SOUTHERN VIRGINIA: Annual Council continues support of MDGs, welcomes Northwestern Pennsylvania bishop

February 11, 2008

The 116th Annual Council of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, meeting February 1-3 at the Williamsburg Lodge, continued on its journey towards the election of its 10th bishop.

The weekend's activities included the ordination of six people to the diaconate in a service at historic Bruton Parish Church in Williamsburg by Southern Virginia Bishop John Buchanan.

Northwestern Pennsylvania Bishop Sean Rowe's keynote address focused on the theme "For everything there is a season...[Let this be] a time to heal...and a time of peace." Rowe, the youngest member of the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops, developed his message around the story of Jesus' healing of the blind beggar of Bethsaida. Rowe urged the 800-plus lay and clergy delegates and visitors to "accept the realities of where you are now but keep the faith that victory will be won. Imagine if we could see ourselves as one Church with a variety of mission outposts doing mission together. Imagine the results when we talk more about 'we' and less about 'I.' Imagine the result when we say we will work together -- and then go outside the village and engage in that work."

A second theme of his remarks reflected on Southern Virginia's profile for its September 27 episcopal election. The profile noted that adequate funding of the work of the diocese was one of the few issues still to be dealt with that were identified during a 2004 self-study and in a 2005 report from a team of three bishops who visited the diocese and offered advice on resolving conflicts that were affecting the ministry of the diocese.

Responding to Rowe's remarks and capping a year-long education effort by the Standing Committee and the Executive Board, the diocese approved a canonical change on funding to implement an "aspirational and accountable" funding system that is anticipated will help eliminating the chronic under funding. After passing the canonical change, the delegates adopted a $2.4 million dollar budget that represents an approximate 19% increase over the 2007 approved budget of the diocese. The 2008 budget includes funding to support three new college chaplains and adds a congregational development officer to the diocesan staff to work with the 119 diocesan congregations.

In other action, the delegates:

  • passed resolutions continuing support of the Millennium Development Goals,
  • joined with the Dioceses of Virginia and Southwestern Virginia in supporting federal recognition of six of Virginia's Native American tribes in accordance with a resolution from The New Jamestown Covenant Summit of the Episcopal Church in November 2007 in the diocese;
  • joined with the Diocese of Virginia to express deep dismay at the usurious practices of the payday lending industry in Virginia and calling on members of the diocese to urge the General Assembly to cap the annual interest rate at 36 percent,
  • adopted a policy that calls for increasing the diocese's contribution to the Episcopal Church by at least 1% of net disposable budgeted income (NDBI) each year until the diocese funds the full national asking;
  • tasked the Commission on Ministry to develop the necessary training programs to identify, train and ordain a deacon in every congregation in Southern Virginia;
  • declined to designate Southern Virginia as a "Windsor-compliant diocese."

The offering at the Festival Eucharist on Sunday morning of more than $5,400 was designated to assist the rebuilding of Zion Baptist Church in Portsmouth. Zion Baptist, a close neighbor to St. James' Church in Portsmouth, was largely destroyed in a fire December 20, 2007.

The diocese also celebrated the move of St. Matthew's Church in Chesterfield from a mission to a parish, the reopening of Emmanuel Church in Cape Charles as a mission, and the establishment of Grace Church in Virginia Beach as the Diocese's first Asian-American (Korean) congregation.

The Diocese of Southern Virginia stretches more than 200 miles from the Atlantic Ocean westward to Appomattox, and from the south side of the James River at Richmond to the North Carolina border. It includes about 37,000 Episcopalians, living from the large metropolitan areas of Hampton Roads and Greater Richmond to the small towns/rural areas of Virginia's Eastern Shore and Southside.