Most participants at Convention are taking a deep breath as they head back to their congregations to face the question of where the Episcopal Church is headed now that it has consented to the election of a gay partnered priest as a bishop and local dioceses more latitude to conduct blessings for same-gender relationships.
There was no dearth of opinions and predictions in the Convention Center.
Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said he did not think the Church was a different church from the one it was two weeks ago. “I think we’re the same church but in a somewhat different place,” he said.
“So I come away with a great respect for our capacity to listen to one another, to seek to make common cause with each other, to make room for one another’s differences. I also come away very aware of how deeply pained a number of people are,” he said. “I think of many people not only here at the Convention but in our congregations and dioceses across the country who are going to need some time, some time to assimilate and work their way through what the Convention has done.”
New Hampshire Bishop-elect Gene Robinson predicted that the Convention would be an evangelism tool.
“I think that this process says to the world that we worship a God who loves us beyond our wildest imagining and the Episcopal Church will do everything it can to embody that love which embraces all of God’s children,” Robinson said. “I think that will be a very welcome message for those who are looking for a church home.”
The Rev. Canon David Anderson of the American Anglican Council agreed that this might happen. “They might very well find (the Episcopal Church now) a place where they feel comfortable, less likely that their lifestyle will be challenged,” he said.
Anderson said he will ask the primates of the Communion to form a new province, the Province of North America, for the “very significant number of people” who will leave the church.
During Tuesday’s consent debate in the House of Bishops, Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh said that consenting to Robinson would create a “time of chaos and loss” that the Church has not seen since the threats of schism made during the years before the Civil War. To consent “would — in my opinion, and from Church history — give us a sense of nullity about the actions of this Convention,” Duncan said. He said that his position conforms to fourth-century Church councils.
Anderson said he wants “a province where we would be able to live next door to our brothers and sisters but not be responsible for the governance of the other, nor the discipline of the other, and they not responsible for us in the same way as before.”
Anderson did not clearly answer the question of whether this move would conflict with the Council of Nicea’s 4th-century ruling that forbids bishops with competing jurisdictions to operate in the same geographic area.
The AAC plans to have a closed meeting of sympathetic bishops, canons to the ordinary, chancellors and rectors in Plano, Texas, Oct. 7-9 “to talk nuts and bolts about where we go from here.”
The AAC claims to have 25 bishops aligned with it and 25 more who vote the AAC line based on the issues. Anderson said “a number of parishes” are having special vestry meetings next week and will hold congregational meetings. Some bishops are considering calling special diocesan conventions or days of conversation.
Anderson said his hope for a win-win solution has him thinking about Robinson’s story of how he and his former wife ended their marriage vows by releasing each other from them while agreeing to take good care of their children. “I wonder if in some way, in a most bizarre sense, there’s a paradigm for a church in what he said and did in his own life,” he said.
Likening the Church’s life to a marriage covenant among its members, Anderson wondered “if there is any possibility that somehow we keep our covenant or our vows by breaking them honorably, respectfully, and commit, even though we might have to live separately, that we pledge to jointly look after our offspring. What in the world would that look like? That’s a question on my part, not an answer.”
Otis Charles, who came out as a gay man after he retired as bishop of Utah, said the Communion is more flexible than we might imagine. He used the example of polygamy. Bishops at the 1978 Lambeth Conference agreed that forcing converts to Christianity to put away all but one of their wives would push those women into poverty and shame. Charles noted that Utah’s founding bishop, Daniel Tuttle, fought against polygamy.
“We do have the ability, the propensity to hold together a variety of cultures,” he said.
Charles said he thinks the relationships formed during the House of Bishops may help in the days to come. He shared a table with Quincy Bishop Keith Ackerman, among others. Ackerman was one of the bishops who opposed Robinson’s consent.
“I now have a new bond with Keith,” he said. “As a result of that, I now feel a commitment to somehow stay connected with him.”