Diocese of Virginia bishop to retire in November

Posted Aug 3, 2018

Editor’s note: Diocese of Virginia Bishop Shannon S. Johnston announced Aug. 3 that he will resign his office in three months.

The announcement appears to culminate a process that began in October 2017 when he announced plans to seek a bishop suffragan after the retirement of the Rt. Rev. Ted Gulick, assistant bishop. Then on May 24, Johnston announced an end to the search, citing “serious questions raised by members of the diocesan staff having to do with the leadership and the culture among diocesan staff,” and taking “full responsibility for this situation.” Johnston also said that he had begun to look more seriously about retiring earlier than he had originally planned, having reached age 60 and with 30 years of service in the Episcopal Church.

On Aug. 7, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry sent a letter to the Diocese of Virginia expressing his gratitude for Johnston and his wife, Ellen, for their “ministry among you and for your faithful engagement in God’s call through Jesus upon your own lives and ministry.”

Diocese of Virginia Bishop Shannon S. Johnston Has announced he will resign Nov. 3. Photo: Diocese of Virginia via Facebook

Dear Diocesan Family,

After many months of intense prayer and reflection, and in close consultation with the presiding bishop and our Standing Committee, I am formally announcing that I have decided to resign my office and ministry as Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia effective November 3, 2018, prior to the adjournment of our annual convention. I will then serve the diocese in a consulting capacity to facilitate the transition to new leadership. I will fully retire effective July 1, 2019, having served over twelve years as a bishop in this diocese.

First of all, I want to say in all honesty that being the XIII Bishop of Virginia has been the greatest honor and privilege of my life. I love this diocese with all my heart. I have also had extraordinary opportunities in places across the globe. I have learned much about the “big things” as well as about how deeply meaningful the so-called small things can be. After all these years of ministry serving as your bishop, there is something surreal about letting go. I have no idea what will come next, except that I shall take an extended period of rest, which will include times for spiritual retreat and discernment.  I know that I shall miss my week-to-week ministry, especially spending time with our clergy and interacting with parishioners, but, actually, I am quite excited to have things so open-ended! Ellen and I shall remain in Richmond, where we very happily bought a home two years ago. We look forward to having more time to spend with friends as well as taking opportunities to travel. I also want to make up for a lot of lost time with my family in Alabama and Georgia.

I am proud of the work and accomplishments that we have achieved together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Several of these accomplishments include:

  • the successful resolution of the unprecedented lawsuit returning schismatically-claimed property for the mission of the Episcopal Church;
  • the historic success of the capital campaign for our camps program at Shrine Mont;
  • embracing and fully including LGBT Christians in our ordination process and in the rite of Christian marriage;
  • our recovery of the church’s voice for faith and advocacy in the “public square,” raised in our internationally-noted presence at the Charlottesville rally opposing the white supremacy demonstrations, as we had already opened a critical dialogue on the sin and experience of racism;
  • the newly re-drawn diocesan regions that better reflect-and thus will better serve-the demographics and growth of today’s Commonwealth of Virginia;
  • and (lastly but surely not least) our diocese is growing again, and our unity, confidence, and morale are high.

There is so much more that could be noted. I certainly do not claim or imply that “I” did all this, but we did, and I am rightly proud of this era I have shared with you in the life of the Diocese of Virginia.

My reasons for reaching this decision that a change of leadership is now good and wise begin with the fact that I feel that I have given my all. Quite simply, “the time” has come. I truly believe that I have done all that I can to accomplish what I feel I was called here to do. And so, I am convinced that it is now time for new vision and new energy for the church in our diocese.

Equally important as a factor in my decision is that my wife Ellen and I are looking toward sharing an active and full life in retirement years. As I reach the age of sixty (after serving the church for over thirty years), and being in strong health, I have confidently chosen to claim this season of life for the fuller nurture of our personal life. Someone else can assume my responsibilities as bishop of Virginia, but no one else can love Ellen as I do.

As I write this letter I realize with certainty that my decision is for the best. While I am aware that there is some speculation about my retirement, please know that this letter conveys what is in fact my own personal truth about my decision to resign. You should also know that it is in consultation with my closest friends, colleagues, and advisors that Ellen and I agree that it is time for me to move on, in God’s grace for us and for the Diocese of Virginia. Be assured that the presiding bishop’s office will be in communication with our diocesan leadership regarding the next steps and the particulars for episcopal leadership in Virginia going forward.

I look upon my ministry as bishop among you in terms of having shared milestone moments of God moving decisively in the lives of Virginia Episcopalians. We have grown together as disciples of Jesus Christ. That is what the church is all about. In the end, I am profoundly gratified by what I believe to have been a consequential episcopate.

Faithfully yours,

The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston

XIII Bishop of Virginia



Comments (18)

  1. Robbie Johnson says:

    Bishop Johnston has done a good job as Bishop except he went against what scripture says about homosexuality.

    1. Tim Reimer says:

      So just was does scripture say about homosexuality. Enlighten me please.

      1. Robbie Johnson says:

        In both the Old and New Testaments homosexual behavior is called an abomination and sinful.

        1. Matt Ouellette says:

          I would check out God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines, as well as this blog series by Bishop Matthew Gunter:
          The issue is far more complicated than you make it out to be.

  2. Doug Desper says:

    Whatever this is really about will eventually be known. By most views Bishop Johnston is a decent person. Notwithstanding, he often prefers theological revisionism. Notably was in 2013 right before Easter when he invited 2 highly flawed theologians to share their limitations and doubts about Christianity. One was John Spong whose diocese died 40 percent under his leadership. The other was John Dominic Crosnan who denies the unique divinity and supreme incarnation found in Jesus. Of course, there were rousing “amens” when these men spoke, especially when Spong said that we are not sinners in need of saving. How is inviting such people to teach guarding the faith once delivered?


    1. Robbie Johnson says:

      It is not guarding the faith. These men are heratics!

    2. Matt Ouellette says:

      Be careful citing “Juicy Ecumenism.” It is the blog of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, a right-wing group whose mission is to convince mainline churches to serve the religious right.

      1. Doug Desper says:

        Matt, while IRD may be conservative, Episcopal Cafe and other “go to” outlets have their slant too. The real issue are the facts of the event. Those facts and the two presenters cited make their own evidence without commentary. Who calls attention to that reality is of small importance compared to content. Good Friday was hardly the day to invite John Spong to exhale his doubting opinions about the legitimacy of the Gospel and denial of the physical Resurrection.

        1. Rob Pinion says:

          Nowhere is it written that in holy days we must check our brains at the door. Holy days do not belong to the literalists. They belong to everyone. Spong’s is one of the most awesome minds to emerge from within Episcopalianism. He knows the Bible forwards and backwards. I never come away from what he writes feeling anything less than inspired to live a more Christ-like life.

          1. Robbie Johnson says:

            Song may know The Bible. He just does not believe in it!

          2. Robbie Johnson says:

            I meant Spong, not Song!

  3. Very Rev’d Canon John Crean says:

    It’s hard to believe how narrow-minded some Episcopalians remain in this day and age, at this stage of our scientific enlightenment. And BTW Bishop Jack Spong is no heretic (it’s an “e”) but rather a forward thinker like Luther, Meister Eckhart and countless others whom the Church first censured and whose words have eventually been roundly praised and accepted.

    1. Thomas Drobena says:

      Everyone is entitled to their opinion, no matter how damning, but it remains a fact, that if Spong were brought to trial for heresy, regardless of how you’d cast your vote, Luther and Eckhart would be among the first to light the pyre.

    2. Doug Desper says:

      Well John, what can one make of Spong’s denial of the physical resurrection of Jesus? If not anti-Nicene then what is it?

      In his book, Resurrection: Myth or Reality (1994), he states repeatedly that he believes in the reality of the resurrection; but then (page 106): ‘Easter, for me, is eternal, subjective, mythological, nonhistorical, and nonphysical. Yet Easter is also something real to me’.


      On page 143, he writes, ‘I think Easter is real, but it is not an event that takes place inside human history’.

      Real but not an historic event?

      What kind of bishop teaches this lack of faith? What kind of bishop invites this to be taught in place of the faith once delivered?

    3. Robbie Johnson says:

      Spong rejects the virgin birth, Jesus miracles, and the Resurrection of Jesus. Yes, Spong is a heretic! In fact, he is not a Christian!

    4. John Hobart says:

      I never thought of the Episcopal Church as particularly scientifically enlightened. With a few exceptions, most of the clergy that I know were humanities majors who have a tenuous grasp math and science. Most of what they think they “know” is taken on faith from the popular press and they certainly don’t have the math and science skills to read critically on those topics.

    5. Matt Ouellette says:

      While I agree with Bishop Spong’s forward-thinking approach to women in ministry and LGBTQ+ inclusion, I would agree with many others here that a lot of his theology is very suspect. I do not think we should try to reinterpret core teachings of Christianity like the Virgin Birth or Resurrection as myths or metaphors. They have always been understood as real historical events as well as having theological meaning. I’d recommend this article by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in response to Bishop Spong’s 12 theses:

  4. John Hobart says:

    The Presiding Bishop has written a letter to the Diocese of Virginia singing the praises of Bishop Johnston. It starts to sound like whatever was going on was very serious but they really don’t want to talk about it. At all. Ever.

Comments are closed.