It’s official: Mark Stevenson is now the bishop of the Diocese of Virginia. But the consecration, held in a Southern Baptist Convention church in Henrico, Va., suggests problems loom for Stevenson and the diocese.
One of the reasons cited by the diocese for holding the event in a church hostile to LGBTQ inclusion was the need to accommodate an expected 1,500 guests.
Additionally, in order to plan for the reception following the consecration, persons were asked to register on Eventbrite.
In true Mayo House fashion, even that messaging was inconsistent. The Eventbrite site said registration was required. The diocesan site said it was suggested but not required.
But none of that mattered, because two days out, the diocese indicated that the event was on a “come one, come all,” basis. In other words, registrations came nowhere close to the projected numbers, and possibly did not even meet the event guarantees offered by the diocese.
A review of video footage from the event reveals that the balconies in the church were empty, as well as the back rows of the sanctuary. Open seats begin in the eleventh row.
The thin attendance may be due to the decision to hold the consecration in a space hostile to LGBT persons. Other possibilities include a desire to avoid respiratory diseases, or general indifference.
But no matter how we parse the issue, thin attendance, together with the ongoing downturn in attendance across the entire diocese, suggests the diocese is in a period of profound, ongoing decline. Indeed, only 45 bishops attended, despite the fact there are 300 active bishops in the Episcopal Church. In other words, only 15 percent of bishops bothered to attend.
That raises the question: What message does that send to laity? If bishops can’t attend the consecration of one of their own, why should laity attend church on Sunday?
One way or another, the event was a flop. Things are not looking good for the diocese.