'Tis Grace That Brought Me Safe Thus Far
Our history as the Diocese of Virginia has been written many times but rarely included all our voices. Our history is in process, like an unfinished quilt with many beautiful, different patterns and also missing pieces. Some missing pieces in our history are things that we don’t want to talk about, and some are the meaningful work of people gone unnoticed. We have recently begun to reconcile - as a diocese on a systemic level - with how our power, action and inaction have affected those whose voices have been left out. This work is not new: the Diocese stood with the wider Church to witness God’s faithfulness to Queer/LGBT+ people in 2003, even as a few parishes concluded they couldn’t walk with us. Yet grace abounds, and new communities have bloomed, including a handful of vibrant churches whose primary language is Spanish or Korean. Our work now continues in new ways, and the struggles and changes happening in the Diocese of Virginia are a reflection of the way that the Commonwealth of Virginia has shifted in the recent past as well. To read our history as told in the past, please find it here.
We know that much of our best history is still waiting to be written, and it speaks to the ardent faith in Jesus and the love of the Diocese that those on the margins have remained, despite the challenges we face together. As noted in a recent meditation by Bishop Jennifer Brooke-Davidson, “We can’t simultaneously be proud of [our] history, and in the same breath argue that [our] history doesn’t matter. If we tell the story at all, we must tell the whole story.” Our diocesan priorities of Creation Care and Evangelism reflect this widening of our gaze as we learn even more about how to tell the Good News to new communities and with renewed hope for our world.
So instead we bring some recent and not-so-recent history that begins to fill in some holes in the patchwork quilt of our Diocesan life in the way that so many of our stories have been shared throughout the years - in story and more recently in video. These are brief glimpses into the everyday, life-changing ministries that color our life together. We invite you to follow each link below to hear these stories. Like clicking through a view-master of old, or seeing a glimpse of a movie that children are watching in the back of a passing car, these are only brief looks at our living history, but they bring us hope in what has been and what can be in the future.
We look back and see Deaconess Mary Sandys Hutton, who was doing the work of a deacon long before the movement for women’s ordination began in earnest. Deaconess Hutton showed us the gift of different abilities, serving as a missionary for 20 years to the rural poor in the Blue Ridge Mountains even while suffering the after-effects of polio. The Americans with Disabilities Act did not become law until 1990, yet Deaconess Hutton did not need a federal law to show the love of Christ outside the walls of a church.
Mountain missions continue in the Diocese of Virginia. Grace Church, Red Hill, using traditional Monacan land, gave birth to a brief but beautiful ecumenical community of young adults embodying intentionality, sustainability, simplicity, and hospitality. This is just one example of how young leaders in the church are teaching us about where God might be leading us.
An icon of the Beloved Community in the Diocese of Virginia, Gladys Lewis was tireless in her efforts to bring racial reconciliation through the workshop “Seeing the Face of God in Each Other.” She worked to make changes from the inside with organizations like the Episcopal Church Women while it was still segregated.
There are also those reaching out to the wider community in creative ways when they see their neighbors struggling. La Iglesia Santa Maria in Falls Church created a food distribution program during COVID to reach those in who would not feel comfortable getting assistance from traditional government resources.
These are just a few of the people God has used in Virginia to build the Kingdom here. There are many more stories we could tell about who we are and what we have done, and so many more that we have yet to imagine. We worship a Lord “who is, and who was and who is to come” (Rev 1:8). We see the presence of Jesus in our past, our present, and our future. The opportunity to rediscover our purpose through this search for our next Bishop Diocesan is an exciting one - one where we all have a chance to write our future together.