Update from the Diocese of Virginia Annual Council

Intrepid is on the scene.  Here is his report:

Bishop Shannon Johnston
“We are so blessed by a generous and godly heritage …”
Bishop Shannon Johnston began with a discussion of the benefits of the size of the diocese and the ministry of the Diocesan system. He offered a strong call to a greater diocesan and institutional ministry.
“We have greater financial resources available to supply the needs of diocesan ministry … So we can better meet the common needs and expectations … We have ample resources to do greater ministry through our diocesan ministries … We simply must do this, there is no reason or excuse not to …”
He continued, “The work of the commissions and committees is strong and reaches to all  people in the diocese … We have a much larger critical mass of people to step up and serve … We don’t have to depend on just a few to do all the diocesan ministries require.”
The Bishop then mentioned that the diocese has 59 persons in formation to become ordained ministers, and another 40 people in the exploratory phase. He was very pleased that there were 99 people in this process. It left me wondering if we did not have more people in this system than the Diocese needed considering the size and number of our congregations. And it was a bit odd to think we have more people involved in the ordination process than what must be the median average congregation in the Diocese.
The Bishop then gave a report on how connected the Diocese of Virginia is to the rest of the Anglican Communion. “We are the most outward looking diocese than any other I know of.”  He explained that 75 congregations are connected to 40 other churches internationally. He added, “But it’s not about quantity but about the quality of relationships in mission.” The goal was then given to us for more to become involved. “I am so committed to the Anglican Communion I have set the goal of having relationships with every province in the entire Anglican Communion.”
Only one has to wonder about the quality of our diocesan relationships with the Anglicans in ACNA … I am still amazed at the brash answer I received years ago from Virginia’s Bishop Suffragan David Jones. I asked him why the Diocese was not willing to give letters dimissory to priests who wished to depart from the Episcopal Church but remain in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Jones explained to me that there was a “Gentleman’s Agreement” among the members of the House of Bishops that no such letters would be given to those who were not actually leaving the diocese/country to take up residence in a church far away. It seemed petty at the time. But as we know, the agreement is still in force, making it hard to see how well connected we are to the rest of the AC. It also is a sad commentary on the quality of our relationships …
The Diocese of Virginia Annual Council meets in Reston.
The Bishop continued, “Our diocese is under worldwide scrutiny … In considering the return of Episcopal properties to the ministry of the diocese it is a big mistake to refer to this as a legal battle. It is about theology … What is a stake is our polity, our ancient and defining order of being the church … It is a matter of no less than our faithfulness … And it will take more than the courts to settle things …”
“Despite the recent court ruling in our favor we simply do not know what the future holds … We have reason to believe our properties will be returned. For nearly two years we have considered and discussed this positive outcome. We will be fully prepared for any eventuality … just as we have been able to sustain our case … I strongly believe that we will be able to do what it takes over the next months and years to be faithful to the church’s mission in respect to each of the properties involved. We do have what it takes … We have the critical mass to move forward. In my mind there can be no doubt we can be up to the task ahead …”
“We are bristling with possibilities. It is not overstating the case that this is one of the defining moments in our over 400 year history.”
The Bishop also announced the creation of a new super committee called Daysprings which will have three working groups …
  • Vision and strategy for the use of the returned properties,
  • Resources for funding them and,
  • Messaging to communicate inside the diocese and to the world
The Bishop will announce the membership of these groups in the near future. To sum up this section of the address, the Bishop then added, “There must be a spirit of graciousness wherever and whenever possible … No community of faith or ministry program will be thrown out of its current place.” The Bishop said he was open to generous provision, creative solutions and a sense of mutuality, “while protecting the integrity of our own witness.”
And he said, “I want to have a witness to the world, particularly the Anglican world, not just an outcome in the court.” we wait to see to what that is a witness, but it would seem first and foremost to be a witness to the institution of the diocese and those who minister in it to make things happen. Less was said about individuals or individual parish ministry.  At times the Bishop sounded more like a man trying to get us on board than anything else. He certainly has a great love for the church as an institution. I wonder though about the value of clinging to what may soon be outmoded structures and mission priorities. Especially when the “integrity of our witness” has to do with property disputes.
And I wonder … Should the return of properties after an expensive court battle truly be the defining event in an over 400 year history as a Diocese. I shudder to think that could be true.

Intrepid is a member of the Diocese of Virginia Annual Council now underway at the Reston Hyatt at Reston Town Center, Virginia.

UPDATE: Bishop Shannon Johnston’s pastoral address is now online.  Here is an excerpt:

As all of you know, the matter of our size, resources and abilities has been–over the past five years–under worldwide scrutiny. Our diocese is navigating a complex set of circumstances regarding our effort to return Episcopal properties to the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia. It would be a big mistake to characterize this simply as a “legal” battle. Rather, at its core, this is (make no mistake about it) about theology, meaning who we are as a Church in relationship with Christ and the world. At stake is our polity, that is, our ancient and defining order of our being the Church. Thus, it is altogether a matter of nothing less than our very faithfulness. It will therefore take more than the courts to settle things. So far, our legal efforts are bearing abundant fruit, but that fruit at hand is making ecclesial life even more complex! Despite the recent court ruling in our favor, we simply don’t know now what the future holds. Nonetheless, we have reason to be more confident than ever that our properties will be returned. For nearly two years, we have considered and discussed such a positive outcome, and now we must move to put contingency plans in place. We will be fully prepared for any eventuality…

This is exactly on point in my overall theme here of the advantages of being a large diocese. The bottom line is that just as we have been able to sustain our case throughout a lengthy and expensive legal process, I strongly believe that we will be able to do what it takes over the next months and years to be faithful to the Church’s mission with respect to each one of the properties involved. And, as I’ve here been making the case, we do, in fact, have what it takes–that “critical mass”–when we all put our shoulders to the wheels. To be sure, what’s ahead will take all of us working together as a diocesan Church and ministry. We are faced quite squarely with many questions and challenges right now, but in my mind there can be no doubt: we are up to them. 

Read it all here.