Earlier today, Anglican Watch issued the following press release calling for drastic reform if the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia wishes to survive.
Anglican Watch, the online watchdog publication for the Episcopal Church, is calling for sweeping reforms in the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia as the diocese prepares to consecrate E. Mark Stevenson as its next bishop.
Among the recommendations:
- Recognizing that, absent revolutionary change, Stevenson may well be the last Episcopal bishop of Virginia. We simply cannot cling to outdated notions of what works and expect a different result. We also must recognize that the rate of decline is accelerating and will continue to do so given the demographics of the Episcopal Church, which is much older than the population as a whole.
- Holding Stevenson’s consecration in a forum that supports same-sex marriage. The venue currently hosting the event does not, which begs the question: “Would the diocese hold the consecration in a church that does not welcome interracial marriages?” If the answer is no, then LGBTQ persons are being relegated to second-class status at a time when same-sex marriage is at risk.
- Addressing diocesan culture at every level. Far too often, the diocese is a church, versus the Body of Christ. And becoming beloved community involves far more than race—it involves treating all persons as made in the image of God.
- Insisting on accountability for clergy. As things stand, diocesan staff are poorly trained on the Title IV disciplinary canons and consistently ignore the requirement that a pastoral response is provided, even in cases where a complaint is dismissed. Coming forward with a complaint takes tremendous courage, but the church often treats such people as enemies and fails to care for them.
- Formally recognizing that church canons are a covenantal framework for community. As such, they must be honored, for when they are ignored it brings discredit to the church.
- Updating misconduct prevention training policies as required by General Convention 79. We also recommend going beyond the minimal requirements established by the national church and specifically addressing bullying, spiritual abuse, and other behaviors that cause lasting harm. This is an important and tangible step towards becoming a beloved community.
- Revisiting recent Title IV clergy disciplinary complaints and providing a loving, caring pastoral response to anyone who may want it.
- Seeking reconciliation with those hurt by the church and doing so in a real way—listening to them, responding to them, and sincerely trying to resolve problems. Fauxpologies are not helpful. A formal, public meeting would be a great way to at least try to start afresh.
- Moving diocesan headquarters from Mayo House. With a locked front gate, a forbidding grey exterior, located right across from a four-star hotel, and with no public events, current church headquarters is costly to operate, profoundly energy inefficient, and sends exactly the wrong message. Far better to be in a small storefront in a disadvantaged neighborhood, with access to computers for after-school use, drop-in worship, and a food pantry than to sit in the decaying, antebellum heap that is Mayo House.
- Absolute financial transparency. The current blended budgets tell members nothing and serve only to obfuscate details. But any nonprofit leader is used to having her salary published, and it allows people to make informed decisions about their giving. And every study shows that transparency results in increased giving. Simply put, the days are over when people blindly trust the church with their money.
- Stepping up efforts to ensure the church is safe for youth. Far too many stories circulate of teens learning to smoke marijuana at the Shrine Mont camps. While it is not, of course, possible to prevent all such behavior, the prevalence of these complaints suggests a lack of appropriate supervision.
- Developing a strategic plan for the diocese. As things stand, the diocese is leaning on parishes to increase giving to the diocese. But for far too many years, the diocese had next to no resources available to parishes beyond templated websites and an annual Episcopal visit. With things just drifting along aimlessly, it was hard for members to see how their money was used. That problem continues to this day, replete with rumors of generous but secret exit packages for Shannon Johnston that erode confidence in the diocese and its stewardship.
- Shaking up the inner core. There is a small group of insiders around the bishop who have their hands in every pot, while often giving tired or outdated advice to the bishop. When echo chambers of this sort occur, bishops run the risk of not actually knowing what is going on within the diocese, instead relying on gossip and hearsay, often from sycophants.
- Restoring funding for sexual misconduct prevention training. Yes, the national church provides templated online resources, but these do not take the place of in-person training and discussion. Meanwhile, defunding this program suggests that the diocese no longer takes these issues seriously.
- Using a third-party service, preferably the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, to address disturbing levels of conflict within the diocese and provide diocesan staff with positive strategies to respond effectively to conflict.
“The last few years have been profoundly traumatic to the diocese and its members,” says Anglican Watch editor Eric Bonetti. “The dearth of candidates for the position of bishop and the collapsed search for a bishop interim underscore this reality. Even members of the standing committee are now openly commenting on these issues. And the tension and conflict has led to appalling behavior at multiple levels.
“The diocese cannot follow its usual strategy of ignoring these problems and hoping they will go away. Conflict ignored is conflict multiplied, and as the largest domestic diocese in the Episcopal Church, it is essential that the diocese and Stevenson act with urgency on these issues.
“Simply put, time is running out,” adds Bonetti. “The church as we know it only has about 15 Easters left.”
That begs the question, “should it survive?” The diocese is so dysfunctional I cannot say, as clergy, that the answer is an automatic yes,