The man chosen to lead Virginia Episcopalians will look to the heavens as he shepherds the centuries-old diocese threatened by divisions over homosexuality - and to the 1960s Alabama of his youth. Then a small boy living in the Jim Crow stronghold, the Very Rev. Shannon Johnston paid close attention to sit-ins and freedom rides unfolding around him, as well as resistance by bristling segregationists. "I saw how those who stayed in the middle, and tried to keep people together and talk and understand ... set a strong example of how to build up community," said Johnston, 48, who spoke to The Associated Press from the diocese's Richmond headquarters. "That was a witness I think I've never forgotten."
The former Mississippi rector will rely on those lessons of cooperation as he steps Saturday into a new role as bishop coadjutor of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia - the nation's largest Episcopal gathering, and a flash point in a conflict over gay rights that's shaken the faith worldwide. Back in Tupelo, Miss., Johnston used his centrist theories to smooth congregation quibbles. In Virginia, where the church is split between those who support gay-friendly policies and others who feel the church has flouted biblical texts, Johnston hopes to again sweep people from both sides into the peaceful middle.
"Being in the center means finding a place and the ways in which people who are on either side of an issue can come together," Johnston told The AP. "Virginia has been known for decades, if not centuries, for being just such a place."
Sunday, May 27, 2007
Shannon Johnston, Centrist
From Shannon Johnston's hometown paper: