Barry Morgan, the successor of Rowan Williams as the Archbishop of Wales, is the guest speaker and preacher at the council this year. He is known for his outspoken liberal views on theology, defense policies, and has publicly stated his willingness to consecrate a gay bishop. He is about to speak to the Diocese of Virginia Council here in Reston, VA.
He is opening his sermon with an overview of the definitions of Christian. He's now going on to illustrate what is a Christian by Hans Kung in his book, On Being a Christian. He is saying that being a Christian is about a community. Now he quoting from Why Go to Church by Timothy Radcliffe. And his point here is that all Christians belong to a community - the wider-Episcopal Church and the wider-Anglican Communion. What unites us is more important than what divides us, Archbishop Morgan says is Bishop Lee's point of view.
"Jesus Christ is the window into God," said Barry Morgan. The community is centered on Jesus because "he shows us what God is really like." Then he talks about how it's all about God loving us. He says that Jesus loved and accepted everyone just as there were.
Barry Morgan says that all we do is receive "the divine love" and what matters is how we love others unconditionally, accepting them. That's all that matters. Then he sat down.
Nothing about repentance, nothing about transformation, nothing about the fact that we come to Jesus as we are, but He does not leave us in that place, nothing about the choice we make to follow Him. Thank God for the liturgy, which still takes us to that place.
LUNCH BREAK: The Council has broken for lunch. I might as well be in Denmark for the amount of unfamiliar faces that now fill the hallways. Every so often I see a familiar face, some from Region VII (on both sides of the aisle), others who are friends in the Coalition.
It is an end of an era coming - Bishop Lee has had a long episcopacy in the Diocese of Virginia. When I first started attending Truro, he predecessor was still bishop, but after I graduated from college, Bishop Lee suddenly became bishop at the death of Bishop Hall in 1985. I was received by Bishop Lee into the Episcopal Church that same year. That seems like a lifetime ago.
I'm trying to remember when I first started attending diocesan council. I believe it was in the mid-1990s. My first council was actually down in Richmond - I think. It was between the 1994 General Convention in Indianapolis (my first General Convention) and the 1997 General Convention in Philadelphia (which some times seems like just yesterday, with the AAC meeting place in an old abandoned bank about a quarter of a mile away from the Convention Center). The change between the 94 Convention and 98 Convention was dramatic and I had attended diocesan councils in-between. But even then, I had no idea just what kind of commitment this would turn into.
Of course, the person who stands out in my memories through all of this is Diane Knippers. She was the one who talked me into going to the General Convention in 1994 in the first place and I can recall memories of late nights at Diocesan Council as we waited to hear what had happened at the Resolutions Committee meetings that sometimes went close to the wee hours of the morning so we could strategize for the next day. I learned a lot - not just at the General Conventions (which were in those days so different from Diocesan Councils) but at the Virginia councils as well. It will be interesting to see this annual council handles the resolutions that are up before it, if the diocese will finally give way and stop studying the topic and - even a small step - finally embrace what looks to be inevitable.
Archbishop Morgan's "sermon" was surprisingly tepid, incredibly sophomoric, I thought we should all just break out in a rendition of the Beetles, All You Need Is Love when he was done. I liked his accent though. My father's ancestors were originally Welsh Quakers - not sure what they would have thought about a Welsh Archbishop, but I can imagine.
How can someone who is an archbishop in the church give such a vapid sermon - where he spent the entire time quoting other authors, but not scripture. And what did we learn? Turns out that Jesus is a window.
AFTERNOON SESSION: We're hearing a report from the Executive Board. One thing we might want to note is a signal we may have received from Bishop Lee during his earlier address that he will not support the passing of the more controversial resolutions now before this council, when he said, "We continue in our diocese to have serious conversations about issues that are controversial. You will receive a report at this council from the Windsor Dialogue Commission, inviting a process of conversation to continue. The only recommendation the Commission makes for council action encourages listening." That could very well be coded language that sends a message that "listening" will continue, and action is postponed. Stay tuned.
Once again we hear from the Executive Board the same thing that Bishop Lee said in his address, that the Diocese will continue to pursue spending substantial funds on litigation with lines of credit and paying off the lines of credit with the sale of diocesan properties (one can only wonder if they mean selling off the parts of our properties that are unconsecrated). Not sure how they are paying off the interest, though, since right now there is a budget deficit that nearly matches the amount set aside for the interest. The Executive Board Vice President said that for the Executive Board, the "litigation" is their "backdrop" this year, since they are in charge of the budget of the diocese. The justification for the expenses (which are not actually being said publicly - at least, not yet) continues to be to save the property as a legacy of the church, even though the real legacy is the people, not the props.
Bishop Johnston, the Bishop Coadjutor, is now speaking at the podium. This is the first time I've seen and heard him and he has a nice refined drawl, denoting his southern roots. He voice sounds so much like my Uncle Charley, who was raised here in Virginia. It's amazing how much his voice and accent sounds just like my Uncle Charley.
He's very enthusiastic and effective communicator. He is emphasizing his commitment to World Mission, by bringing the expenses for that work into the diocesan budget as the current funding outside the budget is about the "expire."
Bishop Johnston is announcing that he will call a Canon to the Ordinary. The diocese has not had a Canon to the Ordinary since Clay Matthews was elected bishop. This person would aid the bishop directly and in the oversight of the ordination process.
ALERT: It was recommended to Bishop Johnson, he said, that he accept a postulant in a same sex relationship to Holy Orders which he agreed in principle, but does not feel free to ordain persons in same sex relationships since there is no rite of blessing for same sex partners in the Diocese of Virginia. Bishop Johnson made it clear that that he does support the goal, but will not move forward until the conclusion of the "listening process" that will be presented to this council.
Bishop Johnston placed a "hold" on this postulant involved (as well as the chair and the ordination committee) while this "listening process" goes forward.
Read his address here.
Now how can someone say he is going to "listen" when he's clearly all ready made up his mind? What holds the bishop back, it appears, is the process - not the biblical teaching on identity and holy living. He does not seem to hold the view of establishing "prophetic witness" events, but takes a more process-oriented approach to go jump through the established hoops, and then end up where he intended to go all along.
And yet he says he's going to continue to entertain applications of more postulants in "committed" same sex relationships, even though he's not going to ordain them? What's up with that? That can't go over very well - except for those who nodding off into their purses.
Churches are now being publicly recognized for their percentage giving to the diocese. Can't recall this - but it does seem like an elaborate setup for shaming. The idea of the Virginia Plan is that the laity hold the purse, not the diocese, not the clergy of the parishes - but the laity. It's one of the ways the leadership is held accountable. Shaming won't make people give more, in fact, it just turns some churches into "bishop's-pets." The perspective is backward. In fact, I recall that we voted down these "percentage" thingys. The Virginia Plan assumes that the parish will give according to how the Lord leads, not because the diocese speaks in whisper like Don Vito Corleone.
UPDATE: Report on the "Windsor Dialogue Commission" with Susan Eaves and Rick Lord now underway. They seem quite jovial. It reminds me of the Reconciliation Commission and before that the R-7 Group. What makes this one different? They are releasing their report today. It includes "three possible 'liturgical' responses."
Holy Cow, what does that mean?
The commission is urging continued compliance on the moratorium and the study of the Anglican Covenant, supports continued communication with what they call "ad-hoc" groups that have separated from The Episcopal Church as well as those groups that support same sex unions and ordination for same-gendered partnered gays and lesbians. Well, that's a pip.
The Windsor Dialogue Commission are recommending liturgical resources - two liturgies were developed for same sex couples as a "pastoral response" in the Diocese of Virginia and will be part of this "listening process."
Here is the Windsor Dialogue Commission report.
FINANCIAL BUDGET: Over $2.5 million has been drawn (where only $100,000 was budgeted) in 2008 from the what is now the $4 million Line of Credit. More will be drawn, but the treasurer feels that $4 million will be enough, though he will consult with the Executive Board.
Mike Kerr, the Treasurer, was given a standing ovation as he concluded his report.
LATER: Okay, I'm back from the Resolutions Open Hearing. There are three controversial resolutions up before this council which you can read here having to do with different forms of endorsing same sex blessings and same gender partnered clergy in the Diocese of Virginia. The hearing room is standing-room-only and one speaker after another after another speaks in favor of the resolutions. One exception was Russ Randall of Christ Church Alexandria who spoke eloquently as the canon of a cathedral the Diocese of Virginia built in the Sudan and what such resolutions would do to break up the relationship the diocese has built over the years with the Sudan. Russ is so calm when he speaks, but straight to the point. But it seemed - at least by those who rose to speak - to fall on deaf ears. It is difficult to tell whether those assembled are in agreement or are being polite in the Virginia-way. Certainly Bishop Lee has signaled that he does not want these resolutions to go forward, choosing instead the "listening process" of his Windsor Commission.
Last year, however, everyone knew he was going to Lambeth. This year everyone knows he's now going to retire. Will the Open Hearing be the avenue for people to express their points of view and then be done with it? Or will the Resolutions Committee go along in this direction, despite the apparent verbal wishes of the Bishop of Virginia?
The "listening process" does seem disingenuous, especially when it looks like so many of the leadership have all ready made up their minds and the "listening process" looks more like a public relations tour to get everyone on board than any serious contemplation that perhaps all these folks could be off the short pier.
Russ Randall's remarks reminds me of this, one of the most extraordinary moments of my life when I met the Bishop from the Sudan while on my way to the cafeteria at the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. I will never, ever forget that and he's not kidding. Russ knows, he's been there. There is no greater champion for the Sudan that Russ (well, there are - Faith McDonnell comes to mind as well) but Russ has been there, consistently, year in and year out. He knows what he speaks. But will Virginia listen?
So tonight we have news that Bishop Lee is retiring early to save the diocese money, we have some resolutions that seem to have a swelling of support but diocesan bishops who know that if you turn the ship too fast it will capsize (and we might maintain that in turning it has all ready hit the iceberg), and we have a line of credit of $4 million of which $2.5 million is all ready spent and the rest is expected to be spent without any credible payback in sight but for some hopeful someday when the real estate market is restored. It appears the deficit matches the interest payments on the line of credit, but we'll see if that's so tomorrow.
There are two funds in great need - Shrine Mont and World Mission. I keep wondering if there is a much better way to be dealing right now (especially since one of the goals of the diocese's Windsor Commission was to maintain contact with the groups that have separated from the diocese, which we would think means the new province) then pouring millions into the lawsuits and instead stand-down and start negotiating, especially since the will of the diocese seems to be moving overwhelming in the direction of progressive political theology. Why can't we return to the Special Committee Report (which took years - years - to develop when we add it all up, the diocese basically appears to have started over again, only this time it's to deal with the progressives rather than the orthodox) and start negotiating? Why is the Beers/Sauls Strategy Scorched Earth Strategy the only deal in town? Why can't there be a Virginia Way?
There are many, many wonderful Episcopalians here who are having a good time with one another, who love their bishops, and love their church, and don't go to the resolutions open hearings or the budget committee hearings - but just catch up with one another, swap stories, smile and hug and talk about mission trips and bake sales. They cart around their freebies and ask each other about the children and grandchildren and if asked, are rather perplexed about what happened two years ago.
But there is still a sense that things have changed, that there's been a divorce and family members are missing and it's hard to explain just what happened. It becomes a line item in a budget, not the faces of families once here and now are gone.
I have been welcomed here - and it's one of the reasons I remain Episcopalian, even in exile. There is this little bit of hope that keeps looking around for someone, someone to recognize that there are better ways to conduct ourselves then battling in a court of law. There's no reflection here after their massive losses in court, one loss after another - no reflection in any of these side rooms (at least as far as the public eye can see) to reassess the Beers/Sauls strategy and develop another way, a Virginia Way. But one continues to hope, even now, at this late hour.
And it's a late hour, indeed.
One wonderful moment happened while I was standing in the doorway watching the Open Hearing proceedings and a dear, dear friend whom I met about twelve years ago on Cursillo and later went to VTS, came up to me while I stood by the door and we had a reunion. She was serving at an Episcopal Church across the Potomac in the Diocese of Maryland for a while, but has just returned to Virginia. We come from different points of view, there's no doubt about that, but our friendship is a gift and it endures. It was such a surprise to see her - and it's those little moments when I'm reminded that there must be a better way to do this.
But voices drift out of the hearing room and it seems that the course is set and one either jumps on the ship come what may, or jumps into a life boat for the shore. There seems to be no other way.
Until tomorrow ... Steve, article headed your way.