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From the Presiding Bishop: A Word to the Church

7/11/2006
[Episcopal News Service]   

Note:
An audio file of the text is available at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/audio/ens/pb_word_7_10_2006.mp3

I am writing to you in the light of the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Columbus, Ohio and the reactions to its decisions. A full report on the actions of General Convention is available online at the Episcopal Church's website www.episcopalchurch.org. However, I want here to offer some reflections of my own.

First of all, I am extremely proud of the Episcopal Church and the thoughtful and careful way the deputies and bishops—grounded in our daily encounter with Christ in word and sacrament—attended to the business before them. Throughout our deliberations we remained focused on God's mission in the world in both its domestic and global dimensions.

By mission I mean, in the words of our Prayer Book, the restoration "of all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." The setting aside of a significant portion of our national church budget in support of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, along with a number of programs already in place, is a very clear and concrete sign of our global commitment to Christ's ministry of reconciliation. Poverty, hunger and disease threaten and undermine the dignity and wellbeing of brothers and sisters around the globe. Our ministry of reconciliation is exercised in how we live with, and care for, one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.
 
Reconciliation has to do also with our past and the complicity of the Episcopal Church in the institution of slavery. What does reconciliation with those who were its victims and those who bear its scars entail and require of us in terms of acknowledgement, repentance and amendment? This question was forcibly raised in the course of the Convention and a way to address it was set in motion. We continue in our commitment to the eradication of all forms of racism.

I believe the election of Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada, to be the 26th Presiding Bishop was the work of the Holy Spirit. Her considerable gifts will serve the church well in the years ahead. Her election also means that a woman's voice will be heard among the voices of the 38 primates of the Anglican Communion. The Communion, through its Consultative Council, is committed to gender equity in all Communion decision-making bodies. Bishop Jefferts Schori's election is a further step toward the realization of that goal.

General Convention's response to the Windsor Report and the Windsor process was costly and generous. It was an unequivocal declaration of our desire and willingness to be faithful partners with other provinces in the lengthy process of developing a covenant articulating our mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Anglican Communion.

For some we went too far and for others not far enough. For a strong majority of what I call the "diverse center" our response expressed a strong desire to engage the work of reconciliation as part of a global communion in which strongly held opinions on variations in human sexuality have threatened to displace the creeds and the sacraments in articulating the faith we share. I believe our responses have been made in the spirit of the Windsor Report, which is an invitation to enter a process of healing relationships leading to a renewed sense of common commitment in service to Christ's mission to our broken and divided world.

Our decisions also created space in order that a "listening process" across the Communion can be as fruitful as possible, and draw us together across differences. Voices from other parts of the Communion and our own church must be heard and honored. One of the primary resources in this listening process will be the voices and experience of gay and lesbian members of Christ's body. Here I would hope that Jesus' observation that a tree is known by the fruit it bears would be taken seriously as a biblical criterion alongside other texts.

In a recent reflection entitled "The Challenge and Hope of Being an Anglican Today" the Archbishop of Canterbury helpfully raised up the constituent elements of classical Anglicanism, namely the priority of the Bible in matters of doctrine, the Catholic sacramental tradition and what he called a "habit of cultural sensitivity and intellectual flexibility that does not seek to close down unexpected questions too quickly." He both reminds us of the tradition that has formed us and points us to the future.

In that same reflection the Archbishop posits a possible outcome of the covenant development process in terms of constituent and associate member churches. Some have fastened on to this two-tier possibility as though a decision had already been made. However, in his Address to the General Synod of the Church of England on July 7, the Archbishop himself noted that there has been "some interesting reporting" and a "slightly intemperate reaction." He declared that his reflection "contained no directives…and no foreclosing."
 
I note here that a two-tier solution to our present strains raises serious questions about how we understand ourselves as being the church. I am put in mind of Paul's understanding of the church as the body of Christ of which we are all indispensable members in virtue of our baptism. I think as well of Jesus' declaration in the Gospel of John that he is the vine and we are the branches and that apart from him we can do nothing.

Such a two-tiered view of our common life suggests to me amputated limbs and severed branches without any life-giving relationship to the One who is the source of all life. A pragmatic solution in this regard is at the expense of the deeper truth that the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you.

With respect to the future, the Archbishop proposes a long-term process rather than an immediate solution, and in his Address to the Synod he spoke of that process and of looking "more fully at the question of what sort of ‘Covenant' could be constructed…"

Here I am put in mind of the Archbishop's observation in another context that in Baptism we are bound together in "solidarities not of our own choosing." Communion is costly and difficult to live in the concrete, and it is impossible to do so without the love, which is the very life of the Trinity, being poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

I hope and pray that the listening process and the covenant process will be rooted and grounded in love. Here it is important to acknowledge that our actions as a church have seriously strained the bonds of mutual affection which sustain our life as a global Communion. At the same time I am mindful of the strains on mutual affection caused by the unwelcome and uncanonical incursions into our dioceses by primates and bishops from other parts of the Communion.

Both the resolutions of the 75th General Convention and the Archbishop in his reflection call us to a renewed sense of mission, not for the sake of the church and the Communion, but in order that the church, and the Communion, can be instruments of reconciliation in the world. It is my hope and prayer that we, along with our Anglican brothers and sisters around the world, may be drawn together across all that divides us.

I am deeply grateful to the bishops and deputies for their faithfulness and hard work and to the countless thousands across the church who supported us during the days of Convention with their prayers. The church is "a wonderful and sacred mystery" and its continuous unfolding constantly challenges and stretches us. What we will be, as St. John tells us, has yet to be revealed. As I look to the future I have every confidence that, prompted and at times prodded by Spirit, the Episcopal Church will continue to be an instrument of God's profligate and reckless reconciling love.

May Christ dwell in our hearts and lead us forward in unity. And may the Peace of God, which passes all understanding, heal and reconcile us all.