(By J.B. Simmons, The Gospel Coalition.) Stories about losing rarely reach the front page, but our counter-cultural faith is different. We believe to live is Christ and to die is gain. Daily news of victories—in sports, in politics—obscures this truth. That’s why we need more stories of gaining through loss. Such stories are bound to continue for the faithful in today’s America. The Falls Church Anglican has lived through such a story.
In 2012, this historic church in Northern Virginia took a stand for their faith and lost everything to the Episcopal Church. After crushing defeats in the courts, the church moved out of the property George Washington had graced centuries before. They walked away from their colonial building and history. They left the soaring sanctuary they built, one that had hosted hundreds (if not thousands) of weddings and baptisms. They left the prayer books, the sound equipment, and the $2.8 million in cash that members had donated to church accounts specifically designated not to go to the Episcopal Church.
Everything exterior about the church had to change—the worship space, the offices, the website, even the name. Now there was the The Falls Church Episcopal at the historic property, and The Falls Church Anglican without a place to call its own.
But the church didn’t fade. They’d simply been pruned of material things. They were ready to grow and thrive as never before, planting new churches and proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. God had long prepared The Falls Church Anglican for this journey.
Renewal and Conflict
Why is he preaching about Jesus so much?
That was the question on many long-timers’ minds in 1979. It wasn’t that those at The Falls Church didn’t care about faith, but focusing too much on Jesus could make people uncomfortable. The Episcopal Church was supposed to be comfortable. And The Falls Church, in particular, was a stately place with dignified members. It was uncouth to be fired up for Christ.
None of these concerns altered the focus of John Yates, the new rector in 1979. He had a vision for gospel renewal.
This was far from easy, but the focus on Jesus brought change. The congregation doubled in size, then doubled again. By 1984, just five years after Yates had arrived, an article in Christianity Today praised the emerging vitality of The Falls Church, while offering a fateful warning that “changes are taking place that could alter the course of the entire denomination.”
And so they did. As the Episcopal Church moved away from orthodox faith in the following decades, tensions simmered and eventually boiled over. In December 2006, 90 percent of The Falls Church voted to leave the Episcopal denomination.