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Prominent Fairfax church seeks to explain rector’s sudden departure

Truro Anglican Church in Fairfax in December 2006, shortly before Tory Baucum arrived as rector. (Carol Guzy/The Washington Post)
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There are competing explanations for why Tory Baucum abruptly resigned his position as the leader of the prominent Truro Anglican Church in November and has agreed not to set foot on the property since.

Baucum says that after years as an Anglican pastor, he made the decision to resign his clerical credentials and convert to Catholicism. Any tensions between him and the staff at the church in the Northern Virginia city of Fairfax, he says, were because of his “passion” for the theology of the late Catholic Pope John Paul II.

The staff say those tensions arose from causes that have little to do with Baucum’s theology. His behavior in the workplace, church leaders wrote in a summary of an investigative report, was “abusive,” “intimidating,” “coarse,” “vulgar” and “unpredictable.”

Leaders of the congregation of more than 1,200 members held a meeting this week to try to explain the results of the investigation into Baucum’s conduct. They read the summary and took questions from church members, but did not make the investigator’s report public.

The meeting, which packed the historic sanctuary, left many members confused and concerned.

Truro helped lead an exodus of 15 Virginia churches from the Episcopal denomination in 2006, in protest of the denomination’s acceptance of homosexuality, especially its appointment of a gay bishop. The church was one of the most prominent in the United States to leave over the issue. The next year, Baucum took over as rector — an Anglican term for head pastor — as Truro was facing the legal ramifications of its exit from the denomination.

Under Baucum, the church fought for ownership of its building. The Episcopal Church argued that it owned the property and won the battle in court. But while nearby Falls Church Anglican, which also left the denomination, was eventually forced to give up its historic building, Baucum worked out a long-term agreement with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia to allow Truro to use its former property rent-free.

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Baucum’s friendship with the leader of the diocese, Bishop Shannon Johnston, garnered a glowing New York Times profile and praise from the Archbishop of Canterbury. But some saw him as too close to the denomination. Top Anglican bishops condemned him for trying to open a “school of peace and reconciliation” along with the diocese. “The decision ... is not in harmony with the Bible’s instruction in dealing with false teachers,” Archbishop Foley Beach wrote in an open letter.

In Baucum’s church, he was praised. A word that he used frequently, and that congregants often echoed in describing him, is “peacemaker.”

“Tory’s gifts and leadership have not only allowed Truro to survive the past tumultuous decade, but to thrive,” senior warden Phil Dame said at the church meeting on Sunday.

But behind closed doors, staff members say, Baucum was anything but peaceful. They described a boss prone to bursts of fury, who had no tolerance for disagreement.

In November, a group of leaders wrote a letter to the vestry — which acts like a board of directors — and to their bishop, describing a work environment that they said had terrorized them. Baucum “had created a culture where the staff felt they could not question or even speak with him about his decisions. This led to an environment where the staff became increasingly fearful,” Dame said, describing the letter, which the church has declined to make public.

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Dame and the Rev. Tim Mayfield, a pastor on staff who did not sign the letter, met with Baucum in November and told him about the staff’s allegations. “Tory’s perception of his relationship with the staff was entirely different from the perception set forth in the letter,” Dame said.

Very soon after that meeting, Dame said, Baucum announced he would resign, and convert to Catholicism.

In an email to The Washington Post, Baucum disputed that timeline. He said that he had informed Anglican higher-ups of his intention to resign his ministry and convert before he knew of the staff letter. Johnston, the retired Episcopal bishop, says he was in England meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury at the same time as Baucum, and he believes Baucum had already announced his intent to resign before he learned about the staff complaints.

“He had been speaking about the fact that he knew his time at Truro was coming closer and closer to an end, long before any controversy broke out. It didn’t grow out of his sense that things were going wrong. … I know he felt that he was getting closer and closer in his heart and mind to the Catholic church,” Johnston said. “His journey into Roman Catholicism was not born out of vocational crisis or disagreement or any kind of discipline that was threatened for him. … It’s a very unfortunate coincidence that causes people to misunderstand and misconstrue what is true and what’s not true about what’s going on right now."

Anglicanism was born when England’s King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church and has retained some of the organizational structures and liturgical practices of Catholicism for centuries. But the Church of England and its global cousins have updated their doctrine to deviate from the Catholic Church on many issues, such as whether priests can marry. (Anglican priests can, and Baucum’s wife, Elizabeth, was a leader in the Truro community.)

The investigator hired by Truro interviewed 18 staff members and concluded in late January that the explosive letter was essentially accurate in its description of Baucum’s conduct, according to a statement from the vestry. Church members, not just staff, complained about similar behavior from Baucum, but the investigation didn’t deal with that in detail, vestry members said.

Baucum said in his email: “There was some relational breakdown and I am sure I contributed to that. But over 12 years of ministry at Truro my leadership has not been characterized by anger though I have exhibited anger at times. I regret any hurt that has caused.”

The former pastor, who is on paid leave through the end of the month, did not attend Sunday’s meeting. But junior warden Ken Schutz read a statement from him. "My enthusiasm for John Paul II’s theology has not been shared by all staff,” the statement said, and he “learned through the review process that my passion was sometimes experienced as anger, which I am responsible for and regret.”

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Multiple church members responded to the statement by asking what Baucum’s theological beliefs are. Jim Robb, a member of the vestry, answered that church leaders didn’t discuss that with Baucum. A member in the back muttered loudly, “For crying out loud, that’s at the core of the problem. Why didn’t you ask?”

Asked whether Baucum’s behavior or his Catholic theology led to the staff letter, Robb answered immediately: “Behavior.”

Mayfield, who has been serving as interim rector since Baucum’s departure, is likely to stay in that role “for a while,” a vestry member announced, drawing significant applause from church members.

At the church meeting, Mayfield spoke only briefly, offering an opening prayer. “Our enemy isn’t one another. Our enemy is the devil,” Mayfield said. "In our disagreement, in our pain, as we seek the truth in this situation, we’re asking that you were to deliver us from every evil influence.”

Vestry members said they are still negotiating Baucum’s severance package.