Continuing their work on the theme of reconciliation, the bishops of the Episcopal Church, meeting September 23-28 in Spokane, Washington, opened their proceedings yesterday with a session that welcomed international guests and underscored their priorities to the global community.
Bishop James E. Waggoner Jr. of Spokane welcomed the 132 bishops and spouses, who are also meeting over the next five days, to the city and the historic Davenport Hotel. The bishops last met in Spokane in 1983. Waggoner introduced retired bishop Leigh Wallace, who was diocesan bishop at that time.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold introduced several international guests who will share reflections with the community early next week: the Most Rev. Orlando Santos de Oliveira, primate of Brazil and bishop of Southern Brazil; the Most Rev. Carlos Touche-Porter, presiding bishop of La Iglesia Anglicana de Mexico & bishop of Mexico; and the Rt. Rev. James Tengatenga, bishop of Southern Malawi in Central Africa.
Another international guest, Bishop Jonathan Flack, director of the Anglican Centre in Rome (ACR), addressed the group briefly. ACR has played an integral part in the dialogue between the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches since its founding 36 years ago. Flack told the bishops and spouses that while this "is not an easy time to be an ecumenist," there are exciting times ahead and that the Anglican Centre exists to serve as a place of dialogue, study and hospitality for all Anglicans.
Bishop Bullen Dolli of the Diocese of Lui in Southern Sudan was introduced by Bishop Wayne Smith of Missouri. Dolli gave a brief but sobering account of life in Southern Sudan where, he recounted, they have been at war for 20 years. "Children grow in war, live in war and die in war," he said. The bishop, himself, has escaped being killed by bombs 22 times and his cathedral was "razed to the ground" by one. He thanked the Episcopal Church for its support and prayers over the past years.
Retired bishop Claude Payne of Texas introduced the new president of the Church Pension Group, Dennis Sullivan, who thanked the bishops for the opportunity to get to know them face to face. "I am pleased to report the Church Pension Fund remains in excellent financial shape, well secured and well reserved," he said.
Griswold spoke to the assembly about the shape of the meeting and the "challenging season" in which the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion find themselves. He offered some words from St. Augustine about difference and reconciliation. "Let us take out of play the unproductive charges that the masses on both sides hurl at each other... The Lord's threshing floor is not yet winnowed, there is bound to be chaff among us both -- let us pray only, and take steps, that together we may be His wheat."
Two speakers will join the group to work with the bishops as they continue to ask themselves how they can be agents of reconciliation. Miroslav Volf, Henry B. Wright Professor of Theology at Yale Divinity School and author of Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation, will speak with the bishops on Friday, September 24; Richard Rodriguez, an essayist and author of the book Brown: the Last Discovery of America, will offer a presentation on Saturday morning. Griswold said that he hopes the bishops will be "given new lenses over the next days in the hope of discovering the mind of Christ more fully."
At the Eucharist, the bishops and spouses remembered Susy Miller, who had worked closely with the House of Bishops for over ten years. Miller died on June 12, 2004.
Carry us forward
In a news conference following the opening session and Eucharist, Griswold said that the "Anglican tradition has been about difference held together within a context of common prayer."
The bishops, he said, "represent that diversity of opinion and breadth. They are rooted and grounded in what we've just done 10 minutes ago: namely, worship. Our differences are real, but also our fellowship, our affection for one another, our relationships are equally real and will carry us forward."