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Participants, observers reflect on bishops’ meeting in New York

By Mary Frances Schjonberg and Matthew Davies
[Episcopal News Service] 

Reactions to the September 11-13 meeting of bishops in New York ranged from hopefulness to calls for broadening the conversation, following the lack of a consensus on how to move forward in meeting the needs of the seven dioceses that issued appeals for Alternate Primatial Oversight (APO).

In an interview after the meeting, Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold and Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori spoke about the open, frank and sometimes challenging conversations that had taken place, and noted the "great value" in face-to-face encounters. [An earlier ENS story is available at:]

Jefferts Schori said that another session may be called later this year, possibly with additional participants.

The co-conveners of the meeting were Bishops Peter James Lee of Virginia and John Lipscomb of Southwest Florida. Other participants, in addition to Griswold and Jefferts Schori, were Bishops Jack Iker of Fort Worth, Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, James Stanton of Dallas, Edward Salmon of South Carolina, Mark Sisk of New York, Dorsey Henderson of Upper South Carolina, and Robert O'Neill of Colorado.

The Rev. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Consultative Council, facilitated the meeting at the request of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams. The constitution of the Anglican Consultative Council, the Anglican Communion's main policy-making body, makes no provisions for alternative primatial oversight. Neither do the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church.

"I think that this meeting holds great hope," said Lipscomb after the meeting. "I think, for the first time, both sides laid down the masks and the pretenses and were as honest with each other as they could possibly be. And it was received on each side in a spirit of real charity and real concern."

He said that the meeting spoke to "the deep woundedness in the life of our church and to the very deep fissures within it," and opined that "people have generally been in denial that things were as difficult as they are."

"That we weren't able to come to an agreement may not be necessarily the worst thing that could happen, now that we have at least a common acknowledgement that there are deep issues that divide the church," he added.

Describing the meeting as "honest," Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh, moderator of the Network of Anglican Communion Dioceses and Parishes (NACDAP), said it became clear that "the division in the American church is so great that we are incapable of addressing the divide which has two distinctly different groups both claiming to be the Episcopal Church."

Duncan acknowledged that the dioceses' request for APO still stands. "We wait on the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates of the Anglican Communion to answer our request," he said. [Full text of Duncan's statement]

Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, responded shortly after the statement was released [], calling it "a positive sign that these difficult conversations have been taking place in a frank and honest way."
Williams identified "the openness and charity" of the discussions as "signs of hope for the future."

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson said that it's a good thing that the conversations were fruitful, open and honest and that people are still in dialogue.

Anderson had been in "close contact" with Griswold before the sessions convened and was briefed by both Griswold and Jefferts Schori after the meeting.

Anderson said she is concerned that all orders of ministry in the church -- bishops, clergy and laity -- be represented when such issues are being discussed and especially when decisions are likely to be made.

"The Executive Council and the House of Deputies definitely need to be included in conversations, particularly where decision-making occurs," she said. Anderson noted that Episcopal polity calls for all policy decisions to be made by the agreement of both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies meeting as General Convention, and by the Executive Council between conventions.

Anderson said she has expressed that need to the Presiding Bishop's office "in several conversations and in different ways."

"I'm confident that both the Presiding Bishop and Presiding Bishop-elect Jefferts Schori understand this, support that idea, and, when and if the opportunity repeats itself or arises, that will be taken into consideration," she said.

"The topic of alternative primatial oversight is one that affects primates and bishops of the Communion. It also has huge ramifications not only for the clergy and laity in the dioceses that have made such a request, but for the Episcopal Church as a whole," she said. "Not having clergy and laity represented at this meeting, except in the person of their bishop, may have limited the potential for the healing that is needed at every level of our church. While there are certainly many people who agree with their bishop on these requests, in each of these dioceses there are also laity and clergy who have no intention of separating themselves from the Episcopal Church."

Dr. Christopher Wilkins, facilitator of Via Media USA, an organization committed to promoting and protecting the faith, unity, and vitality of the Episcopal Church, said that the statement highlights that Episcopal Church leaders are trying to find an effective and responsible way forward. "They haven't achieved a consensus, but it is good that they are talking," he said.

Via Media USA has chapters in 12 dioceses, including the seven that have requested APO.

The unity and integrity of the Episcopal Church need to be maintained, Wilkins added, noting the importance of respecting the authority of church officials.

"One thing that concerns me is imposing structural solutions to pastoral situations ... This is an internal American problem that has been exported, which is unfortunate," he said. "I think we need to have a church-wide discussion about the nature of the real issues and the ways we can address them without institutionalizing division."

Wilkins also upheld the importance of keeping well-balanced perspectives. "Everyone needs to grasp that we are all supposed to be on the same team," he said. "The call to Christian ministry continues and we need to learn to respect each others different callings as Christians and as people in the Episcopal Church."

When asked about their current prayer for the church, Jefferts Schori said "compassion" and Griswold identified "patience...with one another and with sometimes inscrutable ways of God."