And Grace Will Lead Me Home
Challenges and Opportunities
After an intentional interim period of three years, the Diocese is at an inflection point in our history. In our diocesan-wide survey, we heard our people say they needed more trust in diocesan leadership, and we acknowledge that these are long-term trends. Some feel wounded, some feel tired, and some are simply looking for a new direction. As we talked with diocesan leaders and our people, we heard a deep longing for connection. There is a desire for more transparency but not always a clear sense of what we would like to know. Many feel that the Diocese is not able to meet the needs of their parishes, especially in times of transition and difficulty. We are excited for a bishop who will enjoy taking the time to connect with their people and who sees the long-term value in building that trust. It would be easy to get here and only spend time rearranging the furniture when what we need is a new floorplan and a new culture.
As noted throughout this profile, the Diocese’s history is hounded by the sin of racism, from its founding to our current walk with God. In recent years we have begun to tell the truth, through trainings, listening sessions, and the hiring of a new diocesan Missioner for Racial Justice and Healing. A resolution adopted at 2021 Diocesan Convention directed the establishment of a fund for reparations in the amount of $10 million (70% Yes - 30% No), as well as a smaller impact fund for racial justice. Though we agree that structural racism stalks us, we are by no means united in how to respond to this sin. We are not searching for a bishop to end racism for us. We are seeking a bishop who will journey with us, in a relationship of mutual accountability, to repent, explore, and be transformed by that same amazing grace.
One of the significant challenges is simply the demands upon the bishop’s time from various boards of which the bishop is a member ex officio as well as the demands of serving in the House of Bishops (about 5-6 weeks away from the Diocese per year). This comes from the same desire for connection, and our next bishop will require skill in administration and delegation. It is a blessing to have episcopal colleagues who will share in these ministries, however, as our current Assistant and Assisting Bishops do.
Finally, the Diocese of Virginia has long occupied a place of significance within the Anglican Communion. Virginia is the home of the largest seminary in the Communion, the diocesan host of many esteemed and provocative visitors, and a central voice on behalf of the Episcopal Church, as well as a founding member of the Triangle of Hope between the Dioceses of Kumasi (Ghana), Liverpool, and Virginia (mirroring the dreadful Slave Triangle). The Bishop of Virginia will continue to occupy a privileged place in the Communion, and we seek a bishop who will be energized by and take advantage of this opportunity.
We acknowledge that we, like all Christians, are a work in progress with many opportunities to grow. Yet we rest in the truth that grace will lead us home. As we explored earlier, there is great diversity among our parishes and building consensus takes time and effort. Virginia has a long history of congregational governance (150 years of history before our first bishop!), and many of our parishes treasure the opportunities of this style of being church. This diversity allows us to reflect the whole breadth of the Anglican tradition and future, but it requires leadership that is willing to be curious with us, as we find many different answers to the same questions.
We aren’t seeking a savior or someone to solve all of these challenges for us. We seek a leader who will guide us through with a lens of love of our people and our shared faith in one who has already saved us: Jesus Christ.
Bright Shining as the Sun
Vision for the Future
The people of the Diocese have a strong vision for the future, characterized by five leading themes. These were persistent in conversation with laypeople and clergy, leaders at the center of the Diocese and on the periphery. We think they will be the lodestars of our common life together in our next season.
First is the idea of community and support. There is a great deal of love in the Diocese, and the people are looking for ways to feel united in their work together, to help and support one another, and to feel in relationship with their Diocesan leaders. We hope our future will be one where the Diocese feels united in mission and purpose, and cooperative across parishes and regions.
The second is intentionally reaching out to younger people. We want to meet them where they are, learn what they need from church, and continue to share the Good News with a generation that is overwhelmed and confronted by crises. We want to focus on how the Episcopal Church is sharing God’s grace, and manifesting loving, accountable communities that are casting a new vision for the world and living it out.
Third is faithful leadership. Our people are looking for someone who has a robust faith life and will lead us to be Christians in a changing world. We need someone to help us see what is next, who bravely speaks through their faith and doubt, will guide the Diocese through change, and will use new media to communicate the Gospel effectively, playfully, and surprisingly to our people and beyond.
Administration is fourth. Our people are feeling the stresses of a staff that is stretched beyond its limits. We need to work on increasing our financial resources and expanding the staff to help all our parishes receive the care and support they need to thrive. We want to be able to prioritize new initiatives, planting new communities, and try out innovative ways to use our resources without sacrificing the everyday work of loving parishes.
The fifth is diversity – we are living in a world that is changing, and many folks affirm that we cannot continue with the old ways. We must leave our biases behind if we are to be a caring, Gospel-guided people, and we are in a moment of discovering how to live out that conviction. We want to continue to celebrate the multilingual nature of our diocese and the widening of our ministries to seek and support LGBTQ+ Christians, though this may require change. We seek to learn to better support those whose needs are different and plant communities that imagine new ways of being church, though we are not united on how to do so. Racial justice is a need, not a choice, and one we are still learning how to seek as a whole Diocese.
Nevertheless, we are united in the hope of Christ, in all our myriad ways of living it out. That same congregational sense of being gives Virginia a vibrance and vitality unlike any other diocese. Even as we sometimes need to be reminded that we are all one Church, our churches are as varied as our neighborhoods, and we see that as a strength. Above all, and in all, and through all, we must be a reflection of God’s love in the world, living out the promise of the Gospel, in light of our history, and in pursuit of Christ.