221st Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia – By Steve Bevis

221st Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia Held in Herndon; St. Mary’s Ministry, Outreach Programs Figure Prominently in Diocesan Work

United with a theme of “Connected in the Kingdom,” some 500 clergy and lay delegates from throughout the Diocese of Virginia gathered at Epiphany Episcopal Church in Herndon on Saturday, March 5 for the 221st Annual Council of the Diocese.  The one-day meeting was held after the original two-day Council had to be rescheduled because of the January blizzard.

Four delegates from the lay order represented St. Mary’s: Diane Wright, Steve Bevis, Mike Gilliland and Diane Hellens.  The annual council is the main governing body of the Diocese, which encompasses 182 parishes serving more than 80,000 baptized members making it the largest diocese in the Episcopal Church.  

During his pastoral address, Bishop Shannon Johnston noted that the Diocese is once again growing and that “with the difficult years of division and litigation behind us, we are now in historic times . . . times that history will see as quite a new era.”

Buoyed by new growth and the Diocese’s historic place in the national church, the Bishop urged parishioners to move beyond the status quo, to become activists and reconcilers in light of recurrent racial tensions across United States.  

“Our Anglicanism, at its best and most authentic – focused on the Gospel of Jesus – has so much to teach our politics and relationships,” Bishop Johnston said.  “This is something that is desperately longed-for in every culture and society.  By virtue of being Episcopalians, we are called by God to be reconcilers.  We are called to witness as to how all people can become and remain connected in the kingdom.”

Bishop Johnston had good news to report on the “Shout It from the Mountain” capital campaign to rebuild and renovate the camp facilities at Shrine Mont and create an endowment for scholarships so any child or family can attend a Shrine Mont camp regardless of their financial situation.  The campaign has exceeded its initial goal of $2 million and is today $313,000 away from the campaign stretch goal of $2.5 million.  Father Merrow has served as co-chairman of the campaign.

“The $2.5 million stretch goal is not a luxury,” Bishop Johnston said.  “It is absolutely something we must do to ensure that what is perhaps the signature ministry of our Diocese can really thrive.  Already, because of the success of this campaign, last summer we had more youth at Shrine Mont than ever before primarily because more scholarship money was available and it looks like we will break that record this summer.”

It is worth noting that St. Mary’s has contributed more funds to the campaign than any parish in the Diocese, as a result of the collective parish pledge and pledges from individual parishioners.  

Delegates to the meeting unanimously adopted a $5.1 million budget for the year.   Financial documents provided to delegates as part of the budget process revealed that St. Mary’s ranked second out of the 182 parishes in the Diocese in terms of contributions to the Diocese . . . a fitting footnote to St. Mary’s celebration of Growth, Glory and Grace over the past year.  As part of their business, delegates also approved three resolutions and two amendments to the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese.  

Resolution R-1 dealt with the issue of pay and pension equity and equitable hiring practices for all women clergy in the Diocese.  The approved resolution directs Bishop Johnston to establish a task force to report and issue recommendations to the 2017 meeting for diocesan, regional and parish-level actions to address pay and pension disparities.  

Resolution R-2 called for support for Syrian and other refugees and, as appropriate, for the Diocese to partner with the Episcopal Church in Jordan (part of the Diocese of Jerusalem) in its efforts to support Syrian and other refugees temporarily within Jordan including, as appropriate, preparation for their integration and resettlement within the Diocese of Virginia and elsewhere.  

Resolution R-3 stressed that guns have no place in God’s house, recommending that no firearms of any kind or other dangerous weapons shall be permitted in the facilities of any church or diocesan institution in the Diocese of Virginia except for law enforcement officials.

In one of the canonical amendments, delegates approved changing the name of the Annual Council meeting to Annual Convention.  The one-word change carries significant meaning in that the term Annual Council came about, in 1862, as a result of Virginia’s secession along with the other Confederate States.  Prior to that time, the annual meeting of the Diocese had been called Annual Convention.  

A task force appointed by Bishop Johnston to study the issue concluded that the change to Council was made for and was related to the Confederate States of America, and was therefore pro-slavery in its nomenclature.  In its report recommending the change to Annual Convention the task force said it believed that “the Diocese of Virginia will through language take one more important step toward signaling full inclusion of every Episcopalian and away from language that signaled deep and bitter sectarian as well as secular divisions.”

In a visual reference to the new name, Bishop Johnston removed the banner which read Annual Council to reveal a new banner with the Annual Convention signage.

For more information on the 221st Annual Council meeting, including texts and audio of the addresses of Bishops Johnston, Goff and Gulick, go to this link:  

http://www.thediocese.net/Governance/AnnualCouncil/221st-Annual-Council-2016-/Council-Results/

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