Bishop Peter James Lee of the Diocese of Virginia has written a letter to his diocese regarding Archbishop Peter Akinola’s upcoming visit. He writes:
This weekend’s ceremony will provide false comfort to those who seek certainty in an uncertain world. But in truth, it will serve only to inflame the differences we have been struggling with. When there is so much that brings us together as brothers and sisters in Christ, in a Church that has always celebrated and respected a wide variety of opinions, it is painful to see our shared ministry and faith overshadowed by our differences.
The Episcopal Church is in the midst of a challenging time. As in times past, we will get through it and emerge renewed in our faith and refocused on our mission and strengthened for service to our Lord. I regret, however, that there are impatient forces seeking to provoke conflict when humility, respect and patience are in order.
In the run up to this weekend you no doubt will read news accounts of the impending visit of the Archbishop of Nigeria the Most Rev. Peter Akinola to preside at a service of installation of the Rt. Rev. Martyn Minns. This weekend’s ceremony will provide false comfort to those who seek certainty in an uncertain world. But in truth, it will serve only to inflame the differences we have been struggling with. When there is so much that brings us together as brothers and sisters in Christ, in a Church that has always celebrated and respected a wide variety of opinions, it is painful to see our shared ministry and faith overshadowed by our differences.
We are fortunate in the Diocese of Virginia, however, to be able to give witness to the things that unite us despite the challenges we face from those now non-Episcopal congregations which seek to divide us. Later this month we will consecrate the Very Rev. Shannon Sherwood Johnston as our Bishop Coadjutor. When I retire he will become the 13th Bishop of Virginia, marking the continuity of our heritage in this our 400th year as the Church in Virginia. In June some 1,500 people will gather at Jamestowne Island to celebrate our heritage in a commemorative Eucharist under a ship’s sail, just as our church ancestors did in 1607. And this summer hundreds of young people will spend time at Shrine Mont at our summer camps and hundreds more young people and adults will be commissioned and sent forth as missionaries of the Gospel to live out their baptismal covenant in service to others here and around the world. All of this at a time when there are those who seek to diminish the work that we do.
The disagreements within The Episcopal Church are ours to resolve. As reaffirmed at the recent House of Bishops meeting, the Episcopal Church is a self-governing, autonomous and undivided church that cannot accept intervention in the governance of our Church by foreign prelates.
The Church of Nigeria, like The Episcopal Church, is an autonomous province of the Anglican Communion with clearly defined boundaries. Bonds of affection in the Anglican Communion hold that provincial boundaries are not crossed by bishops without expressed invitation. Bishop Akinola’s effort to establish the Church of Nigeria within the boundaries of The Episcopal Church through something called the Convocation of Anglicans of North America (CANA) has occurred without any invitation or authorization whatsoever and violates centuries of established Anglican heritage. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has made clear, CANA is not a branch of the Anglican Communion and does not have his encouragement. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori also has expressed her concerns over the visit by Bishop Akinola without invitation, a violation of a centuries old practice and decorum.
Our Diocese is committed to meet the needs of all Episcopalians, especially the congregations abandoned by their vestries and clergy. I ask you to continue to pray for them and for our Church, for the Anglican Communion, for the Primates, for those who suffer oppression, for the poor, the needy and for all who seek the redeeming love of Christ. We thank God for 400 years of the Church in Virginia and we remain committed to its faithful mission.
Peter James Lee