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Bishops approve procedure for Robinson consent

By David Skidmore
[Episcopal News Service] 

In their first session of convention, the House of Bishops today welcomed new and visiting bishops, and approved procedures for considering the consent to 10 potential new bishops, including the Rev. Gene Robinson, bishop-elect of New Hampshire.

Toward the end of the opening session, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold asked that bishops approve procedures for the consent vote by written ballot for all 10 bishops-elect whose elections occurred within the 120-day window mandating confirmation by the General Convention. Following recommendations from his Council of Advice, Griswold also asked for adoption of a special order of business on the consent to Canon Gene Robinson’s election. After a short discussion on procedures for discussion and voting, the bishops unanimously endorsed the proposal.

Acknowledging the controversy and public interest surrounding Robinson’s election, Griswold said he was recommending that discussion be limited to a half-hour of table conversation and an hour of conversation as a committee of the whole, after which the ballots will be distributed to each table. Only bishops with jurisdiction, meaning in nearly all cases bishops with oversight of a diocese (an exception is the presiding bishop who has jurisdiction of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe) will be allowed to vote. Bishops will be allowed up to an hour to complete their ballots.

The presiding bishop emphasized that the consent process is independent of the house’s regular business and thus is not open to resolutions and amendments. “There can be discussion, but the decision is [made by] bishops of jurisdiction marking their ballot,” said Griswold.

Although only bishops with jurisdiction may vote, the discussion will be open to all members of the house, he said.

Moving into executive session—an option raised by Bishop William Winterowd of Colorado—does not seem appropriate given the intense interest surrounding Robinson’s election, said Griswold, noting that the house has time for private table conversations each session. Given the heightened interest, “there will be a great deal of frustration, to say the least, if the public were excluded from hearing the conversation,” said the presiding bishop.

After each consent vote is taken, including that for Robinson, the vote count will be announced by the house’s secretary. Later a record of each bishop’s vote will be made available, said Griswold.

Responding to a question from Bishop John Howe of Central Florida, the presiding bishop said only one bishop had sent in an absentee ballot and it is now under seal in the office of the secretariat. All bishops with jurisdiction were advised a week before convention of the option for submitting absentee ballots if they were not able to be present for convention and were given a deadline of July 28 to submit their ballots.

The short session—which the presiding bishop brought to order by striking a Zen chime, explaining “I thought its sound more charming than the rap of a gavel"—was taken up entirely with routine matters of ordering their business, welcoming new and visiting bishops and honoring bishops who have died since the house’s last session. One newly elected bishop of the Episcopal Church was officially welcomed: Alan Scarfe of Iowa. Scarfe was elected last November and ordained and consecrated bishop of Iowa April 5.

More than two dozen Anglican bishops, a number of whom head dioceses that were formerly in the Episcopal Church, were welcomed as visitors, including six primates: George Clive Handford of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East; Njongonkulu Ndungane of the Province of Southern Africa; Livingstone Mpalanyi-Nkoyoyo of the Province of Uganda; Glauco Soares de Lima of the Church of Brazil; Martiniano Garcia-Montiel of the Anglican Church of Mexico; and Ignacio Capuyan Soliba of the Anglican Church in the Philippines.

The presiding bishop closed the session asking prayers for Bishop Leo Alard, suffragan bishop of Texas, who has been placed in intensive care suffering from liver disease. His physicians have determined his condition precludes a liver transplant, said the presiding bishop. Alard, who suffered a heart attack earlier this year, has announced his resignation due to his health.