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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,988
September 19, 2019
Rebirth of Falls Church Anglican
By Mike McManus

George Washington served on the Vestry of the original Falls Church, built in 1769. Area residents decided to name their town after the congregation, Falls Church, Virginia. The church became part of the national Episcopal Church.

However, the Episcopal Church began to drift from its Biblical roots. In 2006 the denomination refused to vote to "confirm Christ as Lord." It then elected Rev. Gene Robinson, a homosexual living with a male partner, as Bishop of New Hampshire.

For 30 years the Rev. John Yates, Rector of the Falls Church, fought "wholeheartedly for Biblical renewal and reform" of the Episcopal Church. But in 2006, he gave up and persuaded 90% of Falls Church parishioners to vote to leave the Episcopal Church and join what became the Anglican Church of North America. About 1,000 former Episcopal churches across the country switched to affiliate with ACNA, which now has over 100,000 members.

(By contrast, the Episcopal Church which once boasted more than 3.5 million members, plunged to 1.7 million by 2015. And church attendance fell from 858,000 in 2003 to 562,000 in 2018.)

The Falls Church Anglican continued to worship in its historic church and in a large new building built next door in 1991. Attendance grew rapidly in the 1990s from under 1,000 to nearly 2,000. This success so infuriated the Episcopal Church that it sued to recapture the historic building and its new building.

The legal battle lasted years, but the Anglicans lost their property to Episcopalians in a Virginia Supreme Court case in 2012. The court awarded not only the property, but incredibly, the Falls Church bank account as well. The loss was over $20 million.

The penniless congregation suddenly had to find a new place to worship. "We met in schools, churches, hotels, and a Roman Catholic high school," Yates recalls. They looked for a new property for sale - or perhaps "a church which had dropped in membership, but there was nothing for sale."

They looked for an apartment building that might be torn down and replaced with a church - but none could be located. Finally, a church member suggested buying an office building with a two story garage on 5 acres of land on busy Route 50 - and only a mile from the historic church. Though it cost $31 million, its mostly medical offices pay rent which now covers the mortgage.

If the garage were torn down, there would be room to build a new church. But the county said a 6 story garage had to be constructed with 550 parking spaces for church members to park while attending services. So the garage was built before construction began on the church!

Meanwhile, the congregation met for five years in the auditorium of a Catholic high school, paying what strikes me as an exorbitant rent of $6,000 a week or $300,000 a year.

While the new church was being built, a basement in the office building was cleared out to create a large ministry center where 350-400 could worship. A year ago, the congregation left the Catholic high school to worship in the converted basement. There were five services every weekend.

The new church is modern Gothic in style, with white walls and arching clear windows that reach high to the ceiling - rather than stained glass windows. There is room for 900 church members to worship, but 2,142 showed up for two Consecration services on September 8. Scores sat on folding chairs while others stood.

It was led by Bishop John Guernsey and the new young Rector, Dr. Samuel Ferguson. (For the first regular services last Sunday, 1,300 attended plus 70 at an 8 am service.)

Bishop Guernsey began by quoting Psalm 24: "Lift up your heads, O you gates, and be lifted up, you everlasting doors, and the King of glory shall come in."

Rev. Ferguson invited the congregation to participate in the blessing of the new space with special prayers for the musical instruments, communion table, baptismal font, pulpit and even the sound system.

From the pulpit, Ferguson spoke about trusting in God's providence, through the changing chapters of our lives, as he recalled the church's "tabernacling" period over the past seven years: "We are God's living stones whom he is shaping into his holy people."

He added, "You can imagine it is one thing to build a beautiful building out of bricks and mortar. It is altogether another thing to build a unified and holy people. We are far harder to work with."

I am proud to say that the Falls Church Anglican is my church home.


Copyright (c) 2019 Michael J. McManus, a syndicated columnist and past president of Marriage Savers. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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