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