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RIO GRANDE: Convocation tackles Communion issues

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
[Episcopal News Service]  The 54th annual convocation of the Diocese of the Rio Grande, meeting October 13-14 in Carlsbad, New Mexico, centered on relations with the Episcopal  Church and the wider Anglican Communion.

Among the resolutions and canonical changes passed were ones to:

  • model charity, affection and respect in conversations with one another; explore the development of an Anglican Covenant;
  • comply with requests made in paragraph 134 and paragraph 144 of the Windsor Report by denying consent to the consecration of any bishop who lives in a same-gender relationship and the development of public rites to bless same-gender relationships;
  • spend at least 0.7% of the diocesan budget on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals to help eradicate extreme poverty; promote gender equality at all levels of congregational and diocesan life;
  • hold a special diocesan convention, if needed, to respond to developments in the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion; and
  • require that clergy, postulants, candidates for ordination, and ordinands abstain from sexual relations outside of marriage.

"The Anglican Communion is undergoing a remarkable transformation, and I cannot help but think that so many of the attitudes and behaviors we take for granted in the American context will not be welcomed in the new communion discipline," Bishop Jeffrey Steenson said in his address. "At this convocation our diocese will have the opportunity to identify itself with this emerging discipline..."

Steenson said he was not "repudiating" the Episcopal Church, but added that "I am an Anglican first and an Episcopalian second, not in the sense of either/or, nor of both/and, but of one because of the other."

He cautioned about moving too quickly in trying to resolve the tensions in individual parishes and the diocese itself.

"It is the concern that in trying so hard to be Anglican we do not inadvertently lose what is quintessentially Anglican, especially in its pastoral generosity and its openness to goodness wherever it may be found," he said.  "To identify with the Windsor Report process and to differentiate from General Convention may lead to consequences yet unseen, but we do not want to break relationships with anyone who bears the name Christian."

Steenson also told the convocation that he would not attend Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori’s November 4 investiture "for what I trust are sound Biblical reasons."

"A significant portion of our diocese is deeply concerned about her apparent views on some crucial points of doctrine, especially about the uniqueness and universality of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. For the sake of these consciences, it seems to me the wiser course to be prayerfully absent," he said, noting that he had informed Jefferts Schori of his decision.

Steenson later clarified his remarks by citing one of Jefferts Schori’s answers in the July 10 edition of Time magazine.

In response to a question about whether belief in Jesus is the "only way to get to heaven," she said: "We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box."

The full text of Steenson’s address is available here.

A resolution aimed at providing a process for negotiating the sale of church property to groups wishing to leave the diocese, within the bounds set by diocesan and national canons, failed.  A proposal to cease the funding and sending of deputies to General Convention was also defeated, as was one asking Jefferts Schori to embrace the recommendations of the Windsor Report and inviting her to the diocese for dialogue.

The Diocese of the Rio Grande consists of about 15,000 Episcopalians in 57 congregations in New Mexico and portions of West Texas.