my gaydar went off like an air raid siren -- and my 'dar is pretty reliable.  

        I'm just waiting for a "Ted Haggard event" to to happen involving him.

        As for Truro and Falls Church, it seems to me that it's probably a good thing for them that they are going for non-traditional music.  I actually do know one straight male organist, but he's a member of a pretty rare breed, especially if you are looking for an organist who can handle Rite I.  <G>

    •  Why would he want to do this? n/t (0+ / 0-)

      "Man's life's a vapor Full of woe. He cuts a caper, Down he goes. Down de down de down he goes.

      by JFinNe on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 06:34:21 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's part of the same movement (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        latts, Wee Mama, JFinNe

        that is trying to bring conservative influences to bear in every possible area of media, academia, business, and politics.  Apparently they see religious denominations as "fair game" in the cultures they are waging against "liberals."

        by KWeberLit on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 07:22:26 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Good Grief! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Wee Mama

          I am out of touch.  Since when has the Episcopalian Church become a hot bed filled with "liberals?"

          "Man's life's a vapor Full of woe. He cuts a caper, Down he goes. Down de down de down he goes.

          by JFinNe on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 07:31:18 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  It's a matter of definition (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            According to some conservatives, anyone not rigidly locked into their world view is a "liberal" and a danger to the truth.


            by KWeberLit on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 07:42:49 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  Actually a surprising number of Episcopalians (0+ / 0-)

            would count as liberals, and we can claim some iconic liberals, such as Eleanor Roosevelt. Her views and many of FDR's policies reflect what was called the social gospel.

            Be very kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.

            by Wee Mama on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 11:32:58 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  Charismatics at Falls Church (0+ / 0-)

    This is what I had previously heard -- that the church was no longer celebrating a "mass" in the American Episcopal tradition, but had become more like a Charismatic or Southern Evangelical church.

    •  nothing un-Anglican about Morning Prayer (0+ / 0-)

      in fact, I believe it was  pretty standarc practice, even on Sundays, before the Oxford Movement (Anglo-Catholicism).
      I don't think there's anything un Anglican about healing services.
      As for the Charismatics, we Anglicans have borrowed so much from the Roman Catholics that there should be plenty of space for that.
      I've been to Hip-Hop Mass, to gospel and steel-drum and jazz Evensong.  In my parish, we have  the Circle of Prayer every Sunday in place of the Prayers of the people.

      None of that is outside the bounds.

      Basing your theology on keeping people out is un-Anglican and it's un-Christian.  RTFM, Rev. Minns, Abp. Akinola -- it's about LOVE.
      Right now it's gays, but don't be fooled, they also want women out of the priesthood.  

      If Jesus came back today, He would have been born in the Superdome

      by sayitaintso on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 07:09:15 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I agree (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        latts, esquimaux

        and I have no problem with embracing many kinds of worshop within Episcopalianism.  The breadth of practices we accept is perhaps our greatest strength.  But the irony is that the "secessionist" churches, having introduced their variant practices, are now leaving the church because they find it TOO ACCEPTING--specifically, too accepting of gays, too empowering of women, etc.

        I am not trying to enforce any kind of orthodoxy.  They are.

        by KWeberLit on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 07:19:49 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  Well (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        This story was spun as "conservative traditionalists living the Episcopalian communion."  When, in fact, this does not seem to be the case.  It seems to be that religious "innovators" are leaving the communion because they really prefer to be of another denomination.

  •  As a lifelong Episcopalian I am less concerned... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    about the seccessionist movement among a very small percentage of Episcopal churches than I am about the reaction to it by Church leaders. I have always perceived the US Episcopal Church to be progressive from a national perspective, but it concerns me that historically too many Bishops and other church leaders have reacted to right-wing, "traditionalist" challenges with highly nuanced proposals of compromise for the sake of "church unity".

    As the diarist has so aptly pointed out, many of these right-wing parishes have been "hijacked" by fundamentalist extremists, many from other faiths. It's high time church leadership, especially Presiding Bishop Jefferts-Schori, recognizes this and abandons the typical "church unity" approach by aggressively taking all legal action possible to protect church property and evict seccesionist dissidents.

    The seccesionist nutjobs are extremists and they will not compromise. Church leadership must cease attempts at mediation or talking in nuance and do what is right: defrock the right wing rectors and evict the parish from church facilities.

    My Democratic Nominee Preferences: 1.Gore or Clark or Edwards 2.Richardson 3.ABH (Anybody But Hillary)

    by VolvoDrivingLiberal on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 08:15:29 AM PST

  •  Another "innovation" - extra-territorial bishops (0+ / 0-)

    Ever since the Council of Nicaea (325) it has been canonical that bishops have authority only within their own territories, and need to ask permission of the local bishop to act anywhere else. Pretty ironic and sad that Akinola is violating this established tradition left and right, with almost no one protesting about it.

    Be very kind, for everyone you know is fighting a great battle.

    by Wee Mama on Sat Jan 06, 2007 at 11:36:10 AM PST

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