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Presiding bishop finds strength amid difficult decisions

By David Skidmore
[Episcopal News Service]  In the 10 days of intense dialogue and debate Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold is encouraged by the “incredible energy” generated by the “multiple realities” of the Episcopal Church meeting as a General Convention.

At the daily Eucharists he has been struck by the variety of experiences and expressions gathered around the tables, a sight that has given him “an incredible strength and joy despite the difficulties of some of the decisions we have had to make and the painfulness some of these decisions have caused within the community.”

Those decisions — the consent to the election of the church’s first openly gay diocesan bishop and greater allowance for dioceses to “explore and experience” liturgies for same-sex unions — have sparked concern and anxiety not only in the Episcopal Church but among the primates of the Anglican Communion.

Griswold, who was joined at the closing news conference by House of Deputies President the Very Rev. George Werner, said he had responded to these concerns by notifying Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams that he was willing to discuss the convention’s actions with the primates, either individually in their home provinces or as a joint meeting. Since talking with the archbishop earlier in the week, as the bishops prepared to consent to the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson’s election, Griswold said Williams has sent an invitation to the primates to meet in London Oct. 15-16.

In his letter, the Archbishop of Canterbury said the meeting would be “to discuss recent developments in ECUSA,” and he hoped the primates would use the time leading up to the meeting to “reflect carefully on our life together as a Communion” and to consider how they might bring their “faith, experience and wisdom to bear constructively on these discussions.”

Griswold told reporters that in his view the meeting would encompass more than just the convention’s recent actions, but also the issue of Anglican primates and bishops coming into Episcopal dioceses to carry out unauthorized episcopal ministry.

“We have dealt with primates of other provinces of the Anglican Communion coming into this province and in effect creating schism by ordaining bishops outside all norms and regulations that exist within the Episcopal Church,” said Griswold. “And that to me is equally distressing and something I am sure we will also discuss.”

A call by representatives of the American Anglican Council for a second Anglican province in the United States is nothing new, he said, and though part of an apparent strategy by the AAC, it would be difficult for the Communion to approve “two parallel realities within one geographic area.”

In their annual meetings, the primates have grown increasingly aware that the provinces “live in very different contexts,” said Griswold. They have come to understand that “what may be right and appropriate in one culture may be singularly difficult and inappropriate elsewhere.” When he traveled to Nigeria last year, he was asked by one bishop if he had come to tell the Nigerian bishops to ordain women, and when assured he was not, there was relief.

Such encounters, he said, “have given us a capacity to trust one another and make room for divergences.”

Looking ahead to the coming Sunday, when clergy may find a host of people coming to their churches as a result of the convention’s media exposure, Werner said he was worried that priests would choose to use their sermon time “to pontificate about the politics of the Episcopal Church when they have the best opportunity in the history of the church to open the scripture, to open the life of Jesus to the people who need to hear it.”

Rather than delve into the issues of convention, which Werner said should be aired in adult forums, clergy should focus their time in worship “to feed the hungry who will be coming through the door. That is really what we have to do in all this.”