Friday, January 23, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: Bishop Peter James Lee announces that he will step down as Bishop of Virginia in October

After twenty-five years as the Bishop of Virginia, the Rt. Rev'd Peter James Lee, announces to the 214 Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia, that he will step down as bishop in October.
"A major obligation of leadership is to recognize changed circumstances and to respond imaginatively and realistically to those circumstances. All of us recognize that we live at a time of economic recession. That reality is reflected in the significant number of congregations in our diocese that have reduced their pledge to what we do together in the diocesan budget. As diocesan bishop, it is my responsibility to face those changed circumstances and to respond accordingly. The position I hold is a significant part of our budget. I have decided, therefore, to resign as Diocesan Bishop effective October 1, 2009. That means that my absence for the last quarter of this calendar year will provide a 25% reduction in the cost of the position of diocesan bishop and will bring some relief to the stress on our budget. My resignation will occur several months earlier than I had originally anticipated but I believe it is an appropriate and necessary response to the realities we face. I am exploring the possibility of ministry in some other form after I leave Virginia as I begin my transition towards retirement."
The full address is here. Press release here:

Bishop Lee was installed as the 12th bishop of Virginia on May 27, 1985. He was ordained to the diaconate in June 1967 and to the priesthood in May 1968. From 1968‑1971, he served as the assistant minister at St. John's Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C. In 1971, Bishop Lee became rector of the Chapel of the Cross, Chapel Hill, N.C., and continued as rector there until he was elected bishop of the Diocese of Virginia in 1984.

The Washington Post has now published an article here:
The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, who has been bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia for 24 years, announced today that he will step down Oct. 1 to make way for a successor who was named in 2007.

The diocese, which covers northern and eastern Virginia and includes 80,000 members, is one of the largest in the Episcopal Church, the U.S.-based branch of the global Anglican Communion.

Starting this fall the diocese will be overseen by the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston, 50, an Alabama native who has worked in dioceses in the South and is known for his work in prison, music and HIV/AIDS ministries.

Under the laws of the Episcopal Church, a bishop must retire either by age 72 or no more than three years after a successor is consecrated.

"I think the church is more focused beyond ourselves as Americans than when I first came," Lee said today at the diocese's annual council meeting, where he announced he would be stepping down.

Johnston will inherit one of the largest and costliest legal disputes in the history of the Episcopal Church, a land fight with a cluster of Virginia congregations whose members voted to leave the national church over what they see as its liberal distortions of Scripture -- and sought to keep their church properties, worth tens of millions of dollars. The breakaway conservative movement recently won a decision in district court, but the diocese and the national church are appealing.

Lee, 70, is widely respected, and initially it seemed his status as a moderate would allow him to keep his churches together. However, discussions stalled in late 2006 and conservatives blamed him for offering to negotiate and then filing a lawsuit later over the properties. At that point, however, the conservatives had already filed a separate action in court that many saw as provocative.

Today Lee said the churches' departure was "a major disappointment of my time in office," but he added that in hindsight he feels he could not have kept everyone together. "I think some of these churches were heading in that direction even 25 years ago."

Lee said he would like to return to working in a church, probably outside of Virginia, and expects to eventually retire to Chapel Hill, N.C.

Here's the Diocese's video of the announcement with authoritative voice-over by former Vice President of the Executive Board, Brother John Ogle.


Kevin said...

Yes, it would be that long, I do remember him visiting St. Andrews. He was the "new" bishop then.

Sadly for him, as I reminded by a flood of my past suddenly reappearing, that all that has been done really doesn't matter (in my case, I'd say that's a good thing) but how we finish -- he'll probably be remembered more for the last five years, with the law suits and such, more than the years before.

In one sense, it's very ironic, for I do think he tried to guard his reputation in this mess (not neutral else he'd abstain in Aug '03, but certainly tried to not end up as the bishop who sued) ... yet he did have a choice and that will be his legacy - I have a tinge of sadness, understanding it's consequences, but a sense of tragedy. The revisionist might see that in the Greek sense, I think of it in the Modern Christian Worldview forum (Greek - destiny, it could not be different verse that it could have been different).

May he have the guts & boldness to look at his career with the Lord, to make peace with whomever he needs to have a restful retirement.


Rick Arllen said...

Hope the door doesn't hit him on his way out.

Don't go away mad, just go away.

He's done much to give us no reason to miss him.

I could go on.

TLF+ said...

Looking from a distance, I would say that he was done in by the national church.

It's factional ideology pushed away many of the congregations in his charge.

He tried to honor his vows by obeying the guidance of the national church - and they betrayed him by ordering an evil and disastrous litigation campaign.

They have sabotaged this man beyond belief. I'm not declaring him perfect or putting him on the calendar of saints, but this is an example of the irresponsibly destructive role that the national church has taken to itself.

Kevin said...

Rick, I do understand your response (maybe more than you know) and it is certainly a natural one, but I'd urge you to contemplate what the super-natural one might be?

Steven in Falls Church said...

Elsewhere in his address, the Bishop said:

"We are paying the major costs of litigation through a line of credit that we will pay off by selling unimproved property when the real estate market improves."

It could, of course, take years for the real estate market to improve. In the meantime, the Diocese will continue to pay interest on what it has drawn on the $2 million line of credit. We know from earlier statements that the Diocese already drew down half that line. Assuming that $1.5 million has now been drawn, at 6% this is a $90,000 item in the annual budget. How poetic that Bishop Lee contriburted to the cash flow crunch that has led to his early removal.

Anonymous said...

Yeah...Great Steward...a Bennison with a personality. he retires in splendor and leaves the Diocese in tatters.

Rick Arllen said...

Kevin, I wash my hands of him.

One wonders, however, just how St. John Chrysostom's words, "The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops" has already or might in the future actually play out.

ccinnova said...

Bishop Lee's legacy will be defined by two decisions he made in the last six years of his episcopate.

The first decision was his vote to confirm the election of a bishop in New Hampshire whose lifestyle would have made him ineligible for Holy Orders in the Diocese of Virginia.

The second decision was bowing to pressure from Presiding Bishop Schori, David Booth Beers and company to cut off negotiations with the Northern Virginia parishes that were considering departure from TFC.

The fruit of these decisions is bitter indeed: the loss of a number of parishes, thousands of members, millions of dollars in legal fees and lost contributions, and untold pain and anguish. The fruit has also proven costly for Bishop Lee, who has suffered from serious health problems in recent years.

While I disagree with his decisions and am no longer a member of his flock, I don't wish Bishop Lee ill. However, I do hope and pray he engages in some useful Christ-centered reflection during his retirement.