Letter to the Diocese of Virginia from the Rt. Rev. Shannon Johnston
Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Diocese,
In this Easter season, I am pleased to report that we have witnessed a rebirth of peace and reconciliation at our historic Truro Church campus in Fairfax City. Years of costly litigation have given way to a new era of community building and peacemaking.
As I noted in my Pastoral Address at January’s Annual Convention, members of the Diocese have spent the past three years building new ties of trust and friendship with the Truro ACNA congregation, which is leasing the Truro campus from the Diocese. Those efforts have helped to give birth to an Institute for Peace and Reconciliation at Truro. The governing board of this Institute will have equal representation from the Diocese and the Truro ACNA congregation.
The final pieces fell into place last week when the 18-member vestry of the Truro ACNA congregation voted unanimously to approve all documents related to the creation of the Institute. Our own Standing Committee already had given its consent to this proposal, subject to the final review of documents by our Chancellor and by me. All of this has now been accomplished.
Our agreement provides for an important three-year period of discernment. You will be hearing a lot more about our activities at Truro during this period, as both the Diocese and the ACNA congregation reflect and pray on whether we have successfully launched this important Institute. If both of us agree at the end of three years that we have succeeded, the congregation will be granted a 50-year lease to the property that the Diocese will continue to own. We in the Diocese will not only participate in the Institute, but also will have continued access to the property for office space, events and services to ensure a long-term Episcopal presence at Truro.
I am aware that some in our Diocese may still have strong concerns about making long-term agreements with a congregation that left us and holds fundamentally different views on important matters of theology.
But after much prayer and reflection, I feel very strongly that we are being called to live into the Gospel in this way. Building new relationships with the ACNA congregation has helped us to recognize that there is so much to gain and to achieve. Indeed, there is much more that unites us than divides us.
A number of years ago, someone sitting next to me on a plane asked what I did for a living. When I told her, she said, “The Episcopal Church – isn’t that the one with the lawsuits?” Soon, I hope such a person would say, “Isn’t that the one with the peacemakers?”
The initial work of the Institute will involve seminarians and will focus on reconciliation among Christians, Muslims and Jews. Naturally, the very fact that such a major ministry is being run jointly by an Episcopal diocese and an ACNA congregation, two entities that had previously been very publicly in opposition, will be an additional narrative in itself. This is precisely the kind of witness that our Diocese and our Church need to provide in this divided and polarized world. A peace center has been born at a time when we desperately need it.
Blessings to all of you during this joyous Easter season.
Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia