The Rt. Rev. Shannon Sherwood Johnston became the XIII Bishop of Virginia on October 1, 2009 after having been bishop coadjutor for two and one-half years. Consecrated bishop at the Washington National Cathedral on May 26, 2007, Bishop Johnston (he likes to be called “Bishop Shannon”) came to the Diocese of Virginia from Tupelo, Miss., where he had been rector of All Saints’ Episcopal Church for 13 years. One of five nominees for the election of a bishop coadjutor on January 26, 2007, he was elected on the third ballot. His investiture and recognition took place on January 29, 2010 at St. Paul’s, Richmond during the 215th Annual Council of the Diocese of Virginia. Bishop Johnston now leads one of the largest dioceses of the Episcopal Church, with oversight of more than 450 clergy and some 80,000 parishioners in 181 congregations. Special responsibilities include leadership of the diocesan centers at Roslyn and Shrine Mont. While uncomfortable with the current “labels” in today’s Episcopal Church, Bishop Johnston is a vocal centrist, although he freely admits to being “on the Left” for the personal and societal questions besetting the Church, while standing “on the Right” for Anglicanism’s ecclesial life and present concerns. Holding such positions simultaneously is testament to his commitment to a preeminent theology of community in the Church’s life—a community in which our commitment is to one another in the Lord Jesus Christ rather than to like-mindedness in our own associations, even as disagreements over the nature and interpretation of Scripture continue.
Bishop Johnston was born in Florence, Ala., on October 20, 1958. After attending public schools in Florence, he entered the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa honorary societies and graduated Magna cum Laude in 1981 with degrees in both philosophy and music.
His first employment was in programming for young adults and youth, first at the University of North Alabama and then with the Boys’ Club of Glynn (now the Boys’ and Girls’ Club) in Brunswick, Ga. In 1985 Bishop Johnston entered Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanston, Ill. His studies during this period included two terms of study at Westcott House Theological College at Cambridge University in England where he engaged in independent research as well as the regular course curriculum. He returned to Seabury-Western in 1988 to receive the M.Div. degree, graduating first in his class. Bishop Johnston was then ordained to the diaconate on June 11, 1988 and moved to Selma, Ala. where he became curate of St. Paul’s Church. He was ordained to the priesthood on December 14 of the same year.
In 1990, Bishop Johnston accepted the call to become rector of Church of the Advent in Sumner, Miss. (in the Mississippi Delta region). Within a year, he led the establishment of the Kairos prison ministry at the nearby Parchman State Penitentiary. He was intensely committed to this work for the next four years, until his move to All Saints’, Tupelo in 1994. There, he led dramatic congregational healing and growth as he also became noted for his leadership in the Diocese of Mississippi.
Over the years All Saints’ became a leading presence in outreach ministries, most notably in an HIV/AIDS ministry and education program that won a national award. Bishop Johnston’s diocesan ministries over the years included two terms on the Standing Committee (president), a term on the Diocesan Executive Committee (vice-president) and nine years as a diocesan dean. He also served in a variety of leadership roles in the Diocese of Mississippi.
Always maintaining a passion for liturgy and music, he has served on the faculties of two LPM national conferences. Bishop Johnston has also been featured in several roles for the annual Mississippi Conference on Church Music and Liturgy, a national conference directed since 1994 by Ellen Johnston who is a professional church musician and clinician. The Johnstons met at this conference in 1992 and were married on May 20, 1995.
In addition to his work in liturgy, Bishop Johnston promotes dialogue from classic and academic theology as a foundation for the Church’s present doctrinal and theological debates. Accordingly, he happily serves the Episcopal Church nationally on the Committee for Theological Education.
Bishop Johnston enjoys several hobbies, especially traveling with Ellen as time allows. They also support various animal welfare projects while spoiling their own house pets absolutely rotten. Bishop Johnston is an avid collector of recordings of classical music, stemming from his own days as a performing musician. An extensive personal library covering many interests can only thinly disguise the fact that Bishop Johnston maintains his life-long obsessions with the Green Bay Packers and the Alabama Crimson Tide football teams.
Even so, both Seabury-Western and the Virginia Theological Seminary have bestowed honorary doctorates on Bishop Johnston.