There is an 800-pound gorilla in the room. A two-ton elephant. A fire-breathing dragon. Everywhere we turn, there it is. As I name it in this Monday meditation, I ask you to hang in with me, putting blaming and judging aside for a moment. Let’s ask some healthy questions about the state of our Diocese and the wider Church, and let’s listen for what the Holy Spirit might be up to.
For the first time since 1993, a slate for bishop in the Diocese of Virginia does not include racial, ethnic or gender diversity.* This slate as currently composed has become a lightning rod for deep issues facing both the Diocese of Virginia and the entire Church. Our anxieties about diversity, race, sex, gender, Covid losses, economic uncertainty, changes in church attendance and other issues have latched on to this slate, making it the latest repository of our fears. How do we understand and respond faithfully in light of these realities?
- We avoid blaming. This is not the fault of the four men who are on the slate, and it does not call their qualifications into question. They were presented by the diverse Search Committee to our diverse Standing Committee which, in turn, presented them to our Diocese. Any complex systemic issues that are part of this outcome are broader than these groups alone, so it will not help us to lay blame at their feet. We are all on the same bus, so let’s not throw anyone under the bus.
- We notice and name our emotions about this, then we put those emotions aside so that we can act effectively and responsibly.
- We uncover, name and work to heal the brokenness that people experience because of racism, sexism, genderism, heterosexism or any other “isms.” We name what we see, and we work and pray for a Diocese, a wider Church and local congregations that fully reflect the wonder and beautiful diversity that is already present at the feasting table in God’s heaven.
- We expand our learning and growth through Sacred Ground and other circles. We spend time, honest time, with people who are different from us. We recognize the gifts of individuals, the strengths of our Church and the growing edges for our Diocese, all through eyes of love.
- We take part in next steps in this election. Engage the petition process which remains open until midnight on April 8. If you desire to see the slate expanded, this process lays out how to do it. Attend a Meet and Greet session. Read the materials on each candidate. Pray, pray and pray some more for the person God is raising up as our next bishop diocesan.
- We ask questions and live with the questions for a while:
What is the Spirit saying to the Church in this moment of our story?
What patterns and trends in the Church and in the world are being revealed?
What is our response to those patterns and trends?
What new thing might God be doing among us?
How will we be Jesus’ hands and feet, eyes and ears, mouth and voice in
our Diocese and in our world right now?
God, lead us and guide us along the way. Still our restless minds long enough so that we will see the way and let you continue to work through us.
Your sister in Christ,
Bishop Susan Goff
Bishop Suffragan and Ecclesiastical Authority
*Summary of Slates
- 1969 - An African American man was on the slate for Bishop Suffragan for the first time. A white man was elected.
- Slates between 1969 and 1993 included all white men.
- 1993 - The slate of seven nominees for the election of two Bishops Suffragan included three white men, three white women and one African American man. A white man and the African American man were elected. (The second was never consecrated, however, after accusations of sexual misconduct were thoroughly investigated by the Standing Committee.)
- 1995 - The slate of eight nominees for Bishop Suffragan included four white men, three white women and one man of color. Two of the eight were on the slate by petition. A white man who was nominated by petition was elected.
- 2007 - The slate of five nominees for Bishop Coadjutor included three white men and two white women. A white man was elected.
- 2012 - The slate of six for Bishop Suffragan included two white men and four white women. A white woman was elected.
Since 1993, bishop slates in the Diocese of Virginia have included:
- Two men of color - one was elected, though not consecrated
- Twelve white women - one was elected
- Twelve white men - three were elected
No slate for bishop in the Diocese of Virginia included persons who self-identified as LGBTQ+ at the time of the election.