"My resignation will occur several months earlier that I had originally anticipated," he said to 700 Episcopalians gathered at the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia's annual council at the Reston Hyatt, "but I believe it is an appropriate and necessary response to the realities we face."
His early resignation will save the diocese $63,000, one-quarter of his salary package that includes housing, travel and other benefits, according to diocesan treasurer Mike Kerr.
The loss of 11 conservative Northern Virginia churches in 2006 over issues of biblical authority and homosexuality, the ensuing lawsuit over church property that the diocese is appealing to the Virginia Supreme Court and an economic crisis that has dried up church contributions nationwide soured Bishop Lee's recent tenure.
One of the Episcopal Church's three most senior bishops, Bishop Lee, 70, has since 1984 ordained 235 deacons, 190 priests and confirmed 15,982 people. Under his leadership, Virginia became the country's largest diocese at 95,000 members.
"I would like to finish this ministry with a sense of accomplishment and completion," said the bishop, in a wistful speech sprinkled with words such as "incompleteness" and "unfinished."
"The final months of our ministry together will not be a time of tidy endings ... In our incompleteness, we wait for Christ's victory and completion, not our own," he said.
The bishop, who plans to move to Chapel Hill, N.C., was given a lengthy standing ovation. He will be replaced by Bishop Shannon S. Johnston, 50, who was elected in 2007 to succeed Bishop Lee.
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