BB NOTE: The following speech was given by the Suffragan Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, the Rt. Rev. David C. Jones, as his "pastoral address" on Friday, January 25, 2007 at the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia Annual Council in Richmond.
This is also the speech that caused a lot of standing ovations and cheering - perhaps not one of the brighter moments in the history of the Diocese of Virginia.
What do you think?
Report of the Bishop Suffragan, The Rt. Rev. David C. Jones
Bishop Lee, Bishop Paterson, Members of Council,
I stand here today with a joyful perspective on the health and vitality of the vast majority of our congregations. I cannot remember a time in this Diocese
when more congregations have been actively engaged in mission.
when more congregations are taking seriously the call of Christ to love our neighbor
when more people are participating in mission trips
when more people are part of a healing ministry or Bible study.
One need only to attend closing worship at one of our summer camps to experience the vitality of faith and commitment of our younger members. During the Christmas holidays, I attended the reunion of Shrine Mont campers. I left the Church of the Holy Comforter, Vienna with my spirits soaring.
This is a vital and dynamic diocese focused on the mission of the Risen Lord. It is a privilege to visit our congregations stretching from the West Virginia border to the Chesapeake Bay and the Potomac River to the James.
And I am especially proud to serve with our diocesan bishop, Peter James Lee. Bishop Lee has supported me and trusted me in ways that I do not deserve.
This week, the bishops of Province III have made this statement in support of the Bishop of Virginia:
“We the Bishops of Dioceses in Province III (the Middle Atlantic area) of The Episcopal Church commend and support our brother The Right Reverend Peter J. Lee, Bishop of Virginia, in his recent action and statement concerning several parishes within his Diocese which have withdrawn from The Episcopal Church. We support completely his decision necessitated by the Canons of our Church and morally responsible. Moreover, we commend Bishop Lee for the many ways over several years in which he tried to pastorally minister to, find appropriate compromises, and charitably respond to his detractors. We are proud to be his colleagues.”
This was signed by Bishops Ihloff, Wright, Shand, Raab, Rowley, Bennison, Powell, Chane, Eastman, Dixon, Klusmeyer, Creighton, Longest, Leighton, Baxter, Townsend and Jones.
My primary responsibilities are to oversee mission congregations and Church Planting. We have three commissions that are serving us very well.
The Commission on Congregational Missions is especially attentive to ensuring the pastoral presence of Episcopal congregations in declining and developing areas of our diocese – especially in reaching out to new ethnic populations. A high point of this past year was a Small Church Day held at St. James the Less in Ashland.
The Commission on Church Planting has its eye on new opportunities for mission and is responsible for developing new congregations.
The Commission on Congregational Development is attentive to opportunities to strengthen existing congregations through high quality diocesan programs such as the Magnetic Church Conference.
Each of these hard working commissions is committed to the priorities of our diocese and the health of congregations.
I am sad that some of our clergy have led their congregations out of the Episcopal Church. The matter is very personal to me. I have worked with a number of these clergy and their congregations in Church Planting and appreciate their passion for evangelism. But I reject with all my might the notion that our theology has changed. I find it outrageous to suggest that we have abandoned the historic faith. We continue to worship with the Book of Common Prayer and affirm that the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God and contain all things necessary to salvation.
We share a common devotion to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We share a common faith stated clearly in the Nicene and Apostle’s creeds and the Book of Common Prayer.
It is true that we are at a different place than some Christians in other parts of the world. It is also true that we have a wide breadth of opinion on current matters of faith and discipline. That has always been true. In fact, it would be difficult in the Episcopal Church to identify one common point of view on any contemporary social issue. How could we? We are the Church – the people of God assembled and serving in our own communities.
From my own perspective, little has changed in terms of our faith. What has changed is how rapid international communication has sharpened differences into divisions and divisions into schism.
In the departing congregations, I have witnessed a shift of emphasis from belonging to Christ through baptism to an emphasis on belonging through adherence to one exclusive point of view. That development is not Anglican!
What God establishes in baptism is indissoluble and cannot be compromised. All of us belong through baptism. We are God’s beloved children. The primary message of the Epiphany season is that the gospel is for all people, everywhere.
What is essentially Anglican is a common devotion to Jesus as Savior and Lord, the use of the Book of Common Prayer, and a common acceptance of the integrity of different cultures living out the Christian life. I celebrate that openness and rejoice in the freedom it affords all of us to grow into the full stature of Christ.
Some of our newest congregations have reported difficulty in attracting new members due to the negative publicity we are experiencing in the press. Some suggest that our “brand name” has been damaged. In some places and among some people that may be true.
But that does not change who we are and what we are called to be. We are the Church and Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. Even in the face of adversity, we have our marching orders from the Risen Christ. We are to ‘teach all nations’ and baptize. We are to love our neighbor and strive for justice and peace. We cannot allow the attention on a few to divert our attention from our most sacred call – the call of God in Holy Baptism
So what should we say when encountered with negative opinions of our church?
Might I suggest that we begin by saying,
We believe in God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
We believe in Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God
We believe that Jesus was raised from the dead.
That Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior.
We are fed by Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
or we can say
Yes, I am a member of Bishop Tutu’s Church.
While we may be on the defensive as a result of a constant barrage of criticism from within, we should not lose heart. We are the Church. Jesus is the Risen Lord.