Bishop Jones' Report
During the past few months, we have witnessed a seamless transition of leadership in the Diocese of Virginia. All of the functions of diocesan life continue as expected. Our new diocesan has already successfully fielded a massive snowstorm headed directly at Council!
It is a great pleasure to serve you, especially as I work alongside a superb diocesan staff in Richmond and Alexandria – individuals who value excellence in ministry and who display the highest levels of integrity in their work.
I am supported by able people who serve on diocesan commissions. Members of the Commission on Congregational Missions (CCM) and their chair, Richard Shirey, work tirelessly on your behalf and make a significant difference in supporting mission congregations.
Members of the Commission on Church Planting and their chair, Lucy-Lee Reed, actively support our church plants and are laying the groundwork for future plants when the time is right. A major contribution of this commission is a Manual for Church Planting that will soon be available for the church at large on our diocesan Web site.
The economic downturn has been a wake-up call for both the Commission on Church Planting and the Commission on Congregational Missions. It is forcing us to reexamine our mission priorities.
We are aware on the Commission on Church Planting that the departure of some of our newest congregations has not only been painful to us on the commission, but that it has been hurtful to the ministry of starting new congregations. But we have not for a minute forgotten the words of Jesus which we know as the Great Commission – that we are called to make disciples of all nations a deep spiritual hunger is shared by so many who have no a church home.
We have learned that the principles that apply to starting a new congregation also apply to the existing congregation. I salute those congregations that are intentionally and creatively responding to opportunities for mission, especially with the offering of new services to attract new people.
The congregations that are growing are paying attention to their own neighborhoods and communities. They are listening attentively to the needs of the people they are trying to reach and are responding in concrete ways. And they are effectively resisting internal pressure to keep the doors closed to outsiders.
A passive approach to evangelism – hoping that people will find and discover us is not only ineffective – it is also unfaithful to the mandate of Jesus. Effective evangelism requires prayerful preparation and intentional planning.
One of the perennial themes in life in the church is the power of parochialism. We are baptized and brought up in congregations. Our commitment to Christ is lived out in the world, but is supported locally. For most of the members of our congregations, connections beyond the local are not part of their experience. It is very easy to lose sight of our connectedness in the Diocese, especially at budget time for a vestry. And it is even easier to lose sight of our connectedness in the Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion when we are considering resolutions. But our connections beyond the local congregation and the diocese are of vital importance. In fact, for some dioceses abroad, they are life lines. This has been especially true in our response to Haiti in the past month. Ask Buck Blanchard how many bishops, clergy and people rely on their relationships and friendships with the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church.
Last February, I took part in a retreat of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in Sudan. I had the privilege of hearing stories late at night from some of the silent heroes of the church of God. I was moved by their faithfulness and courage. As I reflected on some of those stores even later at night in my bed in Sudan, I realized that I needed to help tell the stores of what I had heard – that my ministry needed to extend beyond being present on that retreat– that I needed to share what I had seen and heard. Likewise, those of us who have been privileged to share in the councils of the church beyond the local congregation need to share that perspective at home.
I recognize the importance of diocesan communications and I can assure you that we are making every possible effort to communicate to the people of this diocese. We are embracing new technology and are continually searching for new ways to share our message. But I have also participated in the decision making process in the local congregation as the rector of a parish. And I can assure you that the voices of the delegates to council and of the clergy are more influential that any communications from the diocese when budgetary decisions are being made.
We will not resolve issues of diocesan support without members of council reminding their vestries that we are an Episcopal Church – that our connections matter – and that the ministry we share in an integral part of the ministry of the congregation. It is a joy to serve you as we carry out this ministry together.