The Rt. Rev. Susan Goff’s Address to Annual Convention

Now into the world.  Ahora al Mundo. In just a little while we will bring this Convention to its conclusion and be sent into the world in Christ’s name, by a deacon. We will go into the world as leaders in this diocese and in 180 congregations. We will go into the beautiful but fractured world for the sake of the powerful, healing, life-changing love of God. 

We go Now Into The World, Ahora al Mundo, a changed diocese, following the retirement of our Bishop Diocesan and brother in Christ, Shannon Johnston. We will miss the gifts that Bishop Shannon brings to ministry – his loving attentiveness in pastoral relationships, his delight in liturgy, his passion for social justice, particularly for racial reconciliation and for the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in our life together. I will miss as well his sometimes groan-inducing puns. I wish Bishop Shannon a healthy transition after 11 years of service to this diocese, and I wish him and his wife Ellen a least a few exciting adventures that they never imagined. 

We go Now Into The World, Ahora al Mundo, a strong diocese. During a recent Sunday visitation, a woman said to me, “A lot is changing in our diocese right now, so I have just one question for you: Will our diocese be ok?” I answered without hesitation, “Our diocese will not only be ok, it is ok.” I knew those words to be profoundly true as I spoke them. We are in transition, we are experiencing change, but we are ok. 

We are, in fact, more than OK, because we are people of the resurrection. In every moment of transition, in every time of vulnerability, in every situation of pain and every occasion of joy, the living Christ is with us. Jesus reached out arms of love in a beautiful but fractured world, a world of violence and uncertainty as frightening as our own has been these last weeks. Jesus stretched his arms wide to embrace everyone - only to have those outstretched arms brutally nailed to the cross. But we know that suffering did not triumph. We proclaim with all our being that death did not prevail. Because on the third day God raised Jesus to life. Now, in him, we have life.  Now, in Christ, we have good news of reconciliation and forgiveness and justice to share with a world so in need of those gifts. 

We are OK and we will be ok as we go Now Into The World, Ahora al Mundo, because God created us for this, because Jesus walks with us, because the Holy Spirit strengthens us. We are OK and we will be OK because Jesus claims us to be his own hands and feet and eyes and ears and voice – for the healing of the world.

We can believe this to be true not only because of the faith planted deep within us, but because we see resurrection life all around us. 

We see it in changing congregations that feel particularly vulnerable right now. Last Sunday I visited St. James Church in Montross. The small congregation is aging and sees no sign of a next generation to carry on in their beloved building. But instead of looking inward, they are looking outward. They are in conversation with the people of St. Paul’s, Nomini Grove, six miles away, about shared ministry. It’s not a top down decision, but a grassroots hope.

We see resurrection life in the churches in Charlottesville that have connected in new and deeper ways since the events of August 12, 2017, as we heard from Cass Bailey yesterday. They are being reshaped by God into all that God needs them to be now. 

We see new life in the work we are doing to raise up Lay Pastoral Leaders in our diocese. We received a grant to develop a program for training lay people to lead worship and preach, provide pastoral care and offer administrative leadership in congregations that don’t have a priest, because of their remote locations. I thank the Rev. David Keill for the work he is doing to develop this program. 

We see resurrection life in the work of our diocesan staff who are consummate professionals, as you have experienced again and again, and as you are experiencing in the support and leadership they provide during this Convention. Please join me in thanking them.

We see new life among communities that desire to be recognized in some formal way by the diocese. These are groups that worship at retirement homes, at schools, and at churches like the one at Graves Mill that no longer have regular Sunday services. We have begun conversation about what recognition might look like as these faithful communities continue in prayer and service. 

We see resurrection life in our Church Schools. Mason Lecky, the head of St. Christopher’s in Richmond, wrote a letter to the school community after the Kavanaugh hearings, addressing what it means to be a boy’s school in the age of #MeToo. He wrote, “I, and many others...have been asking the fundamental question, ‘What responsibility do we, as a school focused on the...formation of young men, have in ensuring that our boys are exemplars of respectful and proper conduct toward women, and how can we play a role in reversing and ending the shameful conduct that has been publicly scrutinized over the past many months?’” Mason goes on to offer concrete plans for engaging the questions this academic year.

We saw risen life this summer at Shrine Mont Camps as those on the Mountain worked to create a community in which transgender counselors and campers could be themselves. There is yet more work to be done, but our commitment is unshakable. 

We will see resurrection life at The Falls Church Episcopal as they celebrate their 250th anniversary next year. A small and faithful remnant returned to the historic property of The Falls Church after the litigation.  Today the congregation is growing and thriving in ways only imagined six years ago.

We see resurrection life in the gifts of time, energy and resources given by clergy who are going to the Diocese of the Virgin Islands this fall and into the winter, to provide worship and pastoral care in communities ravaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria last year. 

We see resurrection this very weekend and at Shrine Mont where some 160 young people are gathered for the annual Parish Youth Ministries Senior High weekend. The committee of 32 young people and the adults who support them are faithful, joyful and deeply committed to our common life in the Diocese of Virginia.   

The examples could go on and on. Every one of you could add your own story to this list. As we go Now Into the World, Ahora al Mundo, we go in strength. We are OK as a diocese. We are more than OK. 

And we will be OK. 

I am sure of that because, while we are not perfect, we are a community. We are made in the image of God who, by God’s very nature, is a community; three in one and one in three, Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. 

As I begin this period as ecclesiastical authority of the Diocese of Virginia, I commit myself again to life in community with you. I’ve heard the recent rumor that has circulated in some of our regions, a rumor that I will be resigning after Convention. Well, to paraphrase the famous saying of Mark Twain, “the report of my resignation was greatly exaggerated.” I have seven years until I must retire, according to Church Pension rules. It is my hope and intention, as the Holy Spirit desires, to serve as a bishop in this diocese for a number of those years. When the time comes for the election of our next Bishop Diocesan, I will not allow my name to be put forward, but I will support the new bishop in every way I can.

In the meantime, I am deeply grateful to my two brother bishops, Bob Ihloff, our current Bishop Associate, and Ted Gulick, our recently retired Assistant Bishop. Both have failed retirement at least once. Both will serve in this diocese, on a part time basis, as partners in ministry during this immediate transition period. Their wisdom and experience, along with their passion for ministry, are gifts to me and to this diocese. And I am grateful to this Convention for passing a resolution to allow for another Assistant Bishop, if and when that seems wise.

We in the Diocese of Virginia are a community of bishops, priests, deacons and, most important of all, lay people. On the day that you elected me as Bishop Suffragan of this Diocese, I quoted the words of St. Augustine when he was called to serve as Bishop of the Diocese of Hippo in the fourth century. He said, “What I am for you terrifies me; what I am with you consoles me. For you I am a bishop; with you I am a Christian. The former is a duty, the latter a grace; the former is danger, the latter, salvation.” 

Those words have become more and more true for me over the years. Thanks be to God, we are in this life of ministry and service together. We are community for one another and for the love of the world. We are OK, we are strong, because we are community.

As we go now into the world we will strengthen the Diocesan staff, beginning with a staff retreat, led by a consultant experienced in diocesan staff work, in early December.

As we go now into the world, Ahora al Mundo, we will grow in community. In these coming months, we will hold a series of listening sessions around the diocese in which diocesan leaders and I will hear your concerns, your frustrations, your joys and your hopes about our life as a diocese. We will come to listen more than to speak, to hear more than to opine. Through these sessions, we will name where we are right now and begin to articulate where we are called to go. We will till and plow the ground in which a new vision for our diocese will take root. 

As we go now into the world, Ahora al Mundo, we will ask for help – from God, from each other, and from professionals who have skills to teach us and insights to share. We don’t have to navigate all of the changes we face on our own. There are people in this diocese and beyond who have gifts to share, and we will depend upon their support, their fresh eyes and their guidance. 

As we go now into the world, Ahora al Mundo, we will build on all that has come before. We will continue to be the living, breathing body of Christ, even as God strengthens us to become more and more the Church that God has called us to be.

So, now, dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
So, now, beloved community of God,
Entonces, Ahora al Mundo.
So, Now Into the World.