The Rev. John Danforth, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, challenged the Episcopal Church to a "higher calling" of reconciliation during Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold's forum: "Toward a Reconciled World."
The forum drew an audience of more than 500 people to the Greater Columbus Convention Center at 8 p.m. on June 15.
Setting the context for the evening, which formed part of the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church, Griswold explained that God's concern is the world and not the Church.
An Episcopal priest and former U.S. senator from Missouri, Danforth said that the center of American politics has eroded and "the common ground has been cut out because the most active and articulate people representing the political parties are on the fringes."
A first-timer to General Convention, Danforth offered an "outsider's perspective," observing that virtually all the public attention directed at General Convention had been on the issue of sexual orientation.
"I don't want to downplay the issues ... but I want to raise the basic question of whether that issue is the centerpiece of the Episcopal Church," he said. "I believe that we have a higher calling, a more central message ... ours is a special calling to the ministry of reconciliation."
Danforth said that the Episcopal Church has always represented the middle way, "where all sorts of people can come together around the altar ... and have all sorts of different views.
"If God calls us to a ministry of reconciliation, how you conduct yourselves at this General Convention is very important because it would be very hard for our church to offer ourselves as the broken answer to the world.
"A broken church is a sad church. If we can't exchange the peace with one another it's hard to explain to people how we purport to be agents of peace.
"I plead with you to figure out a way to hold this together and put whatever you can into context of a higher calling."
Griswold honored Danforth with the Presiding Bishop's Award for Faith and Public Service.
Dr. Jenny Plane Te Paa, dean of the Anglican Theological College in Auckland, New Zealand, urged the Episcopal Church to create a safe and inclusive space in which it might "consciously endeavor to engage public discourse," noting that "God's reconciling work still happens best between human beings who are fully present, full visible and fully vulnerable in the encounter."
Malaika Kamunanwire, director of communications for Episcopal Relief and Development, spoke about the church's response to "healing the brokenness that comes from disaster, disease, chronic hunger and poverty."
Alex Baumgarten, international policy analyst for the Episcopal Church's Office of Government Relations, spoke about advocacy as a tool of reconciliation.
"The world possesses the knowledge, the resources and the strategies to end global poverty altogether. All it lacks is the political will," Baumgarten said, referring to the Millennium Development Goals that "recognize all of humanity's problems." He also acknowledged the ONE Campaign, with which the Episcopal Church has partnered to establish ONE Episcopalian.
"Finding the heart of God" was the theme of an address by Bishop Thomas Shaw of Massachusetts, during which he described the witness of the Anglican Communion and "the reality that no one is alone. No one is isolated in God's gift of the worldwide Church."
He reminded the forum of the millions of Anglicans throughout the world, "who every day are making the heart of God a reality for serving and inspiring one another."
Music was provided by Isaac Everett, Stephen Hoevertz and Miles Kennedy.