Various Contemporary Reflections
I wonder if secessionist Episcopalian parishoners saying, in effect, "We paid for it, we built it, the parish is ours", have really thought about what they are saying.
Granted: in some states the law in fact may be on their side--but in any case it is very hard to tell ahead of time where lawsuits will end up, even with knowledge of state-level property law. Pursuing lawsuits seems to leave the matter of who will eventually own parish property rather up in the air until the cases run their course. This goes to show in a very practical way that a Bishop should not end up in the position of having to rely on the state to enforce episcopal polity.
It may well be that some--even some bishops--do not fancy episcopal polity a thing worth defending seriously. I suppose they think it a thing ultimately indifferent to the Faith, or even a thing positively hindering the contemporary growth and preaching of the Faith. This is what I hear Episcopalians saying when they claim to own a piece of parish property primarily because they paid for it themselves, that they are the trustees in charge of keeping it up, etc. They take it for granted that of course they were never doing any of these things for the larger church embodied in the diocese of their bishop, or in the province of the Presiding Bishop and General Convention--such notions of belonging, such directionality or intentionality in their stewardship seems to have been completely missing. As if had someone told them Episcopalians are not congregationalists or baptists in their polity, and that all their effort and treasure is going toward something belonging not merely to themselves but to a larger entity altogether, they would not have lifted a blessed finger, they would not have spent a single dime.
For my part, our peculiar episcopal arrangement is something worth defending seriously. Resisting the profoundly anti-Anglican antics of the muddled congregations in Truro, Falls Church and elsewhere involves our church in a costly rear-guard action to be sure, even a lamentable necessity, but one we are called to despite our inclinations to simply live and let live.
If it is indeed so important to defend episcopal polity as, to be unduly modest, a causally accessible possibility in our republic, our Bishops et al should not have left that defense to the expedient of secular law. What? I mean this, for instance: Bishop Lee should have inhibited Father Minns long before he became Bishop Minns, and brought the parish of Truro under a vicar. If the canons national or diocesan precluded it--which I for the record scarcely believe--he should have taken the risk anyhow, throwing himself in effect at the mercy of his fellow bishops, clergy, and the larger body of Episcopalian laity.
Remember the Connecticut Six and all that? I have great respect for Bishop Smith's wisdom and courage; I think he did the right thing and should have done more of it. This should be relatively clear in retrospect to any following current events in Virginia. You want to keep from depending on the unreliable hands of secular, state power? You recognize that legal right does not always line up with what is right? You want to defend the exercise of episcopal polity among our people? Well and good: you have to exercise clear and strong discipline among your ordained. I expect, and hope, our bishops in the future will take a good deal more seriously membership in even potentially schismatic organizations.