The Vestry voted at its Sept. 18 meeting to change its name from R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal to Grace Episcopal Church, a compromise recommended after a 9-month study by parish’s Discovery & Discernment Committee. The compromise restores the historic name and finds appropriate ways to honor our parish history, including Lee’s personal role in it. Bishop Mark Bourlakas subsequently sent this pastoral letter to the congregation.
The 16th Sunday after the Day of Pentecost
Dear members and friends of Grace Episcopal Church:
As your bishop, I am proud of and encouraged by the recent return to the historic name of this parish church. Your return will allow for the parish to renew its collective focus on the forward mission of the Gospel that we share in Christ Jesus. Nothing can distract us from this commission.
I am currently in Alaska at the House of Bishops’ Meeting of our Church. Bishops from all over our country have expressed to me their admiration for the name change and offered ongoing prayers for the healing of your community in the coming months. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, shared with me his gratitude for your courage and is holding your community and our diocese in his prayers.
I realize that this return to the historic name of Grace is not the path every member embraced. It will take patience, forgiveness and most of all love to heal the various divisions that have taken place over the last couple of years. At this moment, this work might seem insurmountable. However, as those baptized in Christ, we know that our discipleship always calls us into the deeper places where others, because of hardness of heart, refuse to go. Jesus calls on us to pattern our lives on his example of reaching over division and prejudice to embrace neighbors who are different and challenging to us. If we can not model this love of neighbor within the community of faith , then we have very little hope of offering God’s grace to those beyond our parish borders.
I now pray that what unites us to each other as baptized members of the One who loves, forgives and redeems each one of us is far greater that the temporal concerns that divide us. I want you all to know that I will be with you in the months of challenging reconciliation that are now before us.
Let us each begin by laying aside our personal sense of righteousness and grievance. These negative feelings hurt ourselves and infect the body. I have heard those of you on either side of this recent struggle express your love for this parish. If you truly love this parish, then I ask that you show forth that love by praying for the Holy Spirit to give you the strength, grace and peace which surpasses all of our limited understandings.
Yours in Christ,
The Right Rev. Mark A. Bourlakas, Bishop
The Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia