Convener of Integrity's New Chapter
Virginia Beach, Virginia
On March 19 & 20, Eastern Shore Chapel Episcopal Church in Virginia Beach welcomed Bishop John Shelby Spong for a two-day lecture series entitled Discovering A New Christianity For A New World. The church, which seats 400, was filled to capacity. People had come from all across the state, some from out of state. Many were Eastern Shore Chapel parishioners, many were from other churches, other denominations. This was a watershed event in the life of this 320-year old parish.
After many, many years of being quietly inclusive, Eastern Shore Chapel is making some noise. In 2009, the clergy and staff began preparations to launch a new lecture series in 2010. The invitation to Bishop Spong to be our inaugural speaker was very intentional. We knew that this would send an important message – loud and clear – to our community about who we were and where we stood. But we didn’t stop there.
At its meeting on March 16, 2010, the Vestry voted unanimously to become a Believe Out Loud Episcopal Congregation. The words of long-time parishioner and former Senior Warden Lee Davis were typical of the parish’s reaction to this decision: “Our national church and many, many congregations have been through heartbreaking, gut wrenching gyrations trying to work out our future direction now that the issue of inclusion of homosexuals in our church is ‘out of the closet.’ It has been sad to watch and to be part of. I believe we must resolve the issue and move on – hopefully forward – in our walk of faith. I thank you for having the courage to stand up and vote to make Eastern Shore Chapel a Believe Out Loud Episcopal Congregation…I am proud to be a member of Eastern Shore Chapel!”
Just a few days later, we applied for Chapter-in-Formation status for Integrity Virginia Beach Chapter. Within hours the Integrity Virginia Beach Facebook page had over 20 fans. “This is great!” posted a former Vestry member and one of our first chapter members.
While Bishop Spong was received with warmth and excitement at his recent visit to Eastern Shore Chapel, make no mistake, we weren’t certain of that reception as we were planning the event. Parishes within our diocese have been literally torn apart after the 2003 General Convention as they wrestled with the issue of inclusion. And don’t forget that Virginia Beach is home to Pat Robertson and his Regent University. Support for Integrity Virginia Beach is strong within our host parish, Eastern Shore Chapel, and the response thus far from other churches in the diocese has been positive. Our first meeting will be on April 19. With only one other Integrity chapter in the state, there is much to do. We are excited and energized and anxious to follow where the Spirit will lead us as we answer the call to work toward openness and understanding for all people.
STAY TUNED: Walking With Intergity hopes to spotlight several new Chapters in the coming months.