[Diocese of Virginia] The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee, 12th bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, died in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on July 2. He was 84. Lee served as bishop from 1984 to 2009.
During his tenure as bishop, Lee ordained more than 200 people to the priesthood; helped to strengthen the church schools in the diocese; oversaw major capital improvements to the two diocesan conference centers, Roslyn in Richmond and Shrine Mont in Orkney Springs; developed a partner relationship with the Diocese of Christ the King in South Africa; and established a program to give financial assistance to diocesan youth to make mission trips. He also helped to establish the Triangle of Hope, a covenantal relationship between the Dioceses of Virginia; Liverpool, England; and now the Diocese of Kumasi, Ghana. The Triangle of Hope promotes reconciliation and healing from the three dioceses’ shared history in the slave trade.
One of the hallmarks of Lee’s episcopate was his vote in 2003 to confirm the Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop elected in The Episcopal Church. That decision prompted 11 churches to break away from the diocese, which led to a legal battle over property ownership. The diocese ultimately won the legal dispute in 2012 when the courts ruled that the seceding churches’ buildings and land were the property of the diocese.
Lee said that some of the highlights of his career were meeting Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu and being presented to Queen Elizabeth II.
Another legacy he leaves to the Diocese of Virginia is a fund established in his name, the Peter James Lee Fund for Small Church Revitalization. The endowment fund was established in 2001 and its purpose it to assist small churches in their revitalization, preservation and expansion primarily of their facilities.
While Lee eventually found his way to seminary, ordained ministry was not his first career. Prior to his call to ministry, he served as an Army intelligence officer, then as a journalist for several newspapers, including the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
He enrolled in Duke University Law School in 1963, but it was during his first year that he felt his call to ordained ministry. It was also the year he met his wife, Kristy Margaret Knapp.
Lee graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1967 and was ordained a deacon that same year. In 1968, he was ordained a priest. From 1968 to 1970, he served as assistant rector of St. John’s, Lafayette Square, in Washington, D.C. He then became rector of the Chapel of the Cross in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he served from 1971 to 1984. He was elected bishop coadjutor of the Diocese of Virginia in 1984.
While bishop of Virginia, he served in many leadership positions in the wider Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, including as president of the Presiding Bishop’s Fund for World Relief (1987-1993); president, American Friends of the Diocese of Jerusalem (1989-1996); chairman, Board of Trustees, VTS (1993-2009); chaplain, Washington National Cathedral (1994-2000) and chairman of The Friends of Canterbury Cathedral in the United States (2003-2018).
Though he resigned as bishop of Virginia in 2009, he continued a distinguished career in ministry. He went directly from Virginia to San Francisco, where he served as interim dean of Grace Cathedral from 2009 to 2010. From 2010-2011, he served as interim dean of General Theological Seminary in New York City. From New York, Lee moved to Paris, where he served as interim dean of The American Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (2012-2013). In 2013, he was elected provisional bishop of the Diocese of East Carolina, where he served as an interim bishop until 2014. He served in a variety of other ministries, including interim rector, Christ Church, Georgetown, (2015-2017); assisting bishop, Diocese of North Carolina and bishop-in-residence, Chapel of the Cross, Chapel Hill.
Lee is survived by his wife, Kristina Knapp Lee, his daughter Stewart, his son James and several grandchildren.
Funeral details are still being planned. They will be shared with the diocese when finalized.
Condolences to the family may be mailed to: The Lee Family, Mayo Memorial Church House, 110 W. Franklin St., Richmond, VA 23220 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org for forwarding to the Lee family.