This morning the Episcopal Church begins writing a new chapter in the story of “how a community can live in the tension of disagreement.”
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said Tuesday night that was the challenge facing the church after the House of Bishops gave its consent, 62-43, to the election of the Rev. Canon Gene Robinson as the bishop-coadjutor of New Hampshire.
“So, it is now our challenge to take up the difficult and holy work of living with difference,” he said at Tuesday night’s news conference.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said late Tuesday night that difficult days lie ahead for the Anglican Communion. Rowan Williams said it is “too early to say what the result of [the vote] will be,” but he said it will have a “significant impact” on the Anglican Communion.
“It is my hope that the church in America and the rest of the Anglican Communion will have the opportunity to consider this development before significant and irrevocable decisions are made in response,” he said in an e-mailed press release. “I have said before that we need as a church to be very careful about making decisions for our own part of the world which constrain the church elsewhere.
“It will be vital to ensure that the concerns and needs of those across the Communion who are gravely concerned at this development can be heard, understood and taken into account.”
Griswold asked the bishops to “be profoundly sensitive to one another at this time, knowing that for many this was a very difficult decision.”
“God has once again made an Easter out of Good Friday,” Robinson said, referring to how he felt after receiving the consent to his election and being cleared of accusations raised against him Monday.
Robinson said one thing that did not make Tuesday completely joyous: the consent to his election is “causing pain and difficulty for a good number of people in our communities and in our churches.”
He said he would be willing to sit down with anyone to “pray with them, to do some Bible study. I will listen very, very carefully to whatever is said to me, and I would hope to be listened to.”
The consent vote came after Western Massachusetts Bishop Gordon Scruton told the House of Bishops Tuesday that there was “no need to pursue further investigation” of the accusations against Robinson or further delay the consent process. Tuesday afternoon, the House of Bishops was filled with silent prayer, examinations of conscience, a reconciliation ritual that involved a “communal anointing,” and many emotional statements by bishops. Eighteen bishops spoke during the hour allotted.
Griswold announced the vote total and invited Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan to the podium to make a statement. Eighteen other bishops stood with Duncan as he said they would ask the primates of the Anglican Communion to “intervene in the pastoral emergency that has overtaken us.”
Griswold was asked repeatedly at the news conference if he would be practicing what one reporter called “shuttle diplomacy” with the other primates. Griswold said that he valued the communion and his relationship with the other primates and would be in contact with them. He noted that all the primates relate to each other through the Archbishop of Canterbury and that he understood that only the archbishop could call an official meeting of the Communion’s leaders.
The issue of schism reverberated through the bishops’ comment period Tuesday. El Camino Real Bishop Richard Shimpfky recited what sounded like a litany of the fears of repercussions when the Church faced issues of slavery, Darwinism, divorce, the role of women in ministry, and adoption of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer. “The interesting thing about that is in every single instance the rest of the Anglican Communion quickly followed our example,” he said.
Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman, who said he just barely received consents to his election nine years ago, said the splintering of the Church over this vote is “inevitable” and that schism has already begun. He said there are some 37 “distinct groups of former Anglicans,” adding that he has gotten letters from “countless people” who have left. He said he has “lost” two priests since Robinson’s election.
Retired Massachusetts Bishop Suffragan Barbara Harris, said she remembered the “dire predictions” made after she was elected as the first woman bishop in Christianity in 1989. “There were threats of schism, impaired communion and further erosion with our relationship with Rome,” she told the House. “And while there has been some impaired communion around the issue of women in the episcopate and other issues, the Communion, such as it is, a loose federation of autonomous provinces, has held 13, 14 women bishops later.”
Summary of Scruton’s findings
A Vermont man alleged Robinson inappropriately touched him on two occasions during a November, 1999, Province I Convocation at the Mont Marie Conference Center in Holyoke, Mass.
On one occasion, the man said Robinson put his left hand on his arm and a right hand on his upper back. The incident was in public view and was brief.
In the second incident, the man claimed Robinson touched his forearm and back in response to a comment the man made.
The Vermont man said he felt compelled to share the experience after the House of Deputies approved the election on Sunday. He did not want to file a formal charge of harassment against Robinson.
The second allegation concerned an adult-content Web site that could be reached through a link from a chapter of an organization known as Outright, founded to provide support and counseling for young gay, lesbian and bisexual people.
Scruton said his investigation revealed that Robinson helped found Outright in 1995 and ended his involvement in 1998, four years before the organization's Web site was established.
Convention Daily reporter Sharon Sheridan contributed to this story.