It’s been a very long time since I stepped into The Falls Church, a historic edifice in the midst of the northern Virginia metropolis of Falls Church, the place I lived for 12 years. It’s a spacious, pretty place, with a round seating association for a big congregation.
Subsequent door is what they name the “historic church,” a a lot smaller brick constructing that dates again to 1769. At one time, George Washington was on the sacristy. In Beltway tradition, that is actually vital.
It was a serious heart for the conservative wing of the Diocese of Virginia, the nation’s largest Episcopal diocese again within the first decade of this century,. Then, in December 2006, 11 parishes or missions introduced they had been leaving for for orthodox theological pastures. The 2003 election of the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson because the denomination’s first homosexual bishop was the start of the tip for these of us, after many years of tensions on different doctrinal points.
The authorized battle over these historic properties lasted for years and the conservatives mainly misplaced the whole lot, together with the crown jewel of all of them — The Falls Church constructing. That’s the background for Robinson’s current go to to the church, which is kingdoms other than what it as soon as was. Whereas it was crowded to the gills on Sundays, the sanctuary is barely one-quarter full and rector (senior pastor) is a homosexual man, a risk that may have horrified its former parishioners.
Robinson’s go to was lined by a conservative mainline Protestant web site and by a Washington Submit reporter. Guess which report had essentially the most data and insights into the standing of the present congregation? Juicy Ecumenism posted a bit by Jeffrey Walton, headlined “Gene Robinson Takes Victory Lap at Falls Church Episcopal” — stuffed with insider data. I’ll start with Robinson’s reactions.
He additionally highlighted gratitude for an invite to talk at a parish that had prominently opposed his election and consecration.
“Phrases fail me when I attempt to describe to you what an honor it’s to be right here,” Robinson exclaimed. “Once I acquired this invitation from [TFCE Rector] Burl [Salmon] I may hardly consider my ears and all day yesterday. Once I was right here, I simply saved pinching myself: ‘you’re really on the Falls Church in Virginia, oh my God.’”
Robinson would have by no means been allowed contained in the doorways of the previous parish, which had 2,000 members at the moment. However that was then. Again the choice web site report:
Robinson processed on Sunday morning previous rows of empty pews in a sanctuary constructed to seat 800 for what was as soon as among the many most-attended parishes within the Episcopal Church. …
Robinson moreover spoke at a discussion board the morning of Saturday, October 29, recounting his expertise as the primary brazenly partnered homosexual man elected to be a bishop within the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion. A Washington Submit reporter dutifully supplied protection of the Saturday discussion board however struggled to discover a newsworthy angle as “Bishop Gene Robinson stood earlier than dozens” recounting occasions now practically 20 years previous.
Robinson and his husband divorced in 2014. The denomination has shrunk from a excessive of three.6 million adherents within the mid-Sixties to 1.5 million at this time, with attendance having plummeted to 458,179 in 2020. In Robinson’s New Hampshire diocese alone, he witnessed a virtually 20 % drop in membership throughout his nine-year tenure — outpacing the church’s nationwide decline.
Turning to this Submit piece, one first notices there aren’t any pictures of Robinson’s go to. All the things used is from the recordsdata.
Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson stood earlier than dozens of captivated listeners Saturday in a Falls Church worship area to share his private historical past because the Episcopal Church’s first brazenly homosexual bishop. It marked the primary time Robinson had visited the 300-year-old church after his consecration led to the Falls Church establishment splitting in two over it…
On Saturday, the Rev. Burl Salmon of The Falls Church, 51, who’s brazenly homosexual, launched Robinson.
“Your presence amongst us on today is historical past,” he stated. “It’s outstanding.”
Mainly Robinson advised his life story; the reporter interviewed one faculty scholar who attended and Salmon himself. It’s mainly your typical quick-and-dirty Saturday project: Cowl the speaker, throw in some bio, interview a bystander and the organizer, drive to considered one of a number of Starbucks close to the church, kind up the story, ship it to an editor and name it a day.
However she didn’t get a quote from anybody initially related to the church, which might have been simple to do, as the majority of the parish has moved up the road and established itself as The Falls Church Anglican, which is big and thriving. As an alternative we learn:
Robinson isn’t as prime of thoughts as he was amongst congregants practically 20 years in the past, although many know who he’s, Salmon stated in an interview. A lot of the members of the church now are usually not the identical members who made the selection to separate in 2006, he stated.
For the small variety of authentic members, Robinson’s return supplied a way of closure for many who nonetheless carry the ache of the break up a few years later.
However we don’t actually know that, can we? A lot of the authentic members misplaced the whole lot and needed to rebuild a brand new church from scratch, as I wrote about again in 2019. Glancing at considered one of their annual report, I see they nonetheless have a $23.4 million debt to repay.
In accordance with Walton’s report, the brand new leaders of their former church appear to have taken a perverse pleasure in destroying the whole lot The Falls Church as soon as stood for.
The congregation hosted the primary ordination service of an brazenly homosexual priest by the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in 2012 and in 2014 the blessing of a same-sex union. In 2020, the congregation welcomed its first priest in a same-sex marriage to function an affiliate rector, and in 2021 known as its first rector in a same-sex marriage. All present clergy at TFCE establish as homosexual, and Salmon has sought to type an LGBTQ outreach known as the Queer Trustworthy. Progress flags (a variation of the pleasure flag) have been positioned on the parish signage alongside the Black Lives Matter brand. Salmon serves as chair of the Clergy Advocacy Board of the Deliberate Parenthood Federation of America.
I believe the Submit reporter may have gotten some actually salty quotes from former parishioners about Robinson’s go to. It could have taken some digging, as a result of the reconstituted Falls Church/Anglican is doing effectively and doubtless isn’t trying again a lot. By the way in which, how is the smaller parish the received the large complicated doing by way of attendance and funds? Do they plan to unload a few of the super-valuable property?
Whenever you’ve acquired what looks like a boring Saturday project, it’s tempting to not look too far beneath the floor. However you then solely get half of the story and generally, what seems in print isn’t all the time the half that counts.
FIRST IMAGE: Picture of Bishop Gene Robinson courtesy of Episcopal Information Service.
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