Thursday, March 29, 2012

Washington Post: Bishop Shannon Johnston publishes editorial

The Bishop of Virginia, the Rt. Rev'd Shannon Johnston, writes for The Washington Post on what Judge Bellows ruling means for The Episcopal Church. Read it carefully and read it all:
Bishop of the Episcopal of Virginia Shannon Johnston
May the members of a congregation leave a hierarchical denomination and take the church property with them?

At great cost in time, effort, money and friendship — on both sides — the answer for the Episcopal Church in Virginia is no.

Many have followed this case and shared their opinions, both supporting and criticizing our effort to return Episcopal properties to the mission of the Episcopal Church. It’s tempting for this dispute to be about property, or politics, or just plain money. But the essence of the dispute is about theology itself.
Many denominations have a governance (“polity”) that allows for congregational self-determination. For hierarchical bodies, such as the Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, United Methodist and Presbyterian churches, it is quite a different matter. In these churches, local congregations represent and witness to the larger structure. Our polity has been established and codified for almost 2,000 years and is the result of a theological view of what the Church is and how it should be governed.

In our tradition, it is the diocese, not the congregation, that is the basic unit of the Church. The bishop is its chief pastor. The Church’s clergy vow to serve under the authority of their bishop. The elected leaders of congregations do the same. The congregations that separated from the Episcopal Church always existed within the authority of this tradition and polity. Without question, the members of these congregations were free to leave this authority, but according to the ancient polity to which they themselves subscribed, the diocese retains its right, and its generational responsibility, of oversight for the ministry of the local church.

Bishops Lee, Schori, and Johnston
We have a defining commitment to this ancient theology and tradition. We have a fiduciary duty to ensure that properties given to the Episcopal Church are used for its mission. That duty, however, is theologically based; we are called to be good stewards of property given to us by our forebears. Stewardship is a theological concept: we give thanks for the gifts God has given to us all. Stewards are bound to preserve gifts for future generations. The leaders of the departed congregations have asserted that this case was never about buildings or money but about larger principles. On that we agree.

The matter of biblical interpretation is at the heart of the issues, and there are real differences. Differences over biblical interpretation, not authority, remain unsettled. Even so, the common, ancient tradition as to authority, polity and property stands with the diocese and its bishop.

To be absolutely clear, as bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, I do not want merely an outcome from the court; I seek a witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray blessings upon those congregations who have made the painful decision to leave the Episcopal Church. They have prayed for the diocese and for me. Despite our dispute, we are being as gracious as we possibly can by providing smooth transitions for those congregations. And we must find ways to minister where we have much in common, such as in South Sudan. We both work to help those who face the perils of daily life there, most notably from the infamous Lord’s Resistance Army. There is no reason — and no excuse — why we cannot do so together. Both sides must seek ministries in which we can, in unity, serve a society and a world in desperate need. In doing so, we will find one another again as brothers and sisters in the one God and thus be better disciples of the Lord we all follow.

The Episcopal Bishop of Virginia
What’s next? We begin anew, as we hope those who left the Episcopal Church will, too. Dayspring is the biblical term for a new dawn that speaks of God breaking through to do new things.
Our Dayspring initiative is renewing and restarting Episcopal congregations and returning Episcopal congregations to their church homes. We will ensure that all recovered properties serve the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church and thus serve our Lord Jesus Christ.

I have every confidence that our congregations will thrive. The Episcopal Church is built upon and celebrates its ancient roots, but is a faith in and for the modern world. Join us in God’s ancient yet new work.

The Rt. Rev. Shannon Sherwood Johnston is Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.


Anonymous said...

The question when reading this editorial in the global newspaper The Washington Post is “For whom is this editorial written?”

If it were written for Virginians it would appear in the Richmond Times. But this one appears in the Washington Post, which makes one think that Shannon Johnson is seeking to appeal to a national and international audience - and why now when the acquisition of the Anglican properties and accounts are in full swing. But instead of using the now customary high-five victorious language he strikes a conciliatory (but make no mistake about it) extraordinarily firm tone that the buck stops on his desk. He is the bishop, by golly, and he is the top of hierarchy. He is. Not the Presiding Bishop, not General Convention, not the Executive Board, not 815, and not the Chicago Consultation or whatever they are dreaming up calling themselves this summer.

There’s a new sheriff in town.

On one hand the audience seems to be aimed at the leadership of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan which has been a major focus for the Diocese of Virginia for many years but has been equally firm that they will cease and desist from doing any business with the Episcopal Church especially as TEC is poised to ratify official liturgy for same gender unions this summer. They did so much as recently rescind their invitation of Bishop Jefferts Schori, a very strong statement indeed.

Yet on the other hand, Bishop Johnson’s rhetoric is in sharp contrast to the recent and sometimes rather heated “conversations” regarding the reorganization of The Episcopal Church with powerful factions seeking to reduce the authority of bishops on the national level. The infighting has escalated so severely that the Presiding Bishop and the House of Deputies President submitted two separate budgets to the Executive Council when they met in Maryland and the Executive Committee had to set up another committee to sift it through and basically passed the buck down to General Convention this summer.

Yet not only is there a new sheriff in town, it seems, but a brand new show as well and Bishop Johnston is making it quite clear that he is the top shepherd of this vast Virginia flock, full stop and yes, he’s even up to doing business with those wily Anglicans.

Anonymous said...

Is Bishop Johnston not an Anglican? Besides, how "wily" was it for people to storm out of the Church but at the same time seize property for their own use in new affiliations?


Anam Cara said...

So, BB, knowing what you do about things that happened in court re: property (like the diocese claiming the property but leaving all debts for the property with the congregation) - what is your take on all of this?

In my opinion, the congregations need to vacate as soon as possible. (And since they don't own that much, it shouldn't be hard to pack up and get out). Let the diocese figure out how to pay mortgages and upkeep. Why should the congregations do that for them?

Annmarie L. Geddes said...

When the bishop says the dispute is over theology, he is conveniently focusing on one piece of theology primarily based in tradition. The real theological battle is about the Anglican tradition of theology based on scripture and tradition. The parishes that are "leaving" have been maintaining traditional Christian Anglican doctrine in the face of changing societal values. As a practical matter, many of the church properties that the Episcopal church legally won have larger facilities that grew in the past 30 years by the "conservatives" who adhere to both scripture and church tradition. As far as stewardship, he also neglects to mention that on a practical level, his diocese does not have the resources to maintain these properties and they are being taken away from Conservative Anglicans who have and can. Meanwhile, the head of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jeffords Schori, is a Unitarian in Anglican clothing. Her vision is to see the Episcopal church foster interfaith worship among the three largest monotheistic faiths. So much for the claims of Jesus and his Great Commission, which grew the church to begin with.

Steven in Falls Church said...

Can we all agree on what "Dayspring" is? It's a glorified committee, no? I have generally found that people who propose committees as a solution to a problem in fact have no solution to the problem.

ettu said...

I have wondered for a time about upholding the traditions of the Bible and Church - if, for sake of clarification, a churchgoer from 200 years were to judge today's "fundamentalists" wouldn't he or she be scandalized by remarriage?? And yet even the most ardent fundamentalists tolerate - or are themselves - involved in remarriage. What do you all say about the remarriage question ?

RalphM said...

It is a curious place to submit an editorial. What is the purpose? Is the DioVA getting bad feedback from their victory? It is also a curious time - in the middle of negotiations with the departing congregations to settle remaining issues.

This looks like a piece written at the advice of a PR firm.

Unknown said...

Well, there's this interesting teaching from Jesus in Matthew 5. The plain fact is that Bishop Johnston is a Christian. He is a believer. We have some significant, and they are significant differences wit him on matters of biblical anthropology, but he is a brother.

Whatever we do though must have a foundation of love, even if we do things that might be painful (leaving quickly, not leaving quickly) the foundation must be love. So we examine our hearts in the Lenten season and reread 1 Cor. 13 and finding ourselves challenged and yes, repentant.

Why should the congregations work with the diocese, why should the diocese work with the congregations - because Jesus prayed we would, that even in this late hour we join Jesus in the prayer we will remember next Thursday night.

The very first Christian song I learned on the guitar has this refrain, "and they will know we are Christians by our love." We might get all the theology right and yet we may still fail because we did not love.


Unknown said...


Anonymous said...

Episcopal ASA in the state of Virginia drops by 1,000 per year!

Anonymous said...

Some of you forget that there were op Ed pieces by reverend John Yates and os Guinness just after the split. Of course this is part of the PR effort....goes both ways. And today we learn of an appeal being filed by some of the will never end. "and they will know we are Christians....." so sad.

Anonymous said...

who filed an appeal?

Anonymous said...

For many of us Northern Virginians and many of those impacted by the property disputes (Falls Church, St. Margaret's, Epiphany, Truro), we don't get the Richmond paper. The Washington Post is our local paper. Hence, it is not bizarre or nefarious that our bishop would be writing an editorial in it.

Anonymous said...

But to whom is he writing? DioVa has its own communications channels. Letters from bishops are routinely sent to churches to be read from the pulpit. The diocese has a website and email.

This is a PR initiative to counter the public perception of reality.

Anonymous said...

many of these columns are written by invitation only. This may be such an occasion. And it is indeed the local paper of Northern Virginia.