Raising Episcopal voices in support of social-justice advocacy and the church's "broad middle majority" will be the focus of groups whose national gatherings coincide with the November 4 investiture of Presiding Bishop-elect Katharine Jefferts Schori in Washington, D.C.
Bishops Working for a Just Society (BWFJS), a coalition of bishops from 30 dioceses which focuses on public policy and social justice advocacy, will gather November 2-3 at the Washington National Cathedral's Cathedral College, said Bishop John Chane of Washington, a founding member of the coalition.
"We will be talking about the minimum wage hike, the cost of health care and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)," Chane said. "We'll also be talking about how we can most effectively share information on these issues with our clergy and their congregations."
The Episcopal Majority (TEM) is hosting "Remaining Faithful," November 3-4 at St. Columba's Parish, Washington, D.C., which will feature as keynote speaker Bishop J. Jon Bruno of Los Angeles.
TEM is a grass-roots organization sparked during General Convention 2006 in Columbus, Ohio, to give a voice to the "broad middle majority … which seeks to sustain and build up the Episcopal Church," said the Rev. David K. Fly, a group organizer.
Raising Episcopal voices: MDGs, immigration reform
In addition to the United Nations' MDGs, immigration reform, and other legislative issues will be discussed at the bishops' gathering, said Maureen Shea, director of the Episcopal Church's Office of Governmental Relations.
"I'll be briefing the bishops on what we anticipate will happen in the lame duck session and what we anticipate for the (upcoming) 110th Congress" after the November 7 mid-term elections, she said.
BWFJS was formed in June 2003 by 12 bishops who met in Chicago, concerned about the teaching role of bishops and ways to provide congregations with appropriate information about the poor, the unemployed, vulnerable women and children, and pending legislation at all governmental levels that might impact them, Chane explained.
It convenes twice yearly and "is a volunteer organization to help bishops find and use a voice in public discourse, especially about the social policies of the Episcopal Church and furthering the decisions of General Convention and Executive Council," said James E. Curry, bishop suffragan of Connecticut, who serves as secretary for the group.
Bishop Marc Andrus of California said the group aids Episcopalians in using "our voices for advocacy for justice so that all members of the church are engaged in justice issues and the relief of global suffering."
He is the liaison between the group and Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, an organization which "seeks relief of global human suffering through the dedication of 0.7 percent of our personal, parochial, diocesan, church-wide budgets to eight world development goals formulated and embraced by the United Nations in 2000," according to Andrus.
The United Nations' eight Millennium Development Goals include halving extreme poverty, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS, providing universal primary education, and ensuring environmental sustainability, all by the target date of 2015.
"Environmental sustainability is one of the frontiers of justice," Andrus said. "There is broad agreement that a crisis is almost upon us of great proportions. The church is far from being a leader in this area. We need to move into a theological depth and an activist position on earth stewardship."
Standing up for 'middle' church
Networking and developing connections, as well as exploring the purpose and direction of the Anglican Covenant, re-examining changing relationships within and assumptions about the Episcopal Church and communication will be discussed at the Episcopal Majority gathering, said Fly of the Diocese of Missouri.
It will be the grassroots group's first get-together since General Convention 2006 sparked its creation, he added. "One of the things we felt strongly about when we were in Columbus is that we Episcopalians have allowed the far right to really set the debate, to set the terms of that debate" about the response to the Windsor Report, the idea of an Anglican covenant and issues of human sexuality.
While at an informal reunion of college chaplains in Columbus, the Rev. William Coats, a retired priest in the Diocese of Newark, shared an essay he'd written which was critical about efforts to separate the mainstream Episcopal Church from the Anglican Communion. The enthusiastic response sparked formation of the coalition.
"We believe strongly that the great majority of Episcopalians are people who love their church and certainly want to stand up for it. And we decided to make that a possibility," said Fly, who retired from Grace Church in Kirkwood, Missouri, in 1998.
Since then, the response has grown. "It has been overwhelming from both lay people and clergy, all over the Episcopal Church. Almost every diocese has chimed in at one level or another, saying, 'it's about time. We need a voice. Thank God you're there,'" he said. A website created in August has been visited at least 27,000 times.
The coalition is of "moderate to progressive Episcopalians … who believe that Anglicans are people who, by nature, disagree with one another and yet learn to live with one another," Fly said.
"What we hope to do is to speak out about the nature of the Episcopal Church in the United States and to defend it positively, to be a part of the conversation. For instance, if there's going to be some sort of Anglican Covenant created, we want to be part of that conversation and to influence it in some way, too."
Coats will lead "Confronting the Covenant," a November 3 workshop, and the Rev. Canon Mark Harris said he will present "The Matrix and the Compass Rose," about changing relationships within and assumptions about the Anglican Communion and how TEM can help guide the church through the transition.
"The Episcopal Majority hopes to support and encourage, bishops and standing committees and diocesan councils and other groups to stay the course," said Harris, the author of "The Challenge of Change: The Anglican Communion in the Post-Modern Era."
TEM is an example "of the possibility of people who want to share thoughts and ideas about how to keep the Episcopal Church from being either overtaken or taken over by forces who have objected to the general direction we've been going," said Harris, who is an assisting priest at St. Peter's Parish in Lewes, Delaware, and a member of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council.
"The point isn't that we agree about everything, the point is that we're willing to use the kind of democratic machinery we've got to deal with our disagreements as opposed to … leaving or saying we're going to change it by some means other than regular democratic process. We hope to offer some real encouragement for Episcopalians to live within the system we've got."
Other conference speakers include Sarah Dylan Breuer, editor of The Witness magazine, and David Booth Beers, chancellor to the Presiding Bishop, who will lead "Legal Issues Confronting Parishes and Dioceses." He is a partner in Goodwin-Proctor, a Washington, D.C. law firm.
About 100 people have registered, and Fly said he hopes Jefferts Schori will participate. Timing the gathering to coincide with her investiture was deliberate, he added.
"We see this as a unifying effort, a way to say to the new Presiding Bishop that 'we support you all the way and there's a big church that supports you."
Additional voices: WAKE UP
Episcopal Majority is not the only group that organized in the aftermath of the June General Convention. WAKE UP (http://www.wakeuptec.org/) began as a discussion among some clergy in the Diocese of New York "to see what, if anything, our response would be" to the Convention's passage of Resolution B033.
The Rev. Barry Signorelli, a founding member of the group, said they are concerned about an "ongoing pattern of appeasement in the Episcopal Church" of those who disagree with the church's stances.
"We just want to stop the appeasement and work for a church where all God's children are included," he said.
Signorelli said the group's members are concerned at the direction of many of the debates in the Church at the moment. It seems, he said, that statements that get repeated enough take on the authority of "eternal verities."
For instance, he said, some have turned the Windsor Report from an international Anglican discussion of how to live and work together in communion despite differences, to a set of demands to which the Episcopal Church must submit.
More than 250 people have signed onto the group's statement of purpose posted on its website. Local New York lay and ordained members of the group meet Monday nights at Church of the Holy Apostles, where Signorelli is on staff. (The organization is not an official ministry of the parish, he said.) The members have issued periodic "wake up calls" whose message has been developed by consensus. They can be found on the WAKE UP website.
And the group organized an effort to put a resolution before the New York diocese's annual convention November 10-11 calling "upon the Bishop of New York and the Standing Committee of this Diocese nevertheless to uphold the canons of our church and the resolutions of this Diocese in both letter and spirit and to consider irrelevant the sexual orientation of candidates when considering consents to the ordination and consecration of Bishops-elect."
--The Rev. Pat McCaughan is assistant rector at St. Mary's Church in Laguna Beach, California, and senior correspondent for ENS. Jim Naughton, director of communications, Diocese of Washington, D.C., and the Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg, ENS national correspondent, contributed to this story.