SOUTHERN VIRGINIA: New bishop proclaims diocese has 'come a very long way'

February 17, 2009

A day after his consecration on February 13 as tenth bishop of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, Bishop Herman "Holly" Hollerith IV, 53, addressed the diocesan Annual Council. "We have come a very long way in Southern Virginia. Not all wounds are healed. Not all of our brokenness is mended. Not all of our fears have been relieved. But, by the grace of God, we are blessed with some light at the end of this tunnel," he said.

Hollerith succeeded Bishop David Bane, who retired in 2006. Reported problems during Bane's tenure, including questions of management style, culminated at the 2005 Annual Council with the adoption of a resolution calling on Bane to request the Presiding Bishop to appoint three bishops to evaluate diocesan programs and relationships and recommend steps to move the ministry of the diocese forward.
The report by bishops Gordon Scruton of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, Chilton Knudsen of Maine and Charles Jenkins of Louisiana recommended, among other things, a three-year interim with the search for a new bishop to begin in the third year "to allow for the grace of an interim period to unfold fully."

Between Bane's retirement and Hollerith's consecration, the diocese was served by Robert H. Johnson, retired bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina and John C. Buchanan, retired bishop of the Diocese of West Missouri.

Hollerith emphasized the importance of clergy wellness in his address. "A system is never healthier than its leadership," he said.

Hollerith said he plans to implement a partnering program between congregations that are diverse in size, geography and culture, such as the one in place between Eastern Shore Chapel in Virginia Beach, a large urban congregation in the eastern part of the diocese, and St. Thomas Church of Freeman, a small, rural, predominately African-American congregation on the opposite edge of the diocese. "Vision grows out of relationships and community," he said.

Church planting and building of congregations will also be a focus in the diocese over the next several years. "Church planting is a pretty straightforward concept," he said. "You find a new community that needs God and you plant a new congregation there." In addition to new church development, the growth of parishes that are moving from maintenance to mission could use some help. He challenged the audience to imagine a way to make complete grants or substantial no-interest loans to growing parishes or to endow part-time youth missioners in parishes. "What kind of impact would that have?" he asked.

Southern Virginia has been hit hard by the current economic situation. Troubles at companies such as Circuit City, Wachovia, and others have had an impact on the area. As a result, Southern Virginia has several smaller struggling congregations. Hollerith vowed to explore strategies and partnerships for collaborative ministries to help these congregations.

Youth involvement and the nurturing of faith of young people is a challenge in many churches throughout the country. Southern Virginia has experienced a decrease in participation in youth events while noting aging congregations. "If we are not intentional about nurturing the faith of our young people, we will be one of the final generations to fill the pews of our churches," he said. Hollerith, himself a product of youth ministry, reminded the audience that "if my home parish had not committed itself to an active program for young people, I would not be standing here today … Programs that equip our youth in the faith of Christ and the traditions of the Episcopal Church are critical."

Prior to his election, Hollerith served parishes in the Dioceses of Southern Virginia, Southwest Virginia and South Carolina.

--The Rev. Lisa B. Hamilton is correspondent for Provinces I, II, III and IV. She is based in Venice, Florida and Sandisfield, Massachusetts. Sarah Scott Thomas, communications director, Diocese of Southern Virginia, contributed to this story.