Maintaining its historic intercontinental flavor, General Convention, meeting for the 75th time from June 13-21 in Columbus, Ohio, will welcome more than 60 international guests into its midst, to share in the common life of the Episcopal Church and to assist in the process of listening and learning throughout the Anglican Communion.
"Visitors from other parts of the world help us, as we seek to discern the leading of the Spirit, to remember that our actions and decisions are not simply our own but become part of the life of our global community," said Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold. "By their presence and witness they remind us that we are part of something much larger than the Episcopal Church and its immediate concerns."
The Rev. Gregory S. Straub, General Convention executive officer, said that the purpose of the invitations "is to showcase the way in which the four orders of ministry -- lay persons, deacons, priests and bishops -- share in the governance of the Church," he said. "It is an expression of our hospitality to others, the transparency with which we operate and our willingness to share the experience of our triennial family reunion."
Several departments at the Episcopal Church Center invite international guests, and their spouses, to General Convention.
The Presiding Bishop invites other Anglican primates, the Office of Anglican and Global Relations (AGR) asks leaders of Anglican churches, the Office of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations invites ecumenical and interfaith partners, and the General Convention Office asks secretaries of Anglican Provinces and the general secretary of the Anglican Consultative Council. This year, the Office of Bishop Suffragan for Chaplaincies has extended two invitations.
Guests are also invited directly by dioceses in the Episcopal Church, many of which share companion relationships with other dioceses throughout the Anglican Communion.
"So often we are honored with invitations to synods or other church gatherings around the Communion and invariably such opportunities are wonderfully educational, and so this is a chance to return the favor," said Margaret Larom, director of AGR. "We try to make sure that our guests experience the work of committees, budget hearings, Bible study and worship, and sessions of both houses, as well various dinners and other social events.
Anglican Primates attending General Convention are:
• The Most Rev. Orlando Santos de Oliveira of Brazil;
• The Most Rev. Andrew Hutchison of Canada;
• The Most Rev. Martin de Jesus Barahona of Central America;
• The Most Rev. Clive Handford of Cyprus and the Gulf;
• The Most. Rev. Nathaniel Uematsu of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Japan);
• The Rt. Rev. Andrew Shin, Acting Primate of Korea and Bishop of Taejon;
• The Most Rev. Sir. Ellison Pogo of Melanesia;
• The Most Rev. Carlos Touche-Porter of Mexico; and
• The Most Rev. Ignacio Capuyan Soliba of the Philippines.
Guests from Africa will include: the Most Rev. Josiah Fearon, Archbishop of Kaduna in Nigeria, who also attended the 2003 General Convention in Minneapolis; the Rev. Dr. Esther Mombo, Academic Dean of St. Paul's United Theological College in Limuru, Kenya, who was a member of the Lambeth Commission on Communion that produced the Windsor Report; and bishops from Botswana, Ghana, Liberia and Tanzania.
From Asia and the Pacific, the Rev. Kwang Jun Kim, general secretary of the Anglican Church of Korea, the Rt. Rev. Miguel P. Yamoyam, provincial secretary of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines, and representatives from the China Christian Council, will be among the guests.
Dr. Jenny Plane Te Paa, dean of the Anglican Theological College in Auckland, New Zealand, is Convention preacher, and will be a guest speaker at the "Presiding Bishop's Forum: Toward a Reconciled World" on June 15. Te Paa was also a member of the Lambeth Commission.
Bishop John Paterson of Auckland and the Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, chair and secretary general respectively of the Anglican Consultative Council, will also be in attendance.
"The fact that this Convention will focus on many aspects of our relationship with the wider Anglican Communion has meant that persons with leadership responsibilities in the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Anglican Communion Office, will be present," said Larom. "Other guests are invited so that they can get to know the Episcopal Church better, in terms of both polity and fellowship."
Canadians will include the Ven. Paul Feheley, the primate's principal secretary, Bishop Michael Ingham of New Westminster, the Ven. Dr. Michael Pollesel, general secretary, and the Very Rev. Peter Elliot, prolocutor of General Synod.
On behalf of the Church of England, the Most Rev. John Sentamu, recently appointed Archbishop of York, will also be in attendance. A native of Uganda, Sentamu became the first African Archbishop in England when he was inaugurated as the 97th Archbishop of York on November 30, 2005.
"We invite some persons who are new in their positions and might benefit from experiencing our reality directly," Larom said. "Likewise, being part of this gathering offers many more Episcopalians the chance to get to know Anglican leaders they might never otherwise meet."
Bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean will include Hiroshi Ito of São Paulo, Celso Franco de Oliveira of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil and Armando Guerra of Guatemala. Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal of Jerusalem and the Rev. Canon Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center will be among other distinguished guests.
Brother James Teets, manager of partnership services for AGR, explained that modern electronic communications means that much of the world -- and particularly the Anglican world -- still only know the United States and the Episcopal Church via the news media and sound bytes.
"The opportunity for people in the developing world to sit down and actually talk with and worship with Episcopalians remains a rare and, for most, an impossible accomplishment," he said. "With that said, misunderstanding is both unavoidable and responsible for many of the international and inter-Anglican difficulties that confront all of us now."
Many ecumenical and interfaith guests will also be present at Convention, most of whom come from churches with which the Episcopal Church is in full communion or engaged in either ecumenical or interreligious dialogue in the United States.
International ecumenical guests will include the Most Rev. Godofredo David, Obispo Maximo of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (Philippine Independent Church) with which the Episcopal Church is in full communion.
During an ecumenical and interfaith reception June 19, Griswold and David are expected to sign a document titled "Updating the Concordat of Full Communion" between the two churches, each of which pledges renewed cooperation in mission and ministry.
The Old Catholic Archbishop of Utrecht, the Most Rev. Joris Vercammen, will preside at the June 19 Eucharist, becoming the first full communion partner to be so honored at the General Convention. This is in special commemoration of the 75th Anniversary in 2006 of the signing of the Bonn Agreement with the Old Catholic Union of Utrecht.
"Our ecumenical guests at Convention are a visible symbol of the many ways that the Episcopal Church works with other Christian and interfaith partners in mission and witness," said the Rt. Rev. Christopher Epting, the Presiding Bishop's deputy for Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. "Through some of our international full communion partners and ecumenical dialogues through the Anglican Communion Office we continue to strengthen the ongoing ecumenical and interfaith work of the wider Communion."
Larom explained that the primates and provincial secretaries of the newly autonomous churches that once were a part of the Episcopal Church -- Brazil, Central America, Liberia, Mexico, the Philippines -- are invited "not only because of our historic relationship but also because we continue to work closely together through the covenant agreements."
The Episcopal Church in Liberia has seat and voice at Convention, though no vote, she explained.
"Even though our bishops and deputies are pulled in so many directions at General Convention because of their legislative responsibilities, we hope that they will get to know our international partners better during the course of our days in Columbus," she added.
Nothing can replace actual face-to-face contact "with our brothers and sisters in mission and ministry, and our General Convention can be one of the best occasions for that to happen," Teets explained. "If we are truly a 'world-wide Communion,' then we are compelled to seek out all opportunities to bring that world together."