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Special committee on Church and Communion named
Deputies, bishops will craft next step in Windsor process

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
3/9/2006
[Episcopal News Service] 

Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and the Very Rev. George Werner, president of the House of Deputies, have appointed a 18-member special committee to handle General Convention resolutions concerning the Episcopal Church's relationship with the Anglican Communion.

The group is one of 22 committees that will consider proposed resolutions and prepare them for debate during the 75th General Convention, which meets June 13-21 in Columbus, Ohio. The other appointments will be announced soon.

Werner and Griswold said the special committee will handle all resolutions that propose the church's official response to the process set in motion by the Lambeth Commission on Communion, which issued the Windsor Report in October 2004.

The committee will also consider resolutions that deal with "reconciliation and communion in the service of mission occasioned by differing views regarding expressions of human sexuality within the Episcopal Church and other provinces of the Anglican Communion," according to the committee's charge.

It is anticipated that such a response would come during the first week of the convention, Griswold said.

Any resolutions coming to Convention concerning rites for blessing same-gender relationships will go through the Convention's prayer book, liturgy and church music committee. Requests for consent to bishops elected during the 120 days before General Convention will be handled by the Committee on the Consecration of Bishops.

The special legislative committee will overlap the work of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, which Griswold and Werner appointed in the fall to help prepare the way for General Convention to receive and respond to the Communion's request that the church respond to the Windsor Report and subsequent official statements.

The commission also served as a council of advice to Griswold and Werner to help them consider the "complex questions" involved in crafting a response "so that we might be able to present it to the houses [of Convention] and the church in the clearest possible terms," Werner said.

The commission's work will finish in late March and it will issue a report that may well include draft resolutions for General Convention, according to Griswold and Werner. The report will be a supplement to the Blue Book, which recently went to the printer.

The commission's work will give the convention committee a head start so that the members do not, in the limited timeframe of General Convention, have to start their work from scratch. Seven members of the commission will serve on the legislative committee for the sake of continuity, Griswold and Werner said.

Griswold added that he hopes the committee can model for General Convention a way to deal with differences and continue to be "part of the mystery of growing into Christ." He said the commission members had very different views and worked hard to come to an "authentic common ground" from which to work.

Griswold said he would like to see the Convention make its response so that it can "then focus ourselves on the mission of the church."

He added that he sees the coming Convention's work "as a vast field of exploration rather than a moment of decision" that might be construed by some as a make-or-break moment in the history of the Communion.

Griswold said that it "betrays a lack of historical sense" to insist that this is the first time that the Christian church has faced a crisis. The church's history is one of experiences that result in an "expansion of understanding and consciousness," he said, adding that he's convinced that in 20 years the church "will be talking about something else."

"I am grateful that the Episcopal Church is able to deal openly and honestly with the challenges that are presented to it," he said.

The special commission also considered how the Episcopal Church might participate in a Communion-wide listening process that has been called for many years and is now starting. Auckland Bishop and ACC chair John Paterson told the Executive Council March 6 that the Communion had hired a staff person to organize the process.

"We're anxious to be participants" in the process, Griswold said, while being sensitive to the various sensibilities of Communion members.

"We are aware that our actions, which came as part of an at least 40 year listening process of our own, had a drastic impact on a number of provinces where, if issues of human sexuality were discussed at all, they were discussed behind closed doors," he said.

The Episcopal Church recognizes that the actions of the 2003 General Convention forced some provinces into a conversation about human sexuality that they may not have been prepared to have, Griswold said. Thus, criticism of the Convention's decisions came not from "ill will" but from the awkwardness of varying degrees that often surrounds conversations about sexuality.

Griswold said the church must follow Paul's teaching that when one part of the body hurts, then all the body suffers. He said the Communion has a "profound interconnectedness that possibly we didn't give enough attention to" during the last Convention.

The Lambeth Commission on Communion, established by the Archbishop of Canterbury in 2003 in response to reactions in the Anglican Communion to the consecration of V. Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. Robinson is an openly gay man who lives in a committed relationship with his long-time partner. The commission's Windsor Report also addressed the decision of the Canadian diocese of New Westminster to permit the blessing of committed same-gender relationships.

The primates of the Anglican Communion met in February 2005 at Dromantine in Northern Ireland. In their communiqué, issued at the end of the meeting, the primates asked that the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada "respond through their relevant constitutional bodies to the questions specifically addressed to them in the Windsor Report as they consider their place within the Anglican Communion." (A primate is the chief or presiding bishop in an Anglican province.)

In June 2005, the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), the principal deliberative body of the Anglican Communion, agreed with the primates' request that ACC members from the United States and Canada voluntarily withdraw from active membership on the council for the time leading up to the next Lambeth Conference in 2008. Those members attended the June meeting as observers. They and others made requested presentations to the ACC about both churches' experience with same-gender relationships.

Deputies appointed to the Special Legislative Committee on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion include:

  • The Rev. Dr. Ian T. Douglas (Province I, Diocese of Massachusetts,Episcopal Divinity School, co-chair of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion)

  • The Rev. Sandra A. Wilson (Province II, Diocese of Newark, member of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion)

  • The Rev. Francis H. Wade (Province III, Diocese of Washington, committee co-chair, member of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion)

  • The Rev. Charles E. Osberger (Province III, Diocese of Easton, member of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion)

  • Russell Palmore (Province III, chancellor of the Diocese of Virginia and Executive Council member)

  • Debby Melnyk (Province IV, Diocese of Florida, member of the House of Deputies Committee on the State of the Church)

  • Michael Howell (Province IV, Diocese of Southwest Florida)

  • Katherine Tyler Scott (Province V, Diocese of Indianapolis, committee vice chair, member of the President of the House of Deputies' Council of Advice, member of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion)

  • Christopher Wells (Province V, Diocese of Northern Indiana, committee secretary,member of the Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion)

  • The Rev. Carolyn Kuhr (Province VI, Diocese of Montana, General Convention 2003 chair of General Convention's Committee on the Consecration of Bishops)

  • Timothy Mack (Province VII, chancellor of the Diocese of Dallas)

  • D. Rebecca Snow (Province VIII, Executive Council member)

  • The Rev. Dan Martins (Province VIII, Diocese of San Joaquin)

  • Griswold and Werner are still determining a representative from Province IX.

Bishops appointed to the committee are:

  • Dorsey F. Henderson Jr. (Diocese of Upper South Carolina, committee co-chair, member of Special Commission on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion)

  • Peter James Lee (Diocese of Virginia)

  • Edward Little (Diocese of Northern Indiana)

  • Robert O'Neill (Diocese of Colorado)

  • Geralyn Wolf (Diocese of Rhode Island)