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Congregation at historic Falls Church moves on

Monday - 5/14/2012, 3:14am  ET

fallschurch640.jpg
A view of the exterior of the new main sanctuary building at the Falls Church Anglican. (Courtesy The Falls Church Anglican)
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FALLS CHURCH, Va. - Thousands of members of a historic church in northern Virginia held their final Sunday services in their centuries-old home after losing a long-running court battle.

Members of The Falls Church Anglican, a congregation of 4,000 worshippers, have been ordered to vacate the historic church property for which the city of Falls Church is named. The congregation traces its roots back to George Washington.

On Mother's Day, parishioners at the Falls Church Anglican spent their final Sunday attending services before leaving the building for the very last time. The church was established in 1732.

The congregation went through a nasty split precipitated by divisions within The Episcopal Church over the ordination of a gay bishop and other theological issues.

Parishioner Liz Mullen, who's been attending the church for 13 years, said she has "mixed emotions."

Her friend, Carol Engler, has been a member of the church for 50 years. Engler said she's sad to leave, but "I'm just going with the flow. Life changes and this is another stage of my life."

Engler reflected on many memories created at the church, like the christening of her grandson, who is now 28 years old.

Speaking to the congregation, the Reverend John Yates said this is not the end but is the start of a new chapter.

"Yeah we're leaving, we're renting. It's not clear beyond that. What does it matter. God is for us," he said.

Yates tried to assure his worshipers that this is more of an inconvenience and nuisance and "Nothing can defeat us or discourage us since this is what God has allowed."

Vincent Sedmak has been a parishioner for 15 years.

"Oh, the community continues. It's not about a building or structure. It's about people," he says.

At least for the next two Sundays the congregation will not be homeless. Sunday services will be held at Kenmore Middle School in Falls Church. But a church spokeswoman says their primary location for services will be at Bishop O'Connell High School in Arlington.

The congregation vacating the property aligned with more conservative forces and now considers itself Anglican. The liberal, continuing Episcopalians will be moving back in.

In January, a Fairfax Circuit Court judge ordered the church to give up the property and return it to the Episcopalian congregation, which worshiped there before the split.

WTOP's Kathy Stewart contributed to this report. Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 WTOP and The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)