Episcopal Diocese of Virginia
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Report from Diocesan Convention 2023


By Walt Cooner and Steve Busch

St. John’s Centreville’s delegation -- Fr. Kevin Laskowski, Reverend Steve Busch, Deacon, and Lay Delegate Walt Cooner -- were among the more than 500 Episcopalians who attended the Diocese of Virginia’s 229th Annual Convention, "Closing the Gap between Religion and Life," November 2-4 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. In his first diocesan pastoral address on Day Two, the Rt. Rev. E. Mark Stevenson put it bluntly: “If it isn’t about Jesus, we won’t do it!”

Bishop Stevenson reminded us that doing what Jesus would have us to do “leads to the reconciliation of broken relationships of peoples, and cultures, and life expressions, as well as to the establishment of relationships that never existed in the first place but should.” Essentially, the convention centered on Jesus and Reconciliation and its charge can be summed up in six words, now the new tagline for the diocese: Love Jesus; Embody Justice; Be Disciples.

Day One Workshops. Thursday featured five concurrent workshop-style presentations concerning Communications; Discernment; Reparations; and two best practices sessions, one for Small Churches and another on Parish Accounting/Bookkeeping. Since we could not attend them all, Deacon Busch attended the one on Small Churches, and Walt Cooner participated in the one on Discernment. The key message of the Small Churches session focused on “Gather, Transform, and Send.” The primary task of a Christian congregation can be described this way: The unique purpose and work of a congregation is to gather those called by God into Christ’s body, the Church—a community of transformation of mind, heart, and action—and to send these same people into the world both to be and to act as God’s loving and transforming presence. This is what the original “small gatherings” of the early Christians focused on and what we should still be focused on in today’s church. A solemn Evensong closed out Day One. 

Presentations. Aside from the Bishop’s Pastoral Address, two other key presentations highlighted Day Two: Dr. Catherine Meeks’ superb, livestreamed address from Atlanta on Racial Justice and Healing; and a moderated discussion on Discipleship, during which Diocesan contractor Heidi Kim introduced our new Canon for Discipleship, the Rev. Canon Chanta Bhan. Unable to join in person due to illness, Dr. Catherine Meeks, Executive Director of the Absalom Jones Episcopal Center for Racial Healing, spoke via Zoom on racial reconciliation and took questions from the floor. Taking a cue from poet David Whyte's "Second Life," Meeks described the "uncourageous life" that "just wants to lie down; close its eyes and tell God it has a headache" and a first, more courageous life that seeks to "die of generosity." Capping Day Two, attendees celebrated Holy Eucharist, during which Bishop Gayle Harris's sermon reinforced the Convention’s theme. Bishop Harris reminded us, “We all need to close the gap (between religion and life). We all must be centered on Jesus.”

Resolutions. Day 3 focused primarily on “legislation” proposing and approving resolutions for the Diocese of Virginia. Perhaps it is that very “centeredness” on Jesus that made this Convention uncharacteristically free of contention when considering any of the four  adopted resolutions. They were:

  • R1a which calls on The Episcopal Church to continue providing the Book of Common Prayer in printed book form, and to assign electronic texts to the supervision of the Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer.
  • R2a which calls on The Episcopal Church to amend its Canons to provide a process for bishops and deacons, similar to its existing provisions for priests, to transfer to The Episcopal Church from those churches in communion with The Episcopal Church.
  • R3s calls on the Diocese to endorse state legislation to establish “by right” development of affordable housing on land owned by any church, faith community, or religious institution within the Commonwealth of Virginia. Establishing “by right” use of church property would expedite the process and reduce the costs for building affordable housing on church property.
  • R4s urges Diocesan churches pray fervently for peace; donate to the American Friends of the Diocese of Jerusalem and other reputable charities to address the acute medical needs in Gaza; denounce acts and expressions of religious bigotry toward Muslims and Jews in our communities; advocate for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine; and bring to justice the perpetrators of the October 2023 massacre in Israel.

The Annual Convention was also able to propose and pass a balanced budget of $6,070,600, boosted largely on the strength of increased parish contributions. Three noteworthy items in the 2024 budget are increased funds for campus ministry, a four-fold increase in the Bishop’s Minority Scholarship program, and a budget line for a Minister for Congregational Vitality.
During this final session, the floor was opened for questions and comments from the members present. One question concerned the Resolution approved two years ago regarding the status of reparations in the amount of $10 Million by the Diocese of Virginia. The Chair of the Reparations committee reported that the a committee still working on how to implement that resolution.

New logo for the Diocese of Virginia. The Diocese also revealed its new logo and tagline in a video from Nancy Chafin, Minister for Communications, introduced the rebrand in a video shown at convention. Gone are the three ships and the bejeweled bishop’s miter. The key to the Kingdom of Heaven and crozier are reversed and have a more modest appearance, but the Cross symbolizing Jesus is still central, just as His teachings should be in our lives. Replacing the three ships representing our colonial origins and connection to Anglican roots, there is now a mountains and river motif. According to the designers, they convey a tripartite meaning: (1) honoring the natural wonders of God’s creation, (2) incorporating the waters of baptism, and (3) acknowledging the parishes that flourish across our Diocesan landscape. The Cross is no longer represented as the flag of England but is centered atop the highest peak in the Virginia landscape.

November 8, 2023
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