Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Bishops Meet in New Orleans

Not everything interesting is happening in Rochester....

[Episcopal News Service, New Orleans]

After nearly a full day of deliberations, the House of Bishops on September 25 agreed overwhelmingly by voice vote to reiterate the 2006 General Convention Resolution B033 that said they would "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

They also pledged not to authorize public rites for same-gender blessings "until a broader consensus emerges in the Communion, or until General Convention takes further action," according to the response.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori told reporters at a news conference following the conclusion of the meeting that bishops found "common ground to stand on … high ground. Not everyone is 100 percent happy with every word in this document, but we believe we have found a place that all of us can stand together -- at the foot of the cross."

The final statement adopted by the House of Bishops is being sent immediately via email to the JSC and the Archbishop of Canterbury, who is traveling in Armenia and Syria, a spokesperson for the Anglican Communion said.

Intended to clarify General Convention Resolution B033, the document offered the strongest language thus far about interventions from overseas bishops in local dioceses. "We deplore incursions into our jurisdictions by uninvited bishops and call for them to end," the document said. It also called for "unequivocal and active commitment to the civil rights, safety, and dignity of gay and lesbian persons."

Its overwhelming passage indicated strong support for the leadership of Jefferts Schori, who received a standing ovation and sustained applause at the news she is approaching her one-year anniversary as presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church. Bishops supported her plans for: episcopal visitors; communion-wide consultations; increased listening across the Anglican Communion and assisting in ways to invite the Bishop of New Hampshire to the Lambeth Conference in 2008.

Jefferts Schori praised the "remarkable work" of the bishops. "We have reaffirmed our firm desire to remain as full members of the Anglican Communion."
She emphasized that the meetings were carried out within a context of mission, outreach and transformation, noting that nearly $1 million was raised for Gulf Coast hurricane relief efforts and that bishops and their spouses painted, installed sheet rock, helped rebuild damaged homes and made other community connections. That spirit of connectedness and service infused the deliberations, she said.

Bishop Robert Fitzpatrick of Hawai'i, agreed. "It was non-adversarial and it was holy," he said of the efforts of the bishops to craft a statement that all could accept with integrity.

The conversations "were not a battle between right and left, but a discussion across a spectrum" with the main question being "what will the Episcopal Church be and how will we fit into the family of the Anglican Communion."

"It's not that you make a compromise; you live into your reality," he said. The resulting document represents the current reality of the House of Bishops "right down to the parsing of every word" and is an "honest portrayal of where we are without overstating any position," he said.

Former South Carolina Bishop Ed Salmon said that even though the process used to reach the final document did not acknowledge the "unconscious oppression of those who don't agree," the effort "represented significant progress in terms of the House of Bishops working together."

However, he said that the document did not directly address the Primates' Communiqué.

"I believe we have a problem in the Anglican Communion because we have a problem in the Episcopal Church," Salmon said, explaining that the problem is "symptomatically" about human sexuality, but "more deeply" about theological differences.

Still, Salmon said, he would do everything he could to make the statement work.

Bishop Caroline Tanner Irish of the Diocese of Utah, a diocese in which same-gender blessings have been offered as a pastoral response, said she would have to "unpack" the statement for the members of her diocese.

"I think putting [same-gender blessings] in the context of 'pastoral care' is the critical word," she said. She praised the House of Bishops for what she called the hard work and compromise offered by all the members.

"It was hard," she said. "We were doing very hard work. It required discipline and courtesy to each other."

Diocese of Texas Bishop Don Wimberly said that the bishops were "really sobered" by hearing from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the members of the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council earlier in the meeting. It is one thing to "read reports" about what the rest of the Anglican Communion thinks about the actions of the Episcopal Church, he said, but it's another thing to sit face-to-face with people expressing those concerns.

"I'm going to support this," he said of the resolution, adding that the Episcopal Church would have to wait and see how the rest of the Anglican Communion will respond.

'Good and glorious work'
In other business, the bishops: updated reports of Designated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight or DEPO within their own dioceses; received information about an awareness campaign coinciding with Theological Education Sunday to, in accordance with General Convention Resolution B006, help avert the crisis in seminarian debt and counter its impact on attracting potential clergy.

Bishops also addressed anti-racism and antiwar issues, and urged the U.S. Congress to extend more assistance to the Gulf Coast for hurricane rebuilding efforts and also recognized the National Episcopal Health Ministries Network for organizing gifts of prayer shawls for bishops and spouses.

Jefferts Schori reported that she has visited 26 dioceses "in more than a perfunctory way and four others for just one event" within the past year. "Consecrations are not the only reason I come" for visitations, she told the gathering, adding that she likes to spend several days during visitations, face to face with clergy and laity, as well as "be present in some kind of public forum, not specifically church-related. You have the opportunity to say what would be most helpful, the possibilities are as broad as your imagination."

She told bishops "what's been most surprising to me about this ministry is the media interest," but added that it is a remarkable opportunity for evangelism and to talk about "the vitality and effectiveness and mission work in the Episcopal Church."

There is "good and glorious work that is going on in many, many, many places in this church. The conflict you read about in the headlines is not reality in 95 percent of this church."

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