Correction to This Article
A Jan. 4 article about Northern Virginia congregations that have split from the Episcopal Church incorrectly said that the Falls Church is in Fairfax. It is in the city of Falls Church. Also, the last name of Pittsburgh scholar Joan Gundersen was misspelled.

Episcopal Churches' Breakaway in Va. Evolved Over 30 Years

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By Alan Cooperman and Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, January 4, 2007

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.

"It's very much a part of our experience and lives," said Truro Rector Martyn Minns, a new bishop in the Nigerian Anglican Church. But "we've grown up. We integrate it rather than focus on it."

Dean Miller, pastor of the young adult ministry at The Falls Church, said some members also have "visions of the Lord" during healing services. "I don't. I'm not gifted that way. But there are people in the community who do," he said.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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