Diocese of Virginia takes ‘extraordinary step’ of ending search for bishop suffragan

Posted May 25, 2018

Dear Diocesan Family,

I am writing to let you know that the Executive Board and I, with the knowledge and consent of the Standing Committee, have made the decision to end the ongoing search toward the election of a second bishop suffragan. This action is effective immediately.

Johnston Curry

Diocese of Virginia Bishop Shannon T. Johnston listens as Presiding Bishop Michael Curry answers a question during a May 30, 2017, news conference at Roslyn Conference Center in suburban Richmond, Virginia. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

We have taken this extraordinary step for two fundamental reasons. First, over the past few months, serious questions have been brought forward by members of the diocesan staff having to do with the leadership and the culture among diocesan staff. As Bishop I must take full responsibility for this situation. Utmost in my priorities will be to ensure that all of us function well together. The crucial point as we face this reality is that this is not the time to introduce a new bishop into the diocesan system. Rather, it is much preferable to bring in the help we need to address the difficulties and identify ways that the staff as a culture and system can be become fully functional again. To this end, it is my hope to engage the services of the Lombard-Mennonite Peace Center, the leading church organizational consultant group in the country, to work with us. I have been in touch with the Presiding Bishop’s office about our situation and the possibilities to address it, and we have been advised that they are in full agreement with our decision. I am confident we will succeed in the tasks before us because our staff is a talented group and each person is deeply committed to the Church, to this Diocese and to building up the Kingdom of God.

Secondly, now reaching age 60 with 30 years of service in the Episcopal Church (eleven years as a bishop in Virginia), I have begun to look more seriously about retiring earlier than I had originally planned. I am acutely aware that my wife Ellen is several years my senior and we want to be able to enjoy an active retirement together. At this point in our marriage, it is important to consider how we take care of ourselves. Of course, there is a great deal of research and consultation to do to determine readiness for retirement, all requiring much prayerful consideration. In looking at my options, I am no longer as certain as before that I can promise working another five years with a new suffragan as I had said I would be able to do.

I am most grateful for the hard and faithful work of our Search/Nominating Team, headed by Diane Miller, with whom I have discussed the present quandary. Now, it seems clear enough to me that with so much to consider, the wiser course may well be to let these concerns work their way through and then we will be able to reach the better decision for diocesan leadership. I believe that the decision reached by our Executive Board and Standing Committee reflects not only great discretion but also takes the long view, which can often be a very difficult thing to do. For my part, I remain absolutely confident in the stability and abilities of this diocese to take a step back for a better perspective when needed, and I ask for your continued prayers as we do the work we are called to do.

Faithfully yours,


The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston
XIII Bishop of Virginia


Comments (1)

  1. Eric Bonetti says:

    I strongly suspect we are seeing only the tip of the iceberg. My own experience with the diocese, including its willingness to both permit clergy misconduct and to protect clergy who abuse, suggest that leadership is both clueless as to the dynamics of abuse and morally bankrupt. In such cases, culture and values flow from the top, and I simply do not see the commitment to ethical conduct that is needed for the diocese to engender trust. For far too long, the diocese has ignored and avoided dealing with difficult issues.

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