VIRGINIA: Shannon Johnston consecrated bishop coadjutor

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May 29, 2007

With the sounds of Rolling Thunder motorcycles filling the streets of the United States' capital in the background, a different sort of roar rolled through the Washington National Cathedral on May 26 when Shannon Sherwood Johnston was consecrated as the bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.

Three times during the service -- twice in response to liturgical questions from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and once proclaiming "Amen" at the conclusion of the prayer of consecration -- the congregation's roaring approvals echoed throughout the stone cathedral.

Johnston, 48, will succeed Bishop Peter James Lee, 69, when he retires sometime in the next three years. Lee, the 12th bishop of Virginia, has led the diocese since 1985.

Rolling Thunder is a motorcycle rally held each Memorial Day in Washington dedicated to Vietnam War veterans, to those who are missing in action, were prisoners of war or who died during the war. Approximately 100,000 riders participate each year. During the weekend, the roar of the motorcycles echoes through the city and its surrounding suburbs.

Johnston was rector of All Saints' Episcopal Church, Tupelo, in the Diocese of Mississippi, when he was elected January 26 out of a field of five nominees on the third ballot during the diocese's 212th Annual Council meeting in Richmond, Virginia.

The consecration service, attended by 2,043 people, was filled with special music, including a violin solo performed by well-known violinist Eugene Fodor during the prelude, several pieces performed by James Martin, baritone, and David O'Steen, pianist, from St. Philip's Episcopal Church in Jackson, Mississippi.

A special hymn, "Rise, O Church" set to a new tune, "Shannon," was composed for the consecration by William Bradley Roberts. Roberts, the director of music ministry at St. John's Episcopal Church Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C., has composed the music for a prayer written by Johnston for use in his parish. Choirs from 21 churches, including the new bishop's former parish, participated.

A webcast of the service is available here. The order of service is available here.

In his sermon, Atlanta Bishop J. Neil Alexander urged Johnston to "wear us out! Wear us out with the promise of the resurrection!"

The consecration, Alexander said, was "an act of faith, a sign of hope, a living reminder of the mission that Jesus Christ has given to the Church. It is an act of faith in God's confidence in the Church, God's faith in us to live boldly, perhaps even daringly."

This day, he said, was a "bold reminder to ourselves and the world that the mission of Jesus continues. We are not prepared to give up, to let up, to hold back or to relax."

Lee said afterward that he was "very hopeful for the diocese and excited by the support" that both he and Johnston have received. For him, he said, "the end has begun. [Bishop Johnston] is the kind of guy who is not looking over my shoulder, telling me to get out of the way … he's asking, ‘What can I learn to be a good bishop?'"

Jefferts Schori, who served as the chief consecrator, was joined by Lee; Alexander; Virginia Bishop Suffragan David Colin Jones; Michigan Bishop Wendell Gibbs; Mississippi Bishop Duncan M. Gray III; and West Virginia Bishop Michie Klusmeyer. Twenty-five other bishops also participated in the consecration.

"It was a delight to see 30 bishops of the Church gather to celebrate, and an utter delight to hear Fodor perform" Bach's "Ciaconna," Jefferts Schori said.

"I am incredibly uplifted," Johnston said during the reception that followed, adding that he felt "held by an embrace of affection by the people of the diocese and the bishops."

"I am so confident of who we are now and what we are going to be and do together," he said.

Johnston made his first episcopal visit to the Church of the Holy Comforter in Vienna on May 27. "It does not get better than that, visiting that church on the Feast of Pentecost," he said.

His initial duties this summer, Johnston said, will be to "get to know the congregations, the leadership and the clergy of the diocese. I want to go out into the diocese and find out what it is like on the front lines, to meet with vestries and to really get to know the clergy and their families."

Johnston had been the rector in Tupelo since 1994. Then-Alabama Bishop Robert Oran Miller ordained him to the diaconate and the priesthood in 1988 after he graduated first in his class at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. He served first as curate of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Selma, Alabama, from 1988 until 1990 when he was called to be rector of Church of the Advent in Sumner, Mississippi. He has been involved in a number of diocesan leadership positions during his time in Mississippi.

The Diocese of Virginia comprises about 90,000 Episcopalians worshipping in 195 congregations.