|Bishop Shannon Johnston|
addressing the Diocesan Council
There were no resolutions -- none -- for the first time in recorded history in Virginia.
It was the farewell Council for Suffragan Bishop David Jones, who in a formal retirement ceremony Friday declared that he would cease to be the Bishop Suffragan at the conclusion of the Holy Eucharist that evening.
And it was marked by a remarkable address from Diocesan Bishop Shannon Johnston in which he said the bigness of this diocese allows us to do many things and lead on many fronts.
“The future is absolutely bristling with possibilities,” he said.
The Diocese of Virginia, with 181 congregations and 82,000 members on the rolls, is the largest domestic diocese in The Episcopal Church.
“As we look at ourselves,” he said, “we must never forget that from those to whom much has been given, much is expected. Precisely because of the great gifts entrusted to us, the Diocese of Virginia must lead in being productive stewards of such bounteous resources, making wise use of all that we have in order to nurture growth for the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God.”
The bishop talked of the reach of the diocese, with relationships in 20 of the 34 provinces of the worldwide Anglican Communion. He challenged us to have a significant mission relationship in all of those provinces.
“We are the most 'outward' looking diocese that I know of. The Diocese of Virginia quite probably has more links, companionships and personal relationships beyond its own borders than any other Anglican diocese anywhere. The numbers tell a very compelling story. We currently have ministries with 40 international dioceses involving 75 of our congregations!
“Within the United States, Diocese of Virginia churches made 102 domestic mission trips over an 18-month span during 2010-2011, including ministries in Appalachia, Louisiana and Mississippi, Iowa, Native American Reservations and various urban areas of the country.”
He called upon the diocese to have an impact not just across the seas or in other corners of the United States, but to use our influence to impact public policies particularly in Virginia. It was the strongest such statement any of us have heard from a bishop in Virginia.
“The simple formula of strength-in-numbers means that we can be real leaders in local and state-wide advocacy,” the bishop said. “We are blessed with a big voice–a constituency that is too large to ignore–and we are also blessed with a history that lends true 'gravitas' to our witness. Again, we find ourselves to be stewards who are challenged to make a difference precisely because we are able to do so.
“We can make a true impact on the governor’s office and the General Assembly. Both from my own office and in our partnerships with the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy, the Virginia Council of Churches and the LARCUM fellowship (Lutheran, Anglican, Roman Catholic, United Methodist) we have done and will continue to do just that. My own view of what is at stake right now is justice for the poor and the protection of funding for the “safety nets” that ensure care for them. This funding is now most imperiled and our voice must be heard–now. Get personally involved.”
Bishop Johnston also talked about the next chapter in the long saga of the Diocese of Virginia's legal attempt to regain church properties that had been claimed by congregations that broke away from the Episcopal Church in the aftermath of the election of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire. The Diocese of Virginia won a recent court ruling that the 9 church properties in dispute must be returned to the diocese.
“The future is absolutely bristling with possibilities,” the bishop said. “This is a truly historic time in the life of our diocese. It is not overstating the case to say that this is one of the most defining moments in all of our 400 year history. As such, this is no less a most exciting time! But, steady now: the next several months and, for some places, even years, will be a time for discernment before decision.”
Bishop Johnston said that no existing congregation will be evicted from its buildings, and he announced the formation of a team called “Dayspring" to guide the diocese as it discerns how to reincorporate such congregations back into the life of the The Episcopal Church.
“There must be a spirit of graciousness whenever and wherever possible,” he said. “On the purely practical level, this means that if and when the present ruling stands and we retain the disputed properties, no community of faith, no ministry program will be summarily thrown out of its current place. We will be as open as possible to creative agreements, generous provision, and true mutuality, while protecting the needs of our own ministries and the integrity of our witness.”
To read the full address by Bishop Johnston, click HERE.
Photo of Bishop Shannon Johnston at the 217th Diocesan Council, by Lori Korleski Richardson.