Saturday, January 28, 2006
Diocese of Virginia Annual Council
If I were to tell you what was one of the more memorable moments at the Virginia Annual Council was, it was the moment when the Council delegates took a vote on an amendment proposed by Dan Van Ness, Delegate, Truro. Following what now seems like a Virginia tradition, the Resolution Committee took seven of the original resolutions and compiled them into one big resolution called R-17. Here is how the final resolution begins as I have it:
Whereas, We in the Diocese of Virginia, members of the Anglican Communion, united in Christ, called to live out our witness, are "gathered in the spirit" and moved by thanksgiving for the many gifts that mark our life together now, and over the last 400 years; and
Whereas, The Lambeth Conference and Windsor Report have called us to acknowledge and respond with compassion and understanding to the pain and suffering of those who, because of their sexual orientation, endure marginalization and rejection; and ...
Here is where Dan Van Ness rose and offered an amendment that clarified what the Windsor Report actually said, rather than only half of what it said. The Windsor Report called us not only to show compassion and understanding to those who suffer because of their sexual orientation, it also called us to affirm that sexual expression is confined in the marriage between one man and one woman (this is a paraphrase of Dan's amendment - I think I was so darn tired I can't even read my own handwriting!). But those who have read the Windsor Report know that the authors made it clear that marriage and sexual expression is between one man and one woman. If this wasn't so, there wouldn't be the call for regret and repentance. If this wasn't so, the Episcopal Church would not have had its seat removed in the council of the Anglican Communion. To allude to only part and not the whole of the report is very dangerous, especially in these times. This amendment would clarify what the Windsor Report actually calls us to do - compassion to those that suffer as well as commitment to the fidelity in marriage between one man and one woman.
Dan's amendment was defeated, 274 against the amendment and 169 in favor. By defeating the amendment on marriage, the Diocesan Council embraced only a section of the Windsor Report that suited the majority of the delegates of the Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia. It was a stunning insight into the diocese - that the majority of Council could not agree with the Windsor Report's call to affirm the traditional definition of marriage. Not a happy moment and a vote to ponder. How serious do we take this Windsor Report and the fabric of the communion torn by the actions of the Episcopal Church? Now we are taking out the bits that are uncomfortable, the bits that cause us trouble, and retaining the bits we like, the bits that make us think we're unified when in fact, we are not.
Other highlights from Council:
My resolution on prayer and fasting did pass with an endorsement from the Resolutions Committee. The next step then is to mobilize this season for prayer. Perhaps we should have 169 Days of Prayer.
I convened the annual President's Breakfast this morning, one of the last things I was responsible to do as President of Region VII. We had a great turnout and it was very interesting meeting with this wide variety of people from all over the diocese. A few of the regions have been addressing the issues facing the Episcopal Church in different ways which was very good to hear. We had a good time of sharing and I led a short devotion on John 5, the blind man at the pool of Bethesda. Jesus asks a question, gets right to the point which we don't always get at church councils. "Do you want to get well?" Jesus asks straight away. The blind man does not answer "yes" or "no," but assumes that the only way he can get healed is through the waters in the pool but he hasn't been able to get near it in 38 years. Jesus straight away asks him "Do you want to get well? He then gives the blind man instructions: get up, pick up your mat, and walk. Those are questions we can ask ourselves. Do we want to be healed? Are we prepared to get up, pick up our mat, and walk? In these interesting days, that story has fascinating implications - but the question does stand before us. Do we want to be healed? Do we know we can? Are we will to stand up, get our things together, and go forward?
Another highlight of the Council was that John Keith, former member of Truro, was elected to the Standing Committee. He is one of the most honest and truthful people I know and I respect him very much. It is good to see him elected to a place of authority and influence at a time such as this. That he would be willing to serve in these uncertain tells you a lot about who he is. I ask that you remember John in your prayers.
Bishop James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, was an extraordinary speaker and I know that he had a direct influence in defusing the "punitive" tone that many in the Council arrived with - you can see it in the resolutions that were submitted - before Council and then after Council began. They contrasted deeply with Bishop Jones' call to be graceful in truth and truthful in grace - a very wise word for us all. His teaching centered on Jesus himself - not some euphemism of Christ or a Gnostic Christ - he spoke of the personal relationship with Jesus and how we know him - in the Word, in the Sacraments, and in our ministry amongst the Poor. It was very challenging and it caused me to reflect that I am not aware of a bishop like Bishop James Jones in the Episcopal Church - a solid evangelical with a social conscience. If only voices like his existed in the leadership of the Episcopal Church - but they do not. They come visit from time to time but the Episcopal Church as an institution continues to drift further and further away from the English tradition of Jones-style evangelicals. The American version seems to have left long ago - perhaps as early as John Wesley, perhaps a little later. But I realized as I listened to James Jones that I could not imagine an equivalent to him in the United States. If we have them - they are rarely bishops - bishops who teach challenging theology, encourage examination of our social conscience and witness, and exhort a personal relationship with the Risen Lord Jesus. He was winsome, funny, challenging, and honest. It is why I want to be an Anglican, but also why I am feeling further and further estranged from the Episcopal Church in the United States. Where are our James Joneses?
Another blessing of being away this weekend was the time spent with brothers and sisters in the Network, the Coalition and new friends along the way. The vote on the Marriage Amendment shows us the division in the Diocese of Virginia. I believe that vote - 274-169 - is a clear illustration of the divide. One of the joys of gathering at Council is the opportunity to encourage and be encouraged by the 169. They represent parishes and missions all over the diocese and reminds each of that we are not alone and why we need to continue to stand firm, express the grace we've received from Jesus with one another, and press on without giving up. Last night I went out to dinner at the Penny Lane Pub with a few friends and we broke bread together, told stories of our journeys, dreamed of the future, and enjoyed the gift of friendship. We wondered where we will be this time next year, how will we get there, and will we be there together. We prayed we would stand together.
Now is the time to pray and fast for the leaders of our church as we go into a period of shaking, of testing, of proofing, of growing, of depending on the Lord like we may never done before. I cannot tell you what the future holds, but as I write to you tonight I pray that whatever happens we may do it together truthfully and gracefully whatever path God puts us on, wherever He may lead.
Thank you for your prayers for this Council. If you haven't had the opportunity to read it all ready, I encourage you to read the incredible letter that the Falls Church wrote to Bishop Lee. You can read John Yates' letter to his parish as well as the Falls Church Vestry letter to Bishop Lee on their website at: http://www.thefallschurch.org/templates/custhefalls/details.asp?id=29455&PID=205600&mast=
I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge—because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.
Blessings and peace,
Diocesan Council 2006
You raise up your head
And you ask, "Is this where it is?"
And somebody points to you and says
And you say, "What's mine?"
And somebody else says, "Where what is?"
And you say, "Oh my God
Am I here all alone?"
Because something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Mister Jones?