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Friday, January 27, 2006
Annual Council, Diocese of Virginia
Richmond, VA

Dear Friends,

We learned today why the Standing Committee was on the agenda to have two formal reports and one hearing - something I had never seen before. This morning Bishop Peter James Lee called for a Bishop Coadjutor. A Bishop Coadjutor is elected by the Council of the Diocese of Virginia and will be Bishop Lee's successor as the Diocesan Bishop of Virginia. The plan is to elect the bishop at next year's Annual Council (January 2007) and that the Bishop Coadjutor would serve until Bishop Lee's retirement, no later than 2010.

This morning there was a call for new resolutions and along with a couple of Courtesy Resolutions, there were new resolutions that were rather troubling. One was called "An Anglican Precedent for Finding the Way Forward on the Issue of Profound Theological Difference," which basically said that now that a precedent was made when Gene Robinson was elected bishop, then we should continue in the same tradition as the reception of women bishops. The resolution stated that it was based on the language of the Windsor Report, but I brought a copy of the Windsor Report with me and it actually says the exact opposite. Because Gene Robinson's election did not follow the path of the reception of women bishops, it was - to quote the Windsor Report - the actions were not accepted by the worldwide Anglican Communion but actually threatened to "tear the fabric of our communion at its deepest level." Not a happy resolution.

On that note, another resolution that was offered this morning and voted to proceed to the Resolutions Committee was a resolution entitled "On Elected Leadership of the Diocese of Virginia." It compelled that anyone who did not welcome the bishop for Episcopal Visitations, or did not provide unrestricted financial support to the operational budget of the Diocese would not be eligible to serve in leadership offices of the Diocese of Virginia. The resolution does not clarify exactly who would be the one - or ones - who get to decide who's "in" and who's "out." It is a very divisive resolution, but it made it to the Resolutions Committee.

Russ Palmore of the "Bishop's Special Committee" gave a short update on the progress of that committee (Hugo Blankingship, John Yates, and Tom Yates serve along with Russ, Andrew Merrow, and Carolyn Parkinson). It was one of the "realer" moments of the whole council.

Another big surprise is that Region VII - my region - has a new dean. Randall Prior of St. Andrew's, Burke, replaces Stuart Schadt of Trinity Manassas. That was a big surprise.

A highlight has been James Jones', the Bishop of Liverpool who is the guest preacher at Council. He spoke at Truro not too long and he's been very effective here at Council and casting a more compassionate tone to the proceedings, but it will be interesting to see if tomorrow - when the resolutions actually hit the floor - to see if that tone continues.

This afternoon I went to the Resolutions Hearing and testified in favor of one resolution (my own, R-6 "Call to Prayer and Fasting" and against what became R-15, the resolution accepting non-celibate homosexuals as bishops in the line that women are now bishops (which, as I mentioned earlier, is in opposition to what the Windsor Report actually says.). The hearings were surprisingly low-key and the fears that we might end up going overtime were unfounded. Each of the resolutions now before Council were debated and the turnout was very high (standing room only). But it went rather smoothly and without the acrimonious comments that can sometimes appear.

Another highlight of the day was Ronda Royalty's address to Council. I am going to try to get a copy of it and post it at my blog (it also has copies of these letters from the Virginia Annual Council - just go to: http://maryailes.livejournal.com/ . It was excellent! Instead of providing a laundry list of all the accomplishments of the Executive Board, Ronda, the Vice President of the Executive Board, highlighted the most important events and then spoke to the question of whom are we clinging to? Is it Jesus to whom we cling - or are we clinging, holding on to other things, good things even, instead of Jesus himself? It was a powerful moment - you could hear a pin drop as everyone appears to be listening and not resulting papers, coughing, or walking back out to the lobby. The delegates stayed and listened carefully. Her words are worth pondering and I'll ask her for a copy so you can read them for yourself.

Tonight for dinner a small group gathered back the Penny Lane Pub. We processed through the day, offered insights to one another, encouraged one another, and began to prepare for the final day of Council - to hear the report on the calling of the Bishop Coadjutor, to hear the results of the Resolutions Committee, to finish voting for the Standing Committee (John Keith, formally of Truro and now at St. Mary's Arlington, remains a candidate), and to vote on the resolutions. It will be an intense day and I appreciate your prayers for our team very much!

I wish I could tell you more, but I am so very tired tonight I just have to get some sleep. Tomorrow morning I am the convener of the Presidents' Breakfast, a gathering of the all the lay presidents of the diocese. Please pray for that time - we meet first thing at 7:00 a.m. Others will be meeting elsewhere to prepare for the day, so please pray for them as well. Then the day's Council opens at 9:00 a.m.

Again, feel free to check: http://maryailes.livejournal.com/ for a blog version of this e-mail. I am sorry I am not as peppy as usual, it's been an exhausting day. Tomorrow at the Presidents' Breakfast I plan to do a short devotion from John 5. Jesus asks the blind man who has sat by the Pool of Bethesda for thirty-eight years "Do you want to be well?" It's a fascinating question - very direct and to the point. The blind man assumes that the only way he could be healed is to be put in the pool, but he never gets the chance. He assumes that's the only way it's done. But that didn't actually answer the question: Do you want to be healed? It is an interesting question to ask ourselves. Are we looking in the right place to see Jesus, to know His love and His healing? Do we really want Him to heal us? If so, will we get up, pick up our mats, and walk?

Thank you so much for your prayers and for the very kind e-mails you've been sending to me which I am sharing with others here. It is just wonderful to think of you all and to know you are praying and that the Lord is at work. God bless you - I will report once again after the closing of the Council on Saturday.

In Christ's abiding love,
Mary Ailes
President, Region VII, Diocese of Virginia
Vestry, Truro, Fairfax

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