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WESTERN NEW YORK: Search committee told to honor Resolution B033

[Episcopal News Service] The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Western New York has told a newly formed bishop search committee that they are expected to "honor the mind of the Episcopal Church regarding acceptable candidates for the episcopate as expressed through the General Convention."

The Standing Committee said in a posting on the diocese's bishop search website that the requirement referred to Resolution B033, passed by the Episcopal Church's General Convention in June 2006.

In Resolution B033, General Convention called upon standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction to "exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion."

Under the canons of the Episcopal Church (III.16.4 (a)), a majority of bishops exercising jurisdiction and diocesan standing committees must consent to the ordination of a bishop within 120 days of receiving notice of her or his election. (If the election occurs within 120 days of a meeting of General Convention, the convention is asked for its consent.)

The Rev. Eric Williams, chair of the Western New York standing committee and rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Jamestown, told ENS April 2 that "we do understand that the letter of B033 does not relate to search committees at all."

"So we are taking a step -- and probably a somewhat controversial step -- of interpreting that and offering our guidance to the search committee," he said. "But it is not our intention to muzzle the search committee or prevent them from doing their discernment. In the end, they have to make these difficult discernment choices as they do their work over the next year and a half, and this is really an invitation to see their work in the context of the whole Episcopal Church."

He said the committee's goal is to "help the search committee to see that as our diocese elects our next bishop we do that for our own diocese, but we also do if for the whole church and so we wanted to make sure that we as a standing committee are giving what we think is appropriate guidance on that." Williams also said that the search committee is "perfectly free to present finalists that they discern to be the best regardless of our instructions."

Rather than have the issue of B033 "lurk through the whole process and then come up later in a difficult way" Williams said the standing committee decided to "put the issue on the table" explicitly.

"We could have done this very informally just in a conversation with the search committee. We decided to make it part of the charge and to put it on the website because of our decision to make the whole process as transparent as possible," Williams said. "We want to make sure that all of these issues are dealt with openly and in the public eye and that there is a lot of opportunity for people to respond -- to weigh in -- because we don't want it to be a hidden thing."

B033 was passed in the waning hours of the last meeting of General Convention after then-Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold told a joint meeting of the houses of Bishops and Deputies its passage would signal to the rest of the Anglican Communion the "willingness of the majority of us to relinquish something in order to serve a larger purpose."

The Western New York Standing Committee also said in its website statement that it "strongly recommends" that the diocese's deputation to the 76th General Convention "should work for or support efforts at the 2009 General Convention to rescind Resolution B033." Those efforts have already begun, with a number of dioceses submitting resolutions to the convention, which will meet July 8-17 in Anaheim, California, that would either rescind or supersede B033.

"The Standing Committee offers its continued prayers for reconciliation in both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion over issues of human sexuality," the statement said.

Williams said the committee made the additional statement about B033's future "because of our understanding as a standing committee that we think it's time for the Episcopal Church to take the next step towards the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church but we don't think that an individual diocese should do that. We think it ought to be an action of the whole church."

In the meantime, Williams said, "it's a difficult period of limbo in our church right now and we'd like to address it as openly as we can."

The Rev. Susan Russell, president of Integrity USA, which advocates for the full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the life of the Episcopal Church, told ENS that "the Standing Committee of Western New York stands out as the tip of the iceberg of mainstream Episcopalians."

"They are asking our bishops and deputies to release this church from the straitjacket B033 has imposed on the vocational discernment process of a diocese seeking the best candidates for their bishop -- to end the era of de facto apartheid that restricts a percentage of the baptized from full inclusion in all orders of ministry," she said, adding that "we will keep the Diocese of Western New York in our prayers as they seek and call a new pastor for their people."

According to the schedule on the bishop search website, the standing committee does not expect to release a slate of nominees to succeed Bishop J. Michael Garrison until August 2010. The election would occur November 20, 2010.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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