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House of Bishops sessions reflect 'passionate commitment' to Anglican Communion

[Episcopal News Service] Bishops meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams in New Orleans on September 20 characterized their conversations with the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion as reflective of a "passionate commitment" to the future of that communion.

Bishop Robert O'Neill of Colorado told reporters after a nearly seven-hour session with Williams that the "best way to characterize our conversation is to say that collectively as a House of Bishops who exercise oversight for the common life and ministry of each of our dioceses, we take our responsibilities and our ministries very seriously. We're passionate about the work that we all do both individually and collectively.

"That passion was reflected in our conversation today; it reflected a passionate commitment to the vitality of life and ministry of both the Episcopal Church and to the global Anglican Communion."

O'Neill, along with Bishop John Rabb of Maryland, met with more than two dozen reporters, from as far away as Toronto, London and Los Angeles, after the bishops opening plenary session. They offered a perspective about the discussions with Williams, which are private and are expected to conclude on Friday morning.

Rabb noted that the September 20-25 session is well-attended and included the "largest gathering we've had in some time" of bishops including bishops who are retired or have resigned. "It includes bishops not only from different parts of the country but also of differing theological points of view, on any number of issues," he added.

O'Neill declined comment about how news of the New Orleans meeting might be evaluated or received by primates who in February issued a communiqué from Dar es Salaam calling for a ban on consecrating gay bishops and the blessing of same-gender unions. He also declined comment on questions about alternative primatial oversight --bishops from outside the United States exercising oversight within another bishop's diocesan jurisdiction -- except to acknowledge that Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has announced the appointment of eight bishops to provide oversight.

"Nothing happened conclusively about that, except it is reasonable to say that Bishop Katharine announced she was exploring ways of providing for some kind of oversight," O'Neill said.

Williams was not at the news conference. He paid a pastoral visit to All Souls' Church, in New Orleans' Ninth Ward, an area severely affected by Hurricane Katrina, to observe rebuilding efforts. (Story to follow.)
 
They also declined to speculate about whether or not Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire would be invited to the Lambeth Conference, the once-a-decade gathering of the worldwide Anglican Communion's bishops. The election of Robinson, a gay man living in a committed relationship, has been an topic of contention with more conservative bishops across the 77-million-member worldwide Anglican Communion.

O'Neill and Rabb emphasized that Williams attended the gathering at the invitation of the bishops, in his capacity as Archbishop of Canterbury and, in response to a reporter's question, said Williams had made no specific requests prior to the gathering. They characterized the tone of the meetings and discussions as respectful.

Earlier in the day, Jefferts Schori presided and preached at a spirited Eucharist and called the bishops to self-awareness, accountability and mutual respect during their deliberations.

"We have lived in this Church and in this Communion for a number of years with abundant disdain, violent words, and destructive action toward those who hold positions at variance with our own. None of us is wholly free of blame in this game, for we have all sought to judge those who oppose us," she said during her homily.

Reflecting upon the ways language can be "violent," the Presiding Bishop recalled former radio personality Don Imus's derogatory references to the Rutgers Women's Basketball team in April.

"What he said about them implied they are not my equal, they are not worthy of dignity and they [the team] responded with an invitation to conversation. When you and I can meet our rhetorical opponents with an invitation rather than judgment, remarkable things can happen … conversation becomes possible."

She added that: "we must begin by recognizing ourselves as beloved and forgiven, and by extending that recognition to those around us. I can assure you that there are some in our midst who feel quite unwelcome, who have not known what it is to be beloved."

Noting that "we've consecrated three new bishops in the past two weeks, three others since we last gathered and elected two more who are waiting to be consecrated," she invited newer members of the house to let their voices be heard.

-- The Rev. Pat McCaughan is senior associate for parish life at St. George's Church in Laguna Hills, and correspondent for the Diocese of Los Angeles and Episcopal News Service.

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