A concerted effort to isolate the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada further from the Anglican Communion was rejected by members of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC) during its 10-day triennial meeting in Nottingham, England, which concluded June 28.
By a vote of 30 to 28, with four abstentions, council members endorsed the primates’ request that the six representatives from North America withdraw as full members of the council until 2008 -- and expanded that to include its standing committee and finance and administration committee.
But it was a significantly weaker measure than the original one proposed by 12 individuals, led by church leaders from South East Asia and Nigeria, to force the U.S. and Canadian churches to withdraw from “all other official entities of the Anglican Communion.”
In a two-hour session, closed to all but members, the council struck down this clause that, according to many participants, would have effectively ended all North American involvement in communion commissions and networks that deal with issues such as theological education, interfaith relations, youth and family matters, the environment, peace and justice, indigenous peoples and telecommunications.
Significant staff time and financial resources from the two churches’ national program budgets, as well as from entities such as Trinity Church, Wall Street, in New York, undergird the work of most of the various committees and commissions, and , and gifts by individuals to the Compass Rose Society, and gifts by individuals to the Compass Rose Society helps build an endowment fund for the communion’s work.
Ultimately, the decision of the ACC, composed of bishops, clergy and laity, and the Anglican Communion’s only constitutional body, will have no effect on these current relationships.
Revealing a division
“The vote, which was contingent on the absence of the six votes of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, reveals a divide within the membership of the ACC,” said Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold.
“The work and mission of the Anglican Communion is carried out largely through international commissions and networks in which the Episcopal Church continues as a fully active and committed participant. It is through these means and our numerous other relationships focused on mission to our hurting world that we will, with God’s grace, find our way forward.”
The Rev. Robert Sessum of Lexington, Ky., who has served on the finance and administration committee, said the decision “makes no difference.” Sessum, who has concluded his six-year term, and the other Episcopal representatives to the council -- Suffragan Bishop Catherine Roskam of New York and Josephine Hicks of Charlotte, N.C. -- attended the meeting as visitors, so none was eligible for election to any committee.
During the debate, some members of the 73-member council mingled outside with observers, consultants, media representatives and visitors, including the Episcopal and Canadian members. Because of intense lobbying by conservative church leaders, a request for a vote by secret ballot, unusual for the ACC, was approved.
A second resolution, adopted in the same closed session, affirmed unanimously the “listening process” that the Lambeth Conference of the communion’s bishops requested in 1998 to monitor and record the work of member churches concerning sexuality and their ministries to people in committed, same-gender relationships.
To start this process, the ACC asked the U.S. and Canadian churches to explain their actions that led the primates to ask them voluntarily to withdraw from this year’s ACC meeting. The communion’s Windsor Report also asked Episcopal leaders to explain General Convention’s decision in 2003 to confirm Gene Robinson, an openly gay man living in a committed same-sex relationship, as the bishop in New Hampshire.
Explaining U.S., Canadian contexts
Six Episcopalians -- three bishops, two priests and one lay person – addressed the council in pairs.
While diverse views on sexuality exist, common mission continues, Griswold said in his introduction. And while the Episcopal Church has not reached a common mind, he said, all Episcopalians want to be faithful to Scripture.
Roskam discussed the American church’s history and growth.
“We are sometimes a contentious lot, but we find that when, in fidelity to Jesus, we put his mission first, our differences can by the Holy Spirit’s power often translate into a fruitful evangelical appeal to many sorts and conditions of people,” she said. “This helps us recognize how our recent decisions make sense, in terms of being taught by the Lord to welcome those whom we would rather exclude and to trust all the more in God’s reconciling power to grant us unity-in-difference.
“None of this has been easy,” she added.
The Rev. Michael Battle described the theological basis upon which, he said, General Convention gave its approval to consecrate Robinson. He said the Episcopal Church has struggled with sexuality questions, much as the early church struggled with gentiles in its midst.
The Bible is interpreted in different ways throughout the Anglican Communion, Battle said. “We need to trust the Holy Spirit in our midst. We have learned that Scripture is not a threat to destroy others … we have learned to read Scripture in a way that makes sense of its whole.”
The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity, an organization for gay and lesbian Episcopalians, and Jane Tully, the mother of a young gay man and a founder of an organization for clergy parents with gay and lesbian children, talked from personal experiences.
“I carry countless numbers of [gay and lesbian] stories with me, and it is my hope that this meeting will be the beginning of a genuine listening process,” Russell said.
Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana, who opposed the confirmation of Robinson because Robinson is living in a relationship, and Bishop Neil Alexander of Atlanta, who supported Robinson’s confirmation, talked about how they remained loyal to the church despite their differences.
Most Episcopalians want to remain part of the Anglican Communion, Jenkins said. “As Christians, we highly value family, and I pray that we may continue with integrity and will remain within the communion. I do not choose to walk separately from you, and I hope you do not choose to walk separately from me.’
Alexander said his collegiality with Jenkins is not unique in the House of Bishops. “It is a commitment that is deep and broad and high, and a commitment that is shared by our clergy and laity.
“I do not know anyone in our church who does not value the relationship with our brothers and sisters around the communion.”
Both the U.S. and Canadian churches have been accused of ignoring and undermining that relationship by their ministry to gays. In some dioceses, that has included blessing same-gender unions. Primates from countries in which Christians are in a minority have said these acts have brought them disgrace.
A presentation by four Canadians closely followed the U.S. one in context.
“We’re here listening,” said Suffragan Bishop Susan Moxley of Nova Scotia. “We’re learning and, outside the meeting floor, we’re talking to people individually to hear what you have to say to us.”
Dean Peter Elliott of Vancouver in the Diocese of New Westminster, which has authorized a liturgy for same-gender blessings, told the council, “I am a man who is gay, and I am not the first gay man to be present at a meeting of the ACC, and I won’t be the last. “The difference is that because of the courage of our church, I can be honest with you about who I am.”
Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate, concluded the presentation, saying the Canadian church remained committed to the family of the Anglican Communion. “I hope what does come shining through is a profound Canadian commitment to the communion and to its instruments and to its partnerships around the globe.”
Reactions to the churches’ presentations were immediate. In a statement that the ACC secretariat circulated, Archbishop Peter Akinola from Nigeria charged that neither church had repented of its actions and requested another closed session to talk about how the council should proceed. He left the council meeting soon after.
Stanley Isaacs, the sole representative from South East Asia, read a statement by his primate and bishops. In a region dominated by Muslims and Buddhists, Christianity, perceived as a religion of Westerners, is now subject to ridicule and embarrassment, it said.
“Christian churches of other denominations feel it is unfair that they have been also tarred with the same brush as that of the Anglican Church … The evangelization and mission of all the churches in our region suffer,” that statement said.
“The Anglican Communion is on trial. The survival of the communion from this trial depends on the will and courage of the rest of the communion to deal with the recalcitrance of ECUSA and Canada, correctly and firmly in the quickness of time.”
In the days following, the council continued to hear reports from provincial representatives from Brazil, Australia, Wales, Southern Africa, Ireland, Kenya, Tanzania, the Southern Cone (South America) and the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, a province so widespread that one diocese encompasses four nation states. Each described its position on gay ordination and the blessing of same-gender relationships and its church’s pastoral response, if any, to committed homosexual relationships.
Many continued to criticize the United States and Canada.
“Large legislative assemblies are not the best place to deal with such issues,” said Dean Michael Burrows of the Church of Ireland. “It is not always the most safe place.”
Step toward healing
In his statement after the vote, Griswold said he hoped that the listening process now mandated by the ACC would be one step in healing the divide between churches. “I also hope that our report, To Set Our Hope on Christ, will be a useful contribution to that process,” Griswold added.
The 130-page book is the Episcopal Church’s response to the Anglican Communion’s Windsor Report, which asked the Episcopal Church to explain, “from within the sources of authority that we have received in Scripture, the apostolic tradition and reasoned reflection, how a person living in a same-gender union may be considered eligible to lead the flock of Christ.”
Different sections reflect on issues including the interpretation of Scripture, developing an understanding of same-gender relationships, the eligibility for ordination and the church’s historical witness to unity-in-difference.
The authors admit the report is fragmentary and incomplete, but in it they urge member churches to nurture deeper listening and communication and to develop a listening process in which dioceses and congregations throughout the communion could learn about the impact and contributions of clergy in same-gender relationships. It also urges communion-wide biblical and theological study.
To read more about the council’s debates and decision, or to watch videos of the presenters, go to www.episcopalchurch.org/ens and click on the Anglican Consultative Council logo.
To read and download To Set Our Hope on Christ, go to http://www.anglicanslistening.org/. Copies are available for sale from the Episcopal Church Office of Communication for $5 per copy, or $3 for 100 or more copies.