Friday, January 27, 2012

Update from the Diocese of Virginia Annual Council

Intrepid is on the scene.  Here is his report:

Bishop Shannon Johnston
"We are so blessed by a generous and godly heritage ..."

Bishop Shannon Johnston began with a discussion of the benefits of the size of the diocese and the ministry of the Diocesan system. He offered a strong call to a greater diocesan and institutional ministry.

"We have greater financial resources available to supply the needs of diocesan ministry ... So we can better meet the common needs and expectations ... We have ample resources to do greater ministry through our diocesan ministries ... We simply must do this, there is no reason or excuse not to ..."

He continued, "The work of the commissions and committees is strong and reaches to all  people in the diocese ... We have a much larger critical mass of people to step up and serve ... We don't have to depend on just a few to do all the diocesan ministries require."

The Bishop then mentioned that the diocese has 59 persons in formation to become ordained ministers, and another 40 people in the exploratory phase. He was very pleased that there were 99 people in this process. It left me wondering if we did not have more people in this system than the Diocese needed considering the size and number of our congregations. And it was a bit odd to think we have more people involved in the ordination process than what must be the median average congregation in the Diocese.

The Bishop then gave a report on how connected the Diocese of Virginia is to the rest of the Anglican Communion. "We are the most outward looking diocese than any other I know of."  He explained that 75 congregations are connected to 40 other churches internationally. He added, "But it's not about quantity but about the quality of relationships in mission." The goal was then given to us for more to become involved. "I am so committed to the Anglican Communion I have set the goal of having relationships with every province in the entire Anglican Communion."

Only one has to wonder about the quality of our diocesan relationships with the Anglicans in ACNA ... I am still amazed at the brash answer I received years ago from Virginia's Bishop Suffragan David Jones. I asked him why the Diocese was not willing to give letters dimissory to priests who wished to depart from the Episcopal Church but remain in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Jones explained to me that there was a "Gentleman's Agreement" among the members of the House of Bishops that no such letters would be given to those who were not actually leaving the diocese/country to take up residence in a church far away. It seemed petty at the time. But as we know, the agreement is still in force, making it hard to see how well connected we are to the rest of the AC. It also is a sad commentary on the quality of our relationships ...

The Diocese of Virginia Annual Council meets in Reston.
The Bishop continued, "Our diocese is under worldwide scrutiny ... In considering the return of Episcopal properties to the ministry of the diocese it is a big mistake to refer to this as a legal battle. It is about theology ... What is a stake is our polity, our ancient and defining order of being the church ... It is a matter of no less than our faithfulness ... And it will take more than the courts to settle things ..."

"Despite the recent court ruling in our favor we simply do not know what the future holds ... We have reason to believe our properties will be returned. For nearly two years we have considered and discussed this positive outcome. We will be fully prepared for any eventuality ... just as we have been able to sustain our case ... I strongly believe that we will be able to do what it takes over the next months and years to be faithful to the church's mission in respect to each of the properties involved. We do have what it takes ... We have the critical mass to move forward. In my mind there can be no doubt we can be up to the task ahead ..."

"We are bristling with possibilities. It is not overstating the case that this is one of the defining moments in our over 400 year history."

The Bishop also announced the creation of a new super committee called Daysprings which will have three working groups ...
  • Vision and strategy for the use of the returned properties,
  • Resources for funding them and,
  • Messaging to communicate inside the diocese and to the world
The Bishop will announce the membership of these groups in the near future. To sum up this section of the address, the Bishop then added, "There must be a spirit of graciousness wherever and whenever possible ... No community of faith or ministry program will be thrown out of its current place." The Bishop said he was open to generous provision, creative solutions and a sense of mutuality, "while protecting the integrity of our own witness."

And he said, "I want to have a witness to the world, particularly the Anglican world, not just an outcome in the court." we wait to see to what that is a witness, but it would seem first and foremost to be a witness to the institution of the diocese and those who minister in it to make things happen. Less was said about individuals or individual parish ministry.  At times the Bishop sounded more like a man trying to get us on board than anything else. He certainly has a great love for the church as an institution. I wonder though about the value of clinging to what may soon be outmoded structures and mission priorities. Especially when the "integrity of our witness" has to do with property disputes.

And I wonder ... Should the return of properties after an expensive court battle truly be the defining event in an over 400 year history as a Diocese. I shudder to think that could be true.

Intrepid is a member of the Diocese of Virginia Annual Council now underway at the Reston Hyatt at Reston Town Center, Virginia.

UPDATE: Bishop Shannon Johnston's pastoral address is now online.  Here is an excerpt:
As all of you know, the matter of our size, resources and abilities has been–over the past five years–under worldwide scrutiny. Our diocese is navigating a complex set of circumstances regarding our effort to return Episcopal properties to the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia. It would be a big mistake to characterize this simply as a “legal” battle. Rather, at its core, this is (make no mistake about it) about theology, meaning who we are as a Church in relationship with Christ and the world. At stake is our polity, that is, our ancient and defining order of our being the Church. Thus, it is altogether a matter of nothing less than our very faithfulness. It will therefore take more than the courts to settle things. So far, our legal efforts are bearing abundant fruit, but that fruit at hand is making ecclesial life even more complex! Despite the recent court ruling in our favor, we simply don’t know now what the future holds. Nonetheless, we have reason to be more confident than ever that our properties will be returned. For nearly two years, we have considered and discussed such a positive outcome, and now we must move to put contingency plans in place. We will be fully prepared for any eventuality...

This is exactly on point in my overall theme here of the advantages of being a large diocese. The bottom line is that just as we have been able to sustain our case throughout a lengthy and expensive legal process, I strongly believe that we will be able to do what it takes over the next months and years to be faithful to the Church’s mission with respect to each one of the properties involved. And, as I’ve here been making the case, we do, in fact, have what it takes–that “critical mass”–when we all put our shoulders to the wheels. To be sure, what’s ahead will take all of us working together as a diocesan Church and ministry. We are faced quite squarely with many questions and challenges right now, but in my mind there can be no doubt: we are up to them. 
Read it all here.


Jeff H said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jeff H said...

No community of faith . . . will be thrown out of its current place . . . .

And if you believe that, I've got a bridge...

RalphM said...

Jeff H,

If DioVA is free to negotiate exit agreements with the departing congregations, I believe it will be handled compassionately.

If TEC is calling the shots, I expect it will be quick and callous.

Jeff H said...

I guess "thrown out" is in the eye of the beholder.

RalphM said...

The courts have ruled. I don't like the outcome, but we are a nation of laws. Sometimes the courts associate justice with the law, sometimes there is a disconnect.

Assuming, after questions of appeal, DioVA has won the properties. Bp Johnson is then faced with the problem of what to do with them. It's a down market for expensive properties. I suspect some of his language may be laying the groundwork for continued use of the buildings by the departing congregations, because someone has to maintain the properties.

I suspect that clarity will arrive toward the end of February.

sophy0075 said...

The Holy Spirit had warned them this mess would happen, but they did not listen.

Hosea 8:7
Proverbs 22:8

Anonymous said...

There is some speculation that the diocese itself will take over the Truro complex, which would obviate the need to support a mission church there. A cathedral church in Northern Virginia ? Makes too much sense not to do. Falls Church and Apostles, on the other hand, will be hard problems. I would predict that they'll let Apostles and Epiphany out on the market, and lease out The Falls Church for some time while they try to get that congregation viable to take that facility over. Epiphany looked pretty forelorn when I passed it Friday morning on Fairfax Parkway.

Anonymous said...

Simple fact - using Truro as a cathedral church will not obviate the need to pay for building expenses.

A church looks forlorn based on the appearance from the street on a Friday? Perhaps you should come join us for worship and fellowship and see a vibrant community ready to move on.

"Forlorn" is what it will look like on Sunday mornings after we have gone.

Anonymous said...

Epiphany and Apostles are the churches that seem to be struggling. Both have suffered decline. All will suffer decline, regrettably, from the disruption that will occur. The CANA churches made big bets, based on assurances from their leaders and advice from their counsel. Everyone is much poorer for it.

Terrible mistakes.

Jeff H said...

Anonymous (10:54pm), your hindsight is remarkably clear. If only the churches had known what the outcome would be ahead of time, they could have avoided all of this.

Would you be saying the same thing if the Diocese had run up its legal bills and exhausted its line of credit only to meet defeat?

I don't think the congregations (or the Diocese and TEC) went into any phase of this uninformed or unaware of the risks and what it might cost to pursue it and lose. Your thinly veiled suggestion that the laity were misled by the leadership and counsel into pursuing litigation is odious and untrue.

None of that diminishes the huge toll of this litigation on both sides. We all wish it could have been avoided, salvaging considerable resources for what each side views as its mission.

RalphM said...

Anon at 10:54,

I don't think anyone was making a bet or was unaware of the risks.

The departing churches had reached the conclusion that a far greater risk lay in a future with TEC.

Will these churches struggle? Yes. Will it be worth it to be free? Yes.

Anonymous said...

Will Virginia continue a policy of descrimination through the policy of disassociation?

Is this legal?

Anonymous said...

It's probably not enforceable. The two churches that accepted it are honoring it because they gave their word. They are also getting something in return.

After learning about the past disassociation requirement, my church, agreed disassociation could not be part of any settlement. If disassociation is a condition of an orderly transition, then we will leave at the end of February.

Anonymous said...

If disaffiliation is illegal and is truly discrimination how can it be challenged? Remember it is a national problem. Where is social justice?

Jeff H said...

Anon at 11:30 PM, by "disaffiliation" I'm assuming you mean TEC's policy of conditioning any settlement of a property dispute on the departing congregation's withdrawal from or agreement not to join ACNA for at least 5 years.

To challenge it, I guess a departing congregation that signed such an agreement would have to join ACNA before the specified period ends, daring TEC to try to enforce the condition through a breach-of-contract lawsuit. Many commenters think TEC would lose such a suit on freedom-of-association grounds.

But as lots of folks have pointed out, daring TEC to file suit would require the congregation to go back on its agreement, and there's not a lot of enthusiasm for that, either as a matter of principle or as savvy public relations.

Anonymous said...

If individuals who desire to continue to worship in a facility that belongs to the Diocese of Virginia want to remain there so much that they agree to terms that forbid affiliation with certain denominations, they can do so. If continued use of these premises is not worth that sort of agreement, they don't have to agree to that conditions. It's all very simple and all very consensual. This is all very much a free will kind of exercise. If I were leaving the Episcopal Church based on my reservations about the theological direction of some segments of the leadership of that church, I would just leave, and become a Catholic or pool resources with folks of similar inclinations and start a new church. The last thing I would do is announce that I am leaving and then start either running off with stuff or, even more absurd, stay on the property, eject the Episcopalians who had a different approach to the issues, and then spend millions of bucks in the secular courts litigating the issue. That would be rather daft. I can't imagine anyone would take that approach. Sophy 1105 is quite right that the perils of this approach were noted and were completely apparent in 2006.