Virginia Episcopal Bishop Shannon Johnston’s Diocesan Council Address

Posted by Kendall Harmon

We are able at the same time to dedicate a goodly percentage (21 percent) of our annual budget for mission and ministry beyond ourselves –as, given our wealth, we should do. Having such a large number of pledging units for the diocesan budget means that when we all do just a little more, a whole lot morefor the good of all will result. As bishop, I give great thanks that we do not have to depend on only a few to do so much. We have many who do their part to give for all and that is a good sign for a healthy diocesan Church.

I also note that with a larger number of households and friends who are able to provide financial support, we are able to make quite substantial contributions to emergency and disaster relief efforts when the sheer number of people lending a hand makes all the difference. I can tell you personally that whether it’s in Haiti, Japan, or Joplin, Missouri, the amount of aid we can quickly raise as a diocese has been most deeply appreciated by those in staggering distress and need.

Our 181 congregations comprised of some 82,000 baptized members mean that we have more than ample resources and talent to serve Christ through our diocesan ministries. This is why I am so very committed to the longer-term vision of having full-time diocesan missioners at all of the colleges and universities within the Diocese. Such ministry is critical, both for the students and in the ongoing formation of the Church, present and future. We simply must do this; there is no reason or excuse not to. Furthermore, our diocesan commissions and committees are strong. Their work can and does reach all of our congregations across the diocese. You will perhaps experience some of their work during this Council’s workshops or, at least, consider in the exhibit space the many opportunities they present for ministry.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Bishops

10 Comments
Posted January 30, 2012 at 3:38 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Archer_of_the_Forest wrote:

We are able at the same time to dedicate a goodly percentage (21 percent) of our annual budget for mission and ministry beyond ourselves –as, given our wealth, we should do.

I am not exactly sure where he gets those numbers. I looked at the budget that was presented to prospective Bishop Suffragan candidates last year and I could only figure about 2 to 3 percent of their budget actually went to mission and ministry.

To be more specific, according to their own Diocesan Profile for the Suffragan Bishop (http://www.thediocese.net/Customer-Content/WWW/CMS/files/pledge-report-020811.PDF) , the big 2011 Diocesan Budget pie chart on pg 22 says that Mission and Outreach is 2% and Ministry is 2%.

January 30, 10:55 pm | [comment link]
2. Sarah wrote:

Uh . . .

Wow.

What a Mr. Toad speech that was!

I mean—it’s positively pathological.

Is this guy for real? 

Would love to hear from some actual traditional Episcopalians in VA [not the fake traditionalist that trolls comments here periodically—I’m interested in the real thing].  There’s got to be some conservative Episcopalians in the Diocese of VA who knows this man and can offer some insights on what appears to be a truly blinding narcissism.

January 30, 11:26 pm | [comment link]
3. sophy0075 wrote:

Sarah,

All the true conservatives have left the Dio VA.

January 31, 12:00 am | [comment link]
4. MichaelA wrote:

“Our 181 congregations comprised of some 82,000 baptized members mean that we have more than ample resources and talent to serve Christ through our diocesan ministries.”

That equates to 450 baptised members per congregation. Isn’t that a trifle low? 

I wonder what ASA it generates? My diocese has an average ASA of 300 per congregation.

January 31, 1:28 am | [comment link]
5. MichaelA wrote:

“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.”

Thank you, +Shannon, for admitting this. Some of your members are not quite so candid.

“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.”

Yep. The good bishop understands that the recent court ‘victory’ is nothing more than a first instance decision by a single judge, which is subject to appeal. I suspect, reading between the lines, that he also understands that winning might be a poisoned chalice due to the cost of maintaining the properties without congregations to pay for them.

“The future is absolutely bristling with possibilities.”

You’ve got to hand it to the bish - its impossible to contradict the man!

Now, here is the money quote (and I mean that literally):

“Given those points about Dayspring, there remains one other point that will be as much a part of its mission as anything else: there must be a spirit of graciousness whenever and wherever possible.  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.”

The bishop has already worked out that his diocese cannot maintain the properties which they expect to recover. So he hopes to co-opt the departing congregations into an arrangement whereby they remain in the properties and pay for their maintenance, for the foreseeable future.

But will they, I wonder? Or will they toss him the keys and walk?

“I want to have a witness to the world, particularly the Anglican world, not just an “outcome” in the court.”

Yep. I expect he is aware of the damage done to the reputation of the Episcopal Church by antics like evicting Anglican congregations and then selling the properties to Muslim and other non-Christian groups. +Shannon at least will not be so stupid.

January 31, 1:45 am | [comment link]
6. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

As someone who has lived in the Richmond area for about 20 years, I have watched what might be called “The Rise and Fall of the Diocese of VA.”  Well, actually the rise goes back long before my time, to the extraordinary work of VA’s two great early pioneer bishops, Richard Channing Moore and the even greater William Meade.  Both were fervent evagelicals and fiercely orthodox (as well as rabidly low church!).  Together, back to back (and even overlapping, since +Meade started as Co-Adjortor for many years), +Moore and +Meade gave VA a powerful momentum that lasted for decades after their deaths.

Rather, I was alluding to the Rise of the Diocese within TEC itself as the premier “centrist” diocese under the famous church statesman, +Peter James Lee, whose long tenure saw the Diocese rise to surpassing New York and Massachusetts as the largest and probably the most infulential diocese in the country.  Not least, I can testify that, to his credit, +Peter Lee had the sense to appoint two fervent evangelical clergy to head up his new Commission on Church Planting that was intended to throttle up the pace of church planting within the diocese.  I was appointed by +Lee as the intial co-chair of that taskforce or commission, and together with Fr. Eric Turner, another youong buck, we got the diocese off to a good start around 1990.  By the turn of the century and millenium, the Diocese of VA (aka “the diocese,” the website says so and it must be right, http://www.thediocese.org,, just as we Virginians have “the Seminary” in Alexandria and “the University,” Jefferson’s, in Charlottesville) was averaging the relatively rapid pace of starting up 3 or 4 new churches a year, far outstripping every other diocese in the nation, including SC or Pittsburgh.

Then came the debacle of 2003.  And the wheels fell off the wagon.  Even the legendary mediating powers of “centrist” +Lee couldn’t get oil and water to mix, and the house internally divided against itself theologically came crashing down.  Most of those new churches we planted were led by orthodox evangelicals, and many of them left TEC.  Now, sad to say, the Diocese of VA has sold off all the land we had bought up for future church plants (in order to fund the lawsuits, of course), and the former national leader in church planting hasn’t started a new church in over five years.

How are the mighty fallen!

Three or four final points about +Shannon Johnston.
1.  He has taken to wearing a chasuble and miter in low-church parishes where +Lee would never have done such a thing.  Now even though I prefer to wear a chasuble myself, I think this move by +Johnston is indicative that his (ambitious) eye isn’t just on what appeals to the locals, but he’s already appealing to a wider (future) constituency.  IOW, I’m speculating, but I think there’s plenty of evidence that +Johnston is already positioning himself to run for PB.

2.  Like his illustrious predecessor, +Johnston is astute enough as a church politician to know which way the ecclesial wind is blowing, and he trims his sails accordingly.  Hence, +Johnston isn’t even pretending to be neutral on the “gay rights” front; he is openly supportive of the whole pro-gay cause, in a partisan fashion that +Lee never was.  Again, I think he has fairly obvious aspirations of replacing ++KJS as the next PB.  Based on this awful speech, Lord help TEC is that ever comes to pass!

3.  It’s quite significant that +Johnston came to Richmond and the Diocese of VA from deep in the heart of the Deep South, from Biloxi, Mississippi, in fact.  Now Biloxi is the home of Don Wildmon and the American Family Association and AFR, the American Family Radio network, leading crusaders in the Culture War.  I think there is fairly clear evidence that +Johnston has a visceral, knee-jerk reaction against anything smacking of Southern Fundamentalism.

Now I get really nervous when a southern liberal, and especially a southern liberal who is of the Boomer generation, takes over the leadership of some great southern (or national) institution.  They unfortunately tend to view all conflicts through a very narrow grid or lens, as if we were re-playing the Civil Rights struggle of the 1960s all over again.  They tend to assume that “the Fundamentalists are the Enemy.”  Just look at Bill Clinton.  Enough said?

4.  Finally, last but not least, let’s give credit where credit is due.  There are positive things that +Johnston has done that are commendable.  For one, he has willingly granted DEPO to the Richmond Communion Partners parish (St. Matthew’s, under the wonderfully courageous Fr. Chuck Alley).  They now have the orthodox former Assistant Bishop of VA (and retired diocesan bishop of N. Indiana) Francis Gray as their DEPO bishop.  For another, +Johnston is being gracious and sensible in terms of not kicking the departed ACNA/CANA churches out of their homes since the diocese recently won the lawsuit.  True, it was pretty much a no-brainer financially, as the diocese is broke and can’t afford to maintain all that property, but hey, few TEC bishops have been so gracious.  He gets credit in my book for that restraint.

It is daming with faint praise to say that +Johnston is “the new normal” in TEC, a relative moderate in the overwhelming “progressive” climate of TEC these days.  He may be what passes for moderate in the +KJS and Bonnie Anderson era, but one thing for sure.  To allude to a famous political parallel from an earlier presidential campaign, “I know +Peter Lee, and believe me, +Shannon Johnston is no +Peter Lee.”  Among other things, +Lee would never have made such a lousy, clumsy speech at annual council.  Lord, have mercy.

David Handy+

January 31, 11:48 am | [comment link]
7. New Reformation Advocate wrote:

Archer (#1),

As for that puzzling claim of some 21% going to “mission,” well, I guess that all depends on how you define mission, doesn’t it?  I’m assuming that he’s including the diocesan contribution to 815 as part of the VA “mission” and outreach since it goes outside the VA borders.  After all, the current national asking from dioceses is 19%, so that plus the 2% going to genuine mission makes 21%.

sophy0075 (#3),
I understand your retort, and it was amusing, but the fact is that there remain some very solid conservative churches and priests in the diocese, as hard as that may be to imagine.  Two congregations falling into that category are Church of the Messiah, Fredericksburg (where I once was the interim, back in the Middle Ages, i.e., early 1990s), where the faithful pastor is Fr. Rim Reed; and St. Peter’s, Purceyville, where Fr. Tim Simmons is the priest.  Both clergy are men I consider thoroughly orthodox, although they’ve chosen to stay in TEC, at least for now.  Then, as mentioned above, there St. Matthew’s in Richmond, which has taken a clear and forthright stand for orthodoxy, differentiating itself unmistakably from the heretical and immoral new agenda dominating TEC.  As I said above, St. Matt’s has been granted DEPO, and is very ably led by Fr. Chuck Alley (assisted by my friend Fr. Mario Gonzalez).  Fr. Alley, formerly of Truro Church, is a prominent priest in the ACI’s Communion Partners’ network.  Then there’s Church of the Spirit in Kingstowne, led by the innovative Fr. Roger Schellenberg, who started the first real “seeker-friendly” church in the diocese in 1997 (in the Willow Creek and Saddleback style), and there are still a few others as well.

So not all the Elves have fled Middle Earth just yet.  But it’s true that most of us have left.  Alas, if Judge Bellows had ruled the other way, in our favor, I bet some of those few remaining conservative churches might have finally left.

David Handy+

January 31, 3:48 pm | [comment link]
8. MichaelA wrote:

“For another, +Johnston is being gracious and sensible in terms of not kicking the departed ACNA/CANA churches out of their homes since the diocese recently won the lawsuit.  True, it was pretty much a no-brainer financially, as the diocese is broke and can’t afford to maintain all that property, but hey, few TEC bishops have been so gracious.”

Its not being gracious - its just not being stupid! Kicking the congregations out is no longer an option available to him. He and KJS probably thought it was when all this started, but each year brings a new budget. They started something they could not afford to finish - what fools.

I would however give him credit for being a little smarter than some other liberals, and seeing what is coming just a little earlier than they do.

“As for that puzzling claim of some 21% going to “mission,” well, I guess that all depends on how you define mission, doesn’t it?  I’m assuming that he’s including the diocesan contribution to 815 as part of the VA “mission” and outreach since it goes outside the VA borders.  After all, the current national asking from dioceses is 19%, so that plus the 2% going to genuine mission makes 21%.”

I suspect you are right on the money.

January 31, 5:59 pm | [comment link]
9. NoVA Scout wrote:

NRA’s analysis of the tenure of Bishop Lee strikes me as extremely accurate and insightful.  Fair and Balanced, as the saying goes.

February 2, 11:32 pm | [comment link]
10. Firinnteine wrote:

Bp. Johnston may or may not have Bp. Lee’s political savvy, but in my opinion he’s a better preacher and liturgical leader.  One of the reasons for his wearing the chasuble is probably that he really is a good bit more catholic/ritualist (albeit liberal catholic) than his predecessor.  He didn’t attend “the seminary,” remember, but the late Seabury-Western.  Although his leadership away from the Biblical and historic Christian teaching on sexuality is inexcusable, I was impressed by Bp. Johnston’s abilities during my time in his diocese.  Note also that he has at least tried to create room for his remaining conservatives—granted that looked more sincere before he also allowed some parishes to experiment with blessing same sex unions.  And I suspect he’s more theologically thoughtful than Bp. Lee; at least he seems to speak in more theological terms.

Having attended St. Peter’s Purcellville for several years, served on the vestry, etc., I can speak emphatically in its favor.  Like any such parish there are a variety of viewpoints in the pews, but Fr. Tom (not Tim) Simmons and many of the lay leaders are very solid, as is the teaching and worship of the parish as a whole.  I consider them allies and friends, although I am now serving in the ACNA.  I think Fr. John Sheehan is still at Church of Our Redeemer in Aldie; he too is a good man.

February 13, 2:30 pm | [comment link]
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