Electing a new Bishop

Weekly Reflection, Friday, June 3

By: David May, Rector

As I write this, we are anticipating electing a new Bishop of Virginia this coming Saturday. The Church (you, me, and all the members of the Body of Christ in this diocese) will gather and pray together for the Holy Spirit to guide us in a Special Electing Convention represented by local parish delegates – both lay and ordained. Then we’ll vote. The votes are tallied in two columns – the Lay Order and the Clerical Order. To be elected, one of the four nominees will need to gain a majority of votes in both orders on the same ballot.

In the Episcopal Church, we take responsibility together for electing and naming a new Bishop rather than one being appointed through an authoritative Bishop. This process highlights a long-standing hallmark of Anglicanism which is our belief that authority is expressed most fully and faithfully when it is exercised through the gathered community of Christ’s Church. We seek and find the mind of Christ as we gather as his Body.

This is an important election for many reasons. First and foremost, I would say, is that there has been no Diocesan Bishop serving since Bishop Shannon Johnston retired on November 3, 2017. Bishop Susan Goff, Bishop Suffragan, was authorized by the Standing Committee of the Diocese to serve as the Ecclesiastical Authority – the person or persons in whom the authority of the Bishop resides. But we have not elected a Diocesan Bishop since Bishop Shannon was elected on January 26, 2007. Since Bishop Shannon retired, we have been in a necessary extended interim time.

During that time serving as Ecclesiastical Authority, I want to express what enormous personal respect and affection I have for Bishop Susan. The work and ministry she was given to do came during a season of unprecedented challenge beginning with a worldwide pandemic. I understand that she was led to make choices that frustrated, even angered people. But her leadership – some of which was conducted while being treated for cancer – during these past years has been compassionate, clear, faithful, and steady. In the best of times, the ministry of a Bishop is challenging, but her time was more than that. I thank God for her and rejoice in her gift of retirement beginning on January 1, 2023.

Our new Bishop will begin his ministry in a difficult but promising time. Bonds of affection and trust need to be rebuilt among us. Over the next few years, parishes will be challenged to increase giving to the Diocese from levels that rank at or near the lowest in the Episcopal Church. But our new Bishop will also lead us in a time of great promise. My own view is that the Church is called to bear its witness in a time when the world is especially hungry for the Good News of Jesus. Our world and people are hurting. And angry. And fearful of one another. We bear God’s good word and raise up a new Bishop for such a time as this.

I hope you will pray with me for the Holy Spirit’s good work in raising up a new Bishop for the mission and ministry of the Church, and prayers for the Holy Spirit to guide him in our new beginning together.