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Episcopal bishops offer Tanzania communiqué reflections, predictions for future

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
2/22/2007
[Episcopal News Service]  Bishops around the Episcopal Church have begun to talk with their dioceses about the communiqué issued February 19 from the Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The Primates of the Anglican Communion have called for the formation of a "Pastoral Council" that would work with the Episcopal Church to negotiate the necessary structures for those who feel unable to accept the direct ministry of their bishop or of the Presiding Bishop.

The Primates also asked that the House of Bishops "make an unequivocal common covenant" by September 30 that they will not authorize same-gender blessings within their dioceses and confirm that Resolution B033, passed at the 75th General Convention, means that a candidate for bishop who is living in a same-gender relationship "shall not receive the necessary consent unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion."

"If the reassurances ... cannot in good conscience be given, the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion as a whole remains damaged at the best, and this has consequences for the full participation of the Church in the life of the Communion," the communiqué says.

An Episcopal News Service report on the communiqué is available here.

Below are summaries of some of the statements issued by bishops (in alphabetical order by diocese or current ministry).

Diocese of Arizona

In an Ash Wednesday letter to his diocese, Arizona Bishop Kirk Smith wrote that "there will no doubt be considerable controversy over the next several months about these provisions."

"I suspect the Bishops who have already voted for General Convention resolution B033 (as I did) will find these terms acceptable; a minority will not. Most will follow the lead of our Presiding Bishop in living with them, while we move to further discussions at the Lambeth Conference in 2008."

Smith wrote that he knows that "many who have worked so hard for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church will see this as another step backward."

"It is, and my heart breaks because of it," Smith wrote. "However, I believe that we are at a moment in our history when we must remain together, doing our best to place the needs of the other before our own. As I have often said to you before, I am committed to a fully inclusive church, but I am also committed to remaining part of the larger Anglican Communion, even when I find it hard to agree with my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world."

The complete text of Smith’s letter is available here.

Diocese of Atlanta

Also on February 20, Bishop Neil Alexander of Atlanta wrote to his diocese saying that "the communiqué is broad in its scope, and digesting the totality of it will require some effort on the part of all of us."

"In typical Anglican fashion, the language of the document is highly nuanced. It will take some time before it is clear what the operative interpretation of the document will be," Alexander wrote. "I caution everyone not to assume that our initial reactions are going to be helpful for the long haul. Only after time passes and conversations continue will the meaning of the document for our life together begin to come more precisely into focus."

He noted that from a report of the Communion sub-group that was charged with monitoring the response of the Episcopal Church's General Convention to the Windsor Report it was clear that the Church "has engaged the Windsor Report with greater energy and seriousness than much of the rest of the Anglican Communion."

Alexander wrote that his "principal concern" with the communiqué rests in the request the Primates make of the House of Bishops because it "does not respect the unique features of the polity of the Episcopal Church," namely the inclusion of the clergy and laity in decision-making.

"For the Primates to assume that our House of Bishops can make the decisions for which they are asking without the full participation of the whole church strikes me as an invitation to violate our own canons," he wrote.

The complete text of Alexander’s statement is available here.

Diocese of Bethlehem

A statement from Bishop Paul Marshall can be found on a weblog maintained by Jim Naughton, director of communications for the Diocese of Washington. In it, Marshall writes that at a clergy retreat next week and other meetings next week he will "try to understand what is being said and what there is, if anything, that is to be done at our level."

He will go the following week to the House of Bishops meeting at Camp Allen (beginning March 16), where, he wrote, "it is my assumption that the Presiding Bishop will be as candid in her report of the experience and process of the primates' meeting as was her predecessor" in reporting on the deliberations of the last Primates meeting in March 2005.

Meanwhile, Marshall wrote what he called a "few interim remarks," beginning with the statement that "no member of this diocese is expendable."

"We will not even entertain the idea of a fast from observing the baptismal covenant's promises about respecting the worth of all persons," he said in a possible reference to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori's reflections on the Primates meeting entitled "A Season of Fasting". "We will not fast from actively seeking peace and justice for all. This baptismal promise is about action, not sentiment."

Marshall cautioned against "possibly triumphalist 'dreams of communion'."

"If our witness in word and deed is being drowned in fears about what our cousins may be thinking about us, the question of idolatry will need to be explored," he wrote.

Diocese of California

California Bishop Marc Andrus posted a statement on the diocese's website on Shrove Tuesday, writing that "our task in the Church is not actually to include or exclude anyone."

He called the inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the "full life of the Church" a matter of justice.

"Actions of justice and injustice reverberate throughout the whole, promoting either integrity, remembering, and shalom, or diabolic isolation," he wrote, vowing that gay and lesbian people will continue to be welcomed and invited to offer their gifts in the Diocese of California.
 
Andrus argued that both the House of Bishops and the House of Deputies should deliberate on the Primates' requests.

"The Episcopal Church should make every effort, including an extraordinary meeting of the two houses, and redoubled efforts to help the other provinces of the Communion understand both our theology relating to marriage and human sexuality and our polity," he wrote.

The complete text of Andrus' statement is available here.

Diocese of Chicago

Bishop WilliamPersell issued a statement February 22 in which he said that "though some of the Primates' conclusions respect the integrity and autonomy of The Episcopal Church, other aspects of their proposal run counter to our Church's way of life and its interpretation of the Gospel."

"No allowance is given in the 'pastoral scheme' proposed by the Primates for the voices of Episcopal gay and lesbian members to be heard; yet, the Primates provide ample opportunity for participation in the scheme by congregations, clergy and lay people alienated from the Episcopal Church," Persell wrote. "This is as if South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission barred black South Africans from testimony, while freely admitting white Afrikaners."

Persell objected to what he called the "issuing what is essentially an ultimatum" by the Primates and said they "are assuming more authority than is accorded them in our Communion's current structure and polity."

He noted that Communion has four entities "where its faith and order are decided" – the Primates, the Anglican Consultative Council (the ACC is made up of bishops, clergy and lay representatives from the 38 provinces), the Lambeth Conference of bishops, and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Persell also wrote that in 2005 the Primates charged the ACC with initiating a listening process on the role of gay and lesbians in the church and reporting its work to the Lambeth Conference of 2008, yet "the present course outlined in the Communiqué effectively annuls this charge, and divests the other governing entities of responsibility for determining the parameters for Communion membership."

The complete text of Persell's statement is due to be posted here.

Diocese of Connecticut

Bishop Andrew Smith told the Hartford Courant newspaper that "if the Council of Primates is asking us to undo what we have already done, that is a step many of the bishops would be unwilling to take."

While Smith told the newspaper that he "greatly valued" his relationships with members of the Anglican Communion who disagree with his position, he made it clear that he and most bishops will find it morally impossible to accept the demands of the Dar es Salaam communiqué.

"I'm not willing to do that," Smith said. "It has always seemed to me that if we accept gay and lesbian people as full partners in our church, we have to be consistent on matters of marriage and clergy. We can't advocate two classes of church citizenship: one for heterosexuals, one for homosexuals. Church unity is important, but you can't compromise on basic principles of conscience."

Noting that the Episcopal Church has not approved a formal rite for blessing same-gender unions, Smith said that the bishops have nothing to renounce.

Episcopal Divinity School

Bishop Steven Charleston, president and dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, wrote to the seminary community on Ash Wednesday to invite its members "to join me in making a witness in light of what we have learned from the Primates."

He described the witness he suggested this way: "We will not change our devotion to doing what we believe is right. We will not delay justice for the sake of making our lives easier. We will not deny a truth that we are certain is from God. We will not play politics with human lives."
 
"There is absolutely no reason that gay and lesbian people should be denied the right of a blessing," he wrote, describing the witness he suggests. "There is absolutely no reason that a gay or lesbian person can not be a respected member of the clergy of this church. There is absolutely no reason that we should abandon either of these positions for the sake of political accommodation."
 
 Writing that "enough is enough," Charleston said that "if the Anglican Communion must separate over this fundamental issue of human rights, then so be it."

The complete text of Charleston’s letter is available here.

Diocese of Fort Worth

There are "several problems" with the Primates' plan to establish a Pastoral Council that would oversee the ministry of a primatial vicar for those who are unable to accept the ministry of Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop Jack Iker wrote in a statement on the diocesan website.

Iker began the efforts of the dioceses of Pittsburgh, Central Florida, San Joaquin, South Carolina, Springfield and Quincy to ask for a relationship with a primate other than Jefferts Schori. (The Diocese of Dallas has since dropped its request for a direct primatial relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury.)

"There are several problems with this proposal, and it raises some serious questions that warrant further discussion," Iker wrote in the statement.

"There are many questions that remain unanswered, and there are some serious difficulties that have to be addressed," he wrote.

The complete text of Iker's statement is available here.

Diocese of Los Angeles

Bishop Jon Bruno  issued a statement February 22 predicting that "during the coming weeks, we will continue to fully process and arrive at a clearer understanding of the Primates' work in Dar es Salaam."

He noted that the "contents of the Communiqué are creating a great deal of angst and speculation about the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion." 
 
"Be assured that your bishops and this diocese remain fully committed to our ministry of Mission, Mercy and Justice," he wrote. "We will continue to serve God's people through the spirit of inclusiveness that guides our actions."
 
Bruno told the diocese that he will attend the Executive Council meeting in Portland, Oregon, March 2-4 and then be at the House of Bishops meeting in Texas. "Both of these events offer opportunities for Bishop Katharine to share her thoughts and offer insights into the processes, dialogues and discernment that resulted in the Communiqué," he wrote.
 
"When we return we will share with you what we have learned, and together we will move forward," Bruno said. "Let us remember what the Hebrew people learned in the wilderness: our God is a God of sustaining and steadfast love, and we are not alone."

The text of Bruno' statement has not yet been posted to the diocese's website.

Diocese of Maryland

While not a direct reaction to the communiqué, Bishop Robert Ihloff wrote February 17 to Archbishop Justice O. Akrofi of West Africa rescinding his invitation for Akrofi to visit the diocese in late March and early April.

In the letter, posted here, Ihloff tells Akrofi that he was taking his action because Akrofi, who is also the bishop of Accra with which Maryland has a companion diocese relationship, was one of seven primates who boycotted a Eucharist at the beginning of the Primates meeting because Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori would be present.

"I am disappointed you would use the Holy Sacrament of our Lord’s Body and Blood as a political tool – I had assumed your sacramental theology was more thoroughly Anglican," Ihloff wrote. "Mostly I am sorry after so many years to end our personal relationship on this note." 

Saying that the Diocesan Council supports his decision, Ihloff wrote that "it would now be completely inappropriate for you to celebrate the Eucharist at our Cathedral on Palm Sunday."

"Surely, many parishioners would protest you visit by not receiving Communion from you. Since I do not allow such behavior in this Diocese, I cannot encourage it by your presence," he said. "Clearly it would be inappropriate for you to preach Tuesday in Holy Week to a combined group of Lutheran and Episcopal clergy, since you do not even share Communion with other Anglicans."

The bishop wrote that he had tried to be honest with Akrofi about where he stood but that he felt that Akrofi had not done the same in the last two years.

"Since becoming Archbishop, you have changed and I do not feel I know you anymore," Ihloff.

Ihloff, who also said that the archbishop was not welcome at his retirement party, said that the companion diocese relationship would remain in force and that Maryland special Lenten offerings will go to the children of Accra.

Diocese of Minnesota

In the Diocese of Minnesota, Bishop James Jelinek wrote that he is "deeply saddened" by the Primates' recommendations, "some of which would require the Episcopal Church to, in effect, to turn back the clock on decades of hard work to provide full inclusion in the Church for all persons."

"I hope and pray that there continues to be a vital place in the Anglican Communion for divergent views on the interpretation of Scripture and the impact of modern tradition – a place for the prophetic voice which the Episcopal Church has offered over the decades for the care and well being of all persons," he wrote. "This is a discussion of justice and morality that will engage the church in the months to come in which I will continue to be a hearty advocate for full inclusion for all."

The complete text of Jelinek's statement is available here.

Diocese of New York

Bishop Mark Sisk has written to the diocese noting that "even a cursory reading" of documents issued by the Primates make it clear that they "are not happy with the Episcopal Church."

He noted that "the General Convention has legislative authority in our church and the House of Bishops can only speak for itself."

"I look forward to working with others to discover if there are ways in which we might give the assurance which our brothers and sisters around the world have requested," he wrote. "It is my hope that through that process, our relationship across the Communion will broaden and deepen."

Sisk added "an important caveat."

"Over the years I have been prepared to make certain accommodations to meet the concerns of those whose view of the Gospel promise differs somewhat from my own. I am fully aware that those accommodations have not been uncontroversial," Sisk said.  "Now, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not in the least prepared to make any concession that strikes at the heart of my conviction that gay and lesbian people are God's beloved children. They are we. Our witness to the Gospel would be unthinkably deformed if by some tragic misjudgment we willingly submitted ourselves to vivisection. We are one body in Christ."

The complete text of Sisk’s statement can be found here.

Diocese of Northern California

Bishop Barry Beisner of the Diocese of Northern California devoted the Ash Wednesday edition of Aurora, his electronic newsletter, to the issues surrounding response to the communiqué.

"Having endured the blitz of speculation and punditry that has come in the last 48 hours, it is once again very clear to me that real understanding will take time, and patience," Beisner wrote. "Once again, we must seek to find that balance of engagement and detachment that will make it possible for us to pay attention to the guidance of the Holy Spirit."

Writing on the first day of Lent, Beisner said, "perhaps the first challenge of this Season is for all of us to step back from anxious reactivity, take a deep breath, and allow God to shift our focus enough for us to notice God's lively presence among us, and to continue the basic work of being Christ’s people in the context of our several communities." 

The complete text of his statement is available here.

Diocese of San Joaquin

Bishop John-David Schofield is expected to issue a statement yet this week to be read in diocesan congregations on February 25, according to a February 22 report in the Fresno Bee newspaper.

The Rev. Van McCalister, spokesman for the Diocese of San Joaquin, told the paper that he was pleased the Anglican leaders gave an ultimatum to the Episcopal Church.
 
"It gives the church one last chance," McCalister said. "The shoe is on the other foot."

Schofield wants to prayerfully consider what to say before making a statement, McCalister said to the paper.

Diocese of Texas

Bishop Don Wimberly, who invited a group of self-identified "Windsor Bishops" to two meetings in his diocese last fall, wrote that he does not believe that the events of the Primates meeting "heighten the divisions our denomination faces but rather communicate well the reality of where we are as a global denomination and begin to reveal the path forward."

"The next step will be the discernment of the House of Bishops regarding a response to the communiqué's explicit request," he wrote.

Wimberly said "it would be all too easy to become distracted by these events," and forget that "God in Christ Jesus has called us to a greater mission, to work together for healing divisions where we find them, to work towards reconciliation within our own congregations and throughout the greater church so that we may reach out as one body an minister to the world around us."

He said that he is committed to the God-given gift of the Anglican Communion "and I intend to continue to take my place in leadership within the Church nationally and globally, and at the same time to continue to focus our local efforts on the mission field in Texas."

The complete text of Wimberly's statement is available here.

Diocese of Washington

On February 22, Washington Bishop John Chane wrote that "like many of you, I feel that I do not yet have sufficient information about what is expected from the Episcopal Church to make a conclusive judgment about all of the recommendations that the Primates have put before us."

"It is not yet clear to me which of our Church's governing bodies is best equipped to make a full response to the Communion. Nor do I fully understand what the plan that designates a 'primatial vicar' for those who do not accept certain actions of our Church would look like in practice," Chane wrote. "That is to say nothing of whether this intrusion in our governance can be justified."

"Regarding the recommendations to the Episcopal Church, I am willing to be persuaded that a temporary compromise on issues of governance may be necessary to keep the Anglican Communion intact," he wrote. "However, under no circumstances will I support a moratorium on the consecration of individuals living in same-sex relationships to the episcopacy, and under no circumstances will I enforce a ban on the blessing of same sex unions in the Diocese of Washington, if that, in fact, is what the Primates are asking us to do."

Chane said that he was "deeply distressed that the Primates spent so much time discussing the internal life of the Episcopal Church and devoted so little attention to the woeful state of our global community."

The complete text of Chane's statement is available here.

Diocese of Western Louisiana

Bishop D. Bruce MacPherson of Western Louisiana, one of four Episcopal Church who addressed the primates in Tanzania and who has identified himself as a "Windsor Bishop," told the New York Times February 21 that the communiqué's recommendations are "the beginning of a process, a mechanism that will enable us to work toward healing and reconciliation."

MacPherson told the newspaper that the House of Bishops alone would have the authority to decide whether to accept the communiqué's recommendations.