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Virginia bishop on property settlements

Virginia bishop on property settlements

The Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston gave his annual address to the Council (called convention in many dioceses) of the Diocese of Virginia. He spoke on the subject of the strengths of being a “big” diocese.

As your bishop, I’ve heard a lot about the difficulties of being the size we are: impersonal, not knowing leaders and colleagues, the less-than-ideal, however necessary, afternoon Episcopal visitations, and the sheer scale of even ordinary things. Especially, we’ve more recently been dwelling on the problems caused by inadequate funding for a diocesan system our size. As true as such concerns are, I’ve come to see that we get rather hung up on those things–I know I can at times. I want to be sure that we don’t lose perspective, and so I think it’s time to talk about what’s right about being, well, “big. ” Let’s think about the opportunities, privileges, resources and strong dynamics that flow from being one of the Episcopal Church’s largest dioceses

Johnston also spoke to the question the property settlements now that the courts have decided in favor of the Episcopal Church:

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. Today, I outline something of what these plans involve for our diocese’s mission, ministry and administration (which, I remind you, St. Paul lists as a spiritual gift!).

To address the future the bishop revealed the strategy for the future:

To ensure that clarity and bolster that confidence I’m announcing here the creation of what we’re calling “Dayspring.” This is the name of the broad, integrated effort to bring vision, strategy and execution to (1) our support of the continuing congregations; (2) our re-start of congregations where we have existing property; (3) our recruitment and placement of clergy where they will be needed; and (4) our determination of the use or disposition of other properties and assets to be returned to us. I will lead Dayspring myself, and will appoint a deputy who will work to manage three separate teams: Vision and Strategy, Resources and Messaging.

Vision and Strategy will work to put flesh on visions for ministry, both with the Episcopal congregations and with the properties returning to us in Dayspring. Resources will address the business aspects that will inevitably go with what we do. Messaging will serve to communicate both inside the diocese and to the world the redemptive work we undertake with Dayspring. …

Given those points about Dayspring, there remains one other point that will be as much a part of its mission as anything else: there must be a spirit of graciousness whenever and wherever possible. On the purely practical level, this means that if and when the present ruling stands and we retain the disputed properties, no community of faith, no ministry program will be summarily thrown out of its current place. We will be as open as possible to creative agreements, generous provision, and true mutuality, while protecting the needs of our own ministries and the integrity of our witness. … I want to have a witness to the world, particularly the Anglican world, not just an “outcome” in the court. In my view, the Diocese of Virginia is best positioned of all Episcopal dioceses to make such an epoch-shaping witness.


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“But if you’re suggesting that TEC use the same tactics now…”


JC Fisher

Chris H.

But if you’re suggesting that TEC use the same tactics now, then there really wasn’t anything wrong with them then, was there?

Chris Harwood


making sure a traditionalist congregation gets stuck with a revisionist interim who drives off enough people that the progressives can take over and select a sympathetic (or at least not oppositional) successor

Flip your uses of “traditionalist” and “progressive” (and substitute “schismatic” for “revisionist”), C. Wingate, and this is the EXACT description of what I hear went on in the Diocese of San Joaquin for YEARS under xSchofield.

I’m not saying your description isn’t correct in Virginia—I’m not close to it, as I am to San Joaquin—but I am saying “consider whose ox is being gored”.

JC Fisher

C. Wingate

Bonnie, what you are saying is that the national church/diocese needs to destroy these congregations. Is there any reason, therefore, for them not to take an oppositional stance? From what I’ve seen in these parts, the only way to “keep” the congregation is to fracture it between rectors, by making sure a traditionalist congregation gets stuck with a revisionist interim who drives off enough people that the progressives can take over and select a sympathetic (or at least not oppositional) successor, though a few traditionalist congregations fail when they are unable to puzzle out the rector choices sufficiently, or when they get someone who goes bad in mid-tenure.

Bonnie Spivey

Perhaps the best way forward is to keep the congregations and replace the “leadership” of the schismatic faction whose primary aim was, and probably ever will be, to destroy the Episcopal Church. We need the leadership of those who know the difference between perishing and parishing and pray and prey.

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