As some of you know, the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia recently announced that there will not be a vote on a Bishop Provisional at this weekend’s general convention. The news was released immediately following Sunday’s farewell reception for bishop Shannon, held at the Virginia Theological Seminary.
Taken in light of recent events within the diocese, the announcement adds to the growing evidence that the diocese has serious governance issues. These include:
- The abrupt resignation this summer of Pat Wingo, who served as the bishop’s assistant, or canon to the ordinary.
- The collapse, not long after, of the search for a bishop adjutant, followed by the resignation of Bishop Shannon.
- Evidence of multiple bad decisions in the area of clergy discipline, including the diocese’s repeated failure to exercise appropriate supervision over Bob Malm, resulting in profound damage to the reputation of the church due to Bob’s claims of being threatened by terrorists, his decision to take a former parishioner to court, and his decision to try to drag an elderly dying woman into court.
- Multiple Title IV Disciplinary cases pending against Bishop Shannon, including one in which it is alleged that he acted to cover up repeated instances of sexual harassment by clergy under his supervision. (The office of the presiding bishop has refused on multiple occasions to update complainants on the status of their cases, raising the possibility of additional attempts at cover-up.)
- Signs of major conflict between the executive committee and the trustees of the funds. Not uncommon following litigation, such kerfuffles invariably end badly, and must be addressed immediately if they are to avoid snowballing.
- A bishop who, like many clergy, is conflict avoidant and tends to tell people what they want to hear. I have experienced this firsthand.
Of course, the handling of the search for a bishop provisional also is telling. The standing committee has been working on the matter since August 3, 2018, and no doubt knew it had a hot potato on its hands. Moreover, it was likely obvious from the get-go that the pool of applicants would be very limited, given that this is intended to be a three-year gig, the candidate must have previously served as a bishop, and must be under age 69 in order to comply with the canonically mandated retirement age of 72. All of this, at a time when a large number of bishop positions are open. Thus, it surely made sense to have both a Plan B and a Plan C in place, such that the diocese would not again have egg on its face if the search process ran into problems. Yet, here we sit, with the diocese now thoroughly covered in egg.
So, the more things change the more they stay the same. The diocese remains a hot mess, governance is in a shambles, and it’s the Wild, Wild West when it comes to clergy discipline within the diocese. And now, matters are compounded by a power vacuum at the top, for if there’s anything worse than an incompetent bishop, it’s governance via committee.
But the most telling sign of serious trouble in the diocese comes via the wry observation of a friend of mine, a Episcopal priest for more than 50 years. Many years ago, he said, “As a priest, you know you’re in trouble when the bishop starts saying nice things about you in public.” And so it is with Bishop Shannon, on whom the presiding bishop heaped fulsome praise following the announcement of his retirement.
Things surely are a hot mess in The Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.