On Friday, January 17, the Episcopal Diocese of Southern Virginia announced it was moving the February 1 consecration of Susan Bunton Haynes as eleventh bishop of the diocese from St. Bede Roman Catholic Church to Williamsburg Community Chapel. The diocese had arranged to use the 1,200 seat church for the consecration prior to the election of Haynes. St. Bede’s current building was opened in 2006 and is a stunning, monumental church-in-the-round with a large pipe organ.
A change.org petition protesting the the consecration of a female Anglican bishop in a Roman Catholic church had received over 2,000 signatures by January 15. On that day the local Roman Catholic bishop, the Most Reverend Barry C. Knestout, bishop of Richmond defended the use of the church for the consecration explaining that it was “well within the teachings of ecumenism and the norms provided by the Church for ecumenical activities” It was further more an act of “hospitality to a Christian neighbor in need.” The pastor of St. Bede’s went even further noting
a good number of the newer parishes in our Diocese, especially in the central and western part of our Commonwealth, began celebrating Masses and Sacramental Rites like Baptisms and Matrimony in either Episcopal, Lutheran, or United Methodist Churches. I was once pastor of two of them. lt’s what brothers and sisters in the Lord, who are bound by one Baptism into Christ and the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, and who are loved and saved by the one undivided Christ, do.The Reverend Monseigneur Joseph P. Lehman to the people of St. Bede and beyond, January 14, 2020 https://www.bedeva.org/media/1/Letter%20-%20Episcopal%20Ordination.pdf
Yet to remove the cloud that had arising over her consecration, citing Paul’s instruction in I Corinthians chapter 8 to be careful about pursuing behavior that might cause problems for others within the community, Haynes directed the diocese to move the service. Bishop Kenstout received this news “with great sadness.” Indeed more than for St. Bede or the Episcopalians, this is a loss for bishops in the Roman Catholic Church and for Catholic ecumenists. One step forward might be for Bishop Kenstout to invite the newly consecrated Bishop Haynes to preach in his cathedral in the near future.
All this hits close to home for me coming as it does at the beginning of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (Jan. 18-25). When I was a child, the Sunday in this week was always marked by a pulpit exchange among five Catholic and Protestant churches in downtown Newport News, Virginia. Also the first completely joint Catholic and Protestant worship service I can recall participating in was the annual Way of the Cross procession on Good Friday in Williamsburg. The procession was part of a a covenant between the Catholic and Episcopal student groups at the College of William and Mary. It wandered through Colonial Williamsburg and the college campus over a mile-long route from Bruton Parish Church to what was then St. Bede’s Church on Richmond Road. (It is still the Catholic campus ministry center). At the procession’s end, priests from each church administered communion from the reserved sacrament consecrated on Maundy Thursday in their respective churches.
Bishop-elect Haynes would, of course, not have been the first bishop to be consecrated in Roman Catholic church. For example, David Johnson was consecrated to be Bishop of Massachuestts in Boston’s Cathedral of the Holy Cross in 1985. But of course, when Barbara Harris was made the first female bishop in the Anglican Communion in Boston four years later, her consecration was held in a sports arena.
In Boston, Episcopalians didn’t have their consecrations in their cathedral because it was rather small. In Southern Virginia, in keeping with the historic low-church tradition of Virginia Anglicanism, there is no cathedral, nor is there a large Episcopal Church in a central location. The previous bishop’s consecration was held in William & Mary’s basketball arena.
Williamsburg Community Chapel where Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will preside at Haynes’s consecration in two weeks, describes itself as an “interdenominational” church. Its worship room seats 1,500 and has a central aisle. It is handsome but non-descript contemporary worship space. While Ironically, it met in the Roman Catholic Walsingham Academy for many years prior to opening the first unit of its current home in 1989.