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Bishops reject direct ordination idea

By Richelle Thompson
8/1/2003
[Episcopal News Service] 

The issue of direct ordination to the priesthood died Friday on the floor of the House of Bishops.

The Ministry Committee presented the house with resolution C019 to gauge support of direct ordination. The resolution would have amended the canons to allow candidates for holy orders to be ordained directly to the priesthood, bypassing the diaconate.

“Direct ordination seems to have become the lightning rod,” in relation to Title III revisions, said Bishop John Croneberger of Newark and chair of the committee. “Our concern is that if we bring you the whole package … everything might fail because of the direct ordination issue.”

Since the resolution failed, the committee will present Title III revisions without broaching direct ordination. If it had passed, Croneberger said the committee would have included in its proposal direct ordination to the priesthood – and essentially eliminated ordination as a transitional deacon.

The debate highlighted differences in how bishops view ordination, baptism and servanthood.

“For so many in our church today, the foundation of all ministry is baptism,” said Bishop James Kelsey of Northern Michigan. “We’re indelibly marked and gifted to share” in the ministry of all orders. The path to priesthood now includes ordination as a transitional deacon typically six months before ordination as a priest.

“I’m convinced that we confuse these orders when we use one as an internship for another,” Kelsey said. “Sequential ordination assumes that baptism does not contain the fullness of our ministry … I believe that the transitional diaconate lacks integrity, and it is time for us to restore direct ordination to the church.”

Also passionate about the subject – but on the other side of the issue – was Bishop Suffragan John Rabb of Maryland.

He told his fellow bishops that he considered his ordination as a transitional deacon “the weightiest” of his three ordinations. “I cannot separate my understanding of my ministry to this issue,” Rabb said. “I’ve long long believed the fundamental call of the church is to servanthood … The diaconate is based on the foundation of servanthood.”

Croneberger said his committee will complete its work on Title III and return with a proposal that continues ordination to the transitional diaconate. Still, he said, the issue deserves future consideration.

“The reason we don’t do well in lay ministry is because of the very conversation we’ve had here, that servanthood is related to ordination,” he said. “We’re all called to servanthood at our baptism.”

Bishops’ elections ratified

The house also confirmed the elections of two more bishops, the Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard as bishop-coadjutor of Florida, and the Rev. C. Franklin Brookhart as bishop of Montana.

The bishops also spent some time debating whether the 10 percent tithe should be considered the “minimum standard,” as part of resolution A135, which encourages members of the church to embrace “holy habits of tithing, daily personal prayer and study, Sabbath time, and regular corporate worship.”

While some bishops argued the term “minimum” had negative connotations, others said 10 percent should be the beginning of Christian charity.

“This is language that has been used for a number of years in order to make it clear that we are to go beyond the 10 percent tithe,” said Bishop Henry Parsley of Alabama. “As part of Christian charity, the word should be used to open up possibility, not close it down.”
Ultimately, the resolution passed.

Flurry of resolutions

The House of Bishops also concurred with the House of Deputies on resolution A008, which urges the U.S. Congress to repeal federal sentencing guidelines.

Bishop Mark MacDonald of Alaska and Bishop Carol Gallagher of Southern Virginia argued that resolution A063 didn’t go far enough in addressing the church’s needs in attracting candidates for ministry from “specific cultural communities.”

“Even as we have dismantled some of the barriers, the invisible barriers have gotten worse and worse and worse,” MacDonald said. Too often committees and commissions designed to encourage candidates for ministry “become a bottleneck to keep people out.”
Another barrier is money, Gallagher said.

“It’s so economically unfeasible to go to seminary that we have basically excluded both ethnic and racial minorities and the poor,” she said. The house passed the resolution.

In another matter, with no discussion, bishops also unanimously approved resolution A087, continuing dialogue with the Moravian Church in America (Northern and Southern Provinces).

Resolution B001, which “affirms that ‘Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation,” prompted a roll call vote among the House of Bishops, a relatively rare occurrence.

The committee on miscellaneous resolutions recommended the house reject the measure, saying the house already had passed similar legislation.

“It’s just not very Anglican to sign off on stuff. We are not a confessional church,” said Bishop Wayne Smith of Missouri. “Ours is rather more inclusive than even this list would suggest. It’s not our way in being Christian. Even though I might well agree with every item on this page, I will vote against it.”

The resolution was rejected by a vote of 84 to 66, with eight abstentions.

In addition to moving quickly through legislation – the house finished Friday’s agenda an hour early and began work on items earmarked for Saturday -- the 3-and-a-half-hour session ended with some levity.

In discussion about adding French music to a list of resources to be developed in resolution A092, one bishop suggested the measure read “Spanish and freedom music resources.”

The answer when the amendment came to the floor for a vote: a resounding “Oui.”