My Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Anglican District of Virginia,
Since, to quote song writer Meredith Wilson, "It's beginning to look a lot Like Christmas," it must be time for the Bishop's Christmas Letter.
Soon we'll all be in our churches, singing Christmas Carols and once again welcoming the Bambino Jesus into our hearts. My wish for you is that this will be a truly joy filled, peaceful time in the Lord. It's now been two years since Martyn Minns invited me to serve you as the ADV Contact Bishop. As I have visited parish after parish, I have gotten to know you and your personality: Christ-centered, mission oriented, compassionate, welcoming, fun people. You reflect the beauty of following Jesus in the traditional Anglican way - you are sacramental, bible believing people, filled with the Holy Spirit. It is, indeed, a joy to serve you as a bishop.
News that the Judge has ruled that we can retain our properties has brought a sense of peace throughout all ADV churches this Christmas. Our leaders had been following the "Bishop's Protocol for Departing Congregations" when negotiations broke off and we found our clergy and lay leaders being sued. Now, two years and millions of dollars in legal fees later, the Judge has ruled that we did follow Virginia law in departing the Diocese of Virginia with our properties and that the law
(57-9) is constitutional. Now what?
While the Episcopal Church and even the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia may choose to appeal the judge's ruling, my impression is that the judge's ruling is very well put together, reflects the constitutional "free exercise of religion" for us, and will be very difficult to overturn. So I hope we don't have to spend countless more dollars defending ourselves if an appeal is filed. Isn't there a better way? A more Christ-centered, Gospel way?
Two years ago, before the lawsuit was filed, representatives of both the Anglican District of Virginia and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia were able to sit together at a table, and pray and talk in a respectful way. Can't we return to that spirit of reconciliation? Can't all three sides lay down their "legal weapons of mass destruction" and save millions of dollars in legal costs - money that can be used for Christian mission? For instance, are there Diocesan mission projects to which the District might contribute? Are there District mission projects to which the Diocese might contribute? Can't we all just let the judge's ruling be the judge's ruling and now spend some time together talking about reconciliation and mission?
A number of us in the ADV have been praying about how to reach out to the leaders of the Diocese of Virginia, to hold out an olive branch, but we don't know how. Perhaps in this peaceful season of Christmas, we'll find a way. Now that the court case has been settled, maybe we can all reach a peaceful settlement with each other in the Lord. Would you pray with me about that?
The angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward all." May it be so for the Anglicans of Virginia.
Faithfully Yours in Christ,
David John Bena,
Contact Bishop, Anglican District of Virginia