A hard week for the congregations of the Diocese of Southern Virginia

Last Friday (7/19/2019) we had 102 congregations in the Diocese of Southern Virginia.  By next the time next Friday rolls around we will have only 100 congregations in this diocese.  Last Saturday morning I was at St. Paul’s, Newport News, a congregation with 139 years of remarkable history with a dedication to community outreach and involvement.  At St. Paul’s we celebrated the final service of Holy Eucharist and then I proceeded to deconsecrate the church.  It was an incredibly sad event for the over 100 people who were in attendance.  Also, it was a momentously difficult decision for us to make with the rector and vestry of St. Paul’s.  Yet we had to face the stark reality that no longer could we maintain the congregation in the manner of the last 139 years. 

Next Thursday evening at St. Mark’s Church in Hampton we will have a similar final Holy Eucharist and a deconsecration of their church.  Their leaders also are aware that they cannot maintain St. Mark’s in the manner of the past.  Like St. Paul’s, St. Mark’s adapted its mission for people who did not normally consider themselves to be acceptable by our rank and file congregations.

Many of us believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is at a crossroads. We are facing the decision to reassess who we are and who we will be as we live into the future.  In fact, the decision is more stark than that.  We are going to have to decide if we are going to have a future!  Should we attempt to continue to exist as always we have been and stay in our protective bubble of comfort and familiarity, or are we going to risk our future with Jesus?

Beyond measure these events are filled with grief and loss for God’s people.  Yet, I have faith that as we show a willingness to sacrifice our grip upon the old way of being the Body of Christ, that God will do a new thing in our diocese.

On Saturday at St. Andrew’s, Newport News we are hosting a Fresh Expressions Visioning Conference.  The title of the visioning conference is “Deep Roots, Wild Branches.”  In the presence of two highly capable facilitators, one from the Church of England and one from the United Methodist Church in this country, we will explore how we can participate in the new way of Jesus.  The allusion to “Deep Roots” signifies that we are aware of and invested in a deeply rooted faith and belief in our Lord Jesus; our anchor and our guiding light.  Yet at the same time, we are attempting to be open to the “Wild Branches,” a symbol for our willingness to explore new ways of being the body of Christ; perhaps with persons who have never had the opportunity to be introduced to our Lord Christ.

In our emerging culture the choice is ours to make.

The Rt. Rev. James B. Magness