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COVID Creates Budget Uncertainty in Virginia

By Kirk Petersen

Add one more item to the list of problems created by the pandemic: difficulty passing a budget.

On Feb. 5, Bishop Susan Goff of the Diocese of Virginia called for a special convention in April for the sole purpose of passing a budget for the current year. The unusual move comes after the regular annual diocesan convention in November was unable to enact a budget.

Bishop Susan Goff

Director of Communications Nancy Chafin told TLC that the draft budget in November was based on anticipation of cuts in giving by parishes, and “reflected cuts in virtually every area,” with the exception of racial justice work. “After an extended discussion of the proposed budget where delegates advocated for increased funding in multiple areas, the Convention was unable to reach consensus,” she said.

So the matter was referred back to the Executive Board, consisting of the bishop and 16 lay or clerical members selected for the 16 regions of the diocese, which roughly encompasses the northeastern third of the state. The board approved a schedule of payments to be made during the first quarter of 2021, while the board met twice to decide how to proceed.

After discussion and prayer, “I have determined that a Special Convention will provide an opportunity for the greatest clarity, transparency and engagement with the budget process for the entire Diocese,” the bishop announced.

Goff signs her messages as “Bishop Suffragan and Ecclesiastical Authority,” which also is unusual. She has held that role since the November 2018 retirement of Shannon Johnston, the XIII Bishop of Virginia. Typically when a bishop retires without a successor having been named, a retired bishop with experience leading a diocese is hired to serve as a bishop provisional for a period of time. But the diocese could not identify a suitable candidate who met all the criteria and was willing to move to Virginia.

So Bishop Goff, who has served as bishop suffragan since 2012, was given the additional role of ecclesiastical authority. Large dioceses often elect a bishop suffragan to serve, without right of succession, under the bishop diocesan. The Diocese of Virginia has 167 congregations and is the second-largest diocese in the Episcopal Church, based on pre-pandemic average Sunday attendance, behind only the Diocese of Texas.

While the November convention was unable to pass a budget, it did approve the formation of a search committee to find the XIV Bishop of the Diocese of Virginia, which was founded in 1785 as one of the original dioceses of the nascent Episcopal Church.

The mandatory retirement age for a priest or bishop is 72, and Goff, 67, has made it clear she is not a candidate for diocesan bishop. “We anticipate an election and consecration some time in 2022,” she told the convention. “It will be an honor to work with the next Bishop Diocesan for a time before I retire.”


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