The Diocese of Virginia has released letters from its three bishops. The bishop coadjutor, Shannon Johnston will become diocesan in October of this year. Below is his letter. All three letters can be read here. (A related editorial in the Richmond Times Dispatch is here.)
A Letter from Bishop Johnston
Dear Diocesan Family,
With the conclusion of General Convention, the beginning of my time as your diocesan bishop fast approaches. Having just returned to the Diocese from the Convention, I want to express to you my thoughts on the two resolutions from the Convention which are garnering the most attention in the media. The first speaks to the current state of our Church’s relationship to the Anglican Communion (D025) and the second addresses same-gender unions (C056 substitute).
Resolution D025 strongly affirms not only the Episcopal Church’s commitment to its relationship with the Anglican Communion but also our Church’s appreciation and support of the roles that gay and lesbian people have in the ministry of our Church—including all levels of ordination. This resolution passed with a 2-1 majority. I voted against it. As I said during the floor debate, I absolutely agree with every word of the resolution itself. Even so, I was convinced that the actual effect of D025 across the Anglican world would be to weaken the bonds of our worldwide Church and, more importantly, to compromise our international mission and ministry in the very places that need us so very badly—and we so need them. The problem for me with D025 was how it would be seen in its implications rather than being understood for what it actually says. Such is the nature of legislative reality, and this is the very reason why I do not believe the legislative process is the best process to address these issues. Still, I have great hopes that the Communion will recognize the resolution as it stands—a statement of where we really are as a Church at this time, all the while hoping to build upon and strengthen our ties with the larger Communion.
Resolution C056 calls for gathering theological and liturgical resources with respect to offering the Church’s blessing for same-gender unions, which will be brought to the next General Convention in 2012 for study and consideration. The fact is that several states have legalized gay and lesbian unions, and others will likely follow suit. This resolution responds to that reality. It also allows bishops the exercise of personal discretion in providing for a “generous pastoral response” for gay and lesbian persons in the Church. I voted in favor of this resolution because I am convinced that it is both realistic and right. Monogamous same-gender unions are now a reality, and we should provide for the Church’s response, with blessing or without. The resolution allows for either. Bishops must also have the ability to respond to what is actually true in all the various locales and contexts in which this Church ministers. It is important to remember, however, that no official rites of blessing that wholly sanction same-gender unions have been approved for the Church. In fact, it would take years to develop such rites.
It is not so much the actual content of these two resolutions that may be problematic. The potential for difficulty follows from interpretation of the resolutions. The plain reality is that very little is actually changed by either one of the resolutions in themselves. Both statements address what is already true in the life and witness of the Episcopal Church. The Convention is overwhelmingly of the mind that the Episcopal Church will be the stronger for the realistic and clear perspective of these resolutions.
Just how that will be so is now put to each diocese. Together, you and I will explore what these resolutions mean more precisely for the Diocese of Virginia. I look forward to the way ahead, and I welcome your input. Most importantly, I treasure your company in the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. I remain,
The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston