- The Washington Times - Friday, January 26, 2007

RICHMOND — The legislative body of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia yesterday elected a priest from Mississippi to succeed Virginia Bishop Peter James Lee.

The diocese’s annual council elected the Very Rev. Shannon Sherwood Johnston, rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Tupelo, Miss., as bishop coadjutor during the third round of balloting over four other candidates.

“We have an election,” Bishop Lee told several hundred Episcopalians at the Richmond Marriott at about 3 p.m. yesterday. “I have spoken to Rev. Johnston, and he has accepted the election.”

Under Episcopal canon, the diocesan bishop must resign within three years of the election of a bishop coadjutor.

The election of bishop coadjutor is conducted by orders — clergy and lay persons — with votes counted separately. A candidate must receive a majority of votes in each order on the same ballot in order to win.

Mr. Johnston, 48, emerged as a clear favorite from the beginning, receiving the most votes of the five candidates in the first two ballots.

Out of 255 clergy votes cast in the third round of balloting, Mr. Johnston received 159 votes — more than twice the amount of the next-closest candidate. He received 210 lay votes out of 269 cast.

In a written response to the requisite “questions for candidates,” Mr. Johnston named evangelism, mission and Christian education as the most important issues facing the Episcopal Church in the coming years.

He also cited the strengthening of the Anglican Communion as an important goal.

“In our climate today, some forms of separation will occur, but as a bishop I would seek to bridge our differences,” he wrote in the response.

Mr. Johnston also wrote that it is possible for the church to remain united, despite strong differences of opinion over biblical authority and sexuality, which have prompted 15 congregations to leave the Virginia diocese since December.

“One of Anglicanism’s most famous and endearing qualities is our ability to ‘agree to disagree’ on issues, biblical and otherwise,” he wrote. “Our commitment is to each other in Christ Jesus, not to each other’s opinions in like-minded groups. … I am deeply sympathetic to the painful dilemmas at hand, but I balk at the notion that this must be a choice between the unity of the Church and the inclusiveness of the Gospel.”

Mr. Johnston will be consecrated at the Washington National Cathedral May 26.

Mr. Johnston, an Alabama native, received undergraduate degrees in philosophy and music from the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. He graduated at the top of his class from Seabury-Western Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill., in 1988.

The theme of the diocese’s 212th annual council is “One Church, One Mission.”

“The church in Virginia now and in the past has known divisions and stresses,” Bishop Lee said in his opening pastoral address. “It is clear to me that the great majority of our churches, our clergy and our people share two emphases: The mission of reconciliation at the heart of our Christian faith and the unity we have with one another and the Anglican Communion across the world.”

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