A Pastoral Letter to the Church in Upper South Carolina
From Their Bishop
5th Easter, 2007
Sisters and Brothers, dearly Beloved: Greetings in the Name of our Resurrected Lord, Jesus Christ! May He, and the Good News he brings, be known to you in the breaking of the bread, in the community of the Church which is His Body, and in your hearts.
In March I attended a meeting of the House of Bishops at Camp Allen, Texas. It was the first House meeting over which ++Katharine Jefferts Schori has presided since her installation as Presiding Bishop. And she did just that—no more, no less. She presided as we, the members of the House, strove to live faithfully into the ministry we all share. Like the presiding officer of any deliberative (and in this case, prayerful) body, she kept order and insured that everyone had the opportunity to speak. She pressed no agenda and did not take sides, which was not always true with her predecessors. She is off to a great start. Her task is monumental, yet the constitutional role of the Presiding Bishop is extremely limiting. This is unlike the other Primates of the Anglican Communion, who have powerful authority to act autonomously within their Provinces. Our Constitution gives the Presiding Bishop oversight in only three areas: the consecration of bishops, the obligation to visit every diocese at least once during the nine-year term, and the discipline of bishops charged with misconduct. This limited role and authority are consistent with our American democratic heritage politically, socially, and in the Church. After all, many of those who designed the governmental structure of the United States participated in the design of the structure of our Church. ++Katharine and I served on the Special Commission on The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. During our meetings she would knit (or crochet—some kind of sewing). But at the same time I could almost see her mind constantly at work. She’s sharp, and she looked for the Lord in every idea offered, in every proposal made. In the most difficult of roles, the Presiding Bishop has my prayers, support, and I might add, my affection.
Collegiality among the bishops seemed to me to be deeper and more authentic than usual. Although none of the Forward in Faith bishops (those who do not ordain women) was present, there was broad representation otherwise—conservative, moderate, and liberal. In keeping with our custom, we worshipped daily with the Holy Eucharist and Morning and Evening Prayer. For the first time in my memory, we did not sit pew-style, facing front, but monastic or choir style. We faced each other, so that God’s Altar and our community were our focus. I was personally quite moved, looking across at bishops pro-this, anti-that, different from each other in so many ways. But we prayed together, praised God together in word and in boisterous singing of hymns. And then, together, we approached the altar, to receive there the broken Body and spent Blood of our Lord. There were differences, yes—differences in opinion on any number of things. But there was solidarity in love of the Lord and the Lord’s Church—love of each other. I was reminded of the paradox again when reading the Gospel for this Sunday: Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” We worshipped, prayed, and deliberated for six days. Among other things, we considered and adopted three resolutions. Although they were not passed unanimously, support for the resolutions was broad and across the spectrum—conservative, moderate, and liberal. In one resolution, we made four essential points: First, we reaffirmed our commitment to remain a part of the Anglican Communion. Second, we acknowledged that the General Convention is the sole, appropriate body to determine the meaning of the Preamble to the Constitution of The Episcopal Church. Third, we stated our belief that the Pastoral Scheme proposed by the Primates in the Dar es Salaam Communiqué of February 19, 2007, would be injurious to us. Thus, the House urged the Executive Council to decline to participate in it. The fourth point was a pledge that we would continue to work to meet the pastoral concerns of the Primates in ways that are compatible with our polity and canons. I support this resolution. The second resolution was initially proposed by Bishop John Howe of the Diocese of Central Florida. In it we acknowledged that we are unable to accept the proposed Pastoral Scheme. Again, however, we affirmed our “passionate desire to remain in full constituent membership in both the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church”. As an indication of our commitment to meet the concerns of the Primates, we urged the Archbishop of Canterbury and the members of the Primates’ Standing Committee to accept our invitation to join us, at our expense, for three days of “prayer and conversation regarding these important matters”. We need their understanding and their help. I support this resolution.
The third statement is one of the so-called “Mind of the House” resolutions. I proposed what I consider to be a significant amendment. It was adopted unanimously. Citing the Book of Common Prayer, we stated: “In anticipation of the traditional renewal of ordination vows in Holy Week we solemnly declare that ‘we do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and we do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of The Episcopal Church’”. As in the other resolutions, we emphasized in some detail the “deep longing of our hearts for The Episcopal Church to continue as a part of the Anglican Communion”. Basically, this third resolution spells out the convictions behind the content of the first resolution—why we believe that the Pastoral Scheme proposed by the Primates would be injurious to us. Stated simply, it would violate our Constitution and Canons. Were we bishops to agree to the Pastoral Scheme in the form specified in the Dar es Salaam Communiqué, we would be violating the vows of our consecration as bishops. Our Constitution and Canons can be changed only by the General Convention, and amendment would be necessary before we could accept the Primates’ proposal in its present form. I felt that the adoption of this Mind of the House resolution would be more appropriate if passed when we meet next September. Thus I voted against it. However, I am in full agreement with both its intent and its content. I support it. I digress with a personal word about the “deep longing of our hearts” for this Church to remain fully constituent within the Anglican Communion. That is the deep longing of my own heart. Although The Episcopal Church existed before there was an Anglican Communion, all Anglicans need each other. We need each other for mission, for collaboration and cooperation in spreading the Good News, in healing the sick, feeding the hungry, bringing liberty to those in prison, and striving for justice and peace. Those are the things God leads us to do in order to that his “will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”.
In considering the meaning of the Bishops’ resolutions, please note three things. First, these resolutions do not address in any fashion the issues of sexuality which seem to be at the heart of the Primates’ concerns. Nor did we make any decision regarding a proposed covenant for the Communion. Rather, we limited these resolutions solely to issues of our polity—whether we could accept the Primates’ proposal for a Primatial Vicar without violating our Constitution and Canons. We did take care to address one other matter of great concern to the Primates—providing care of all persons and congregations who disagree with their bishops. So we reaffirmed our intention and our previous constructions for providing such pastoral care. That plan is called “DEPO”—Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight. At the request of the recently retired Bishop of Western North Carolina, I have provided such oversight to one of his congregations which considers him too liberal. He and I have taken different positions on various issues du jour, but among other things we agree on the need to provide adequate pastoral care to any and all who feel distanced from their own bishops. Thus, I have offered to arrange delegated oversight to the one congregation in our diocese which seems to feel that I should be more conservative, or at least more outspoken. DEPO, with good will from all parties, can work.
Secondly, we must remember that, while we respect their position and their convictions, the Primates are only one of four Instruments of Unity in the Anglican Communion. The other three are the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council, and the Lambeth Conference, which includes all bishops of the Communion. The Anglican Consultative Council is probably my favorite because it is the only one of the four which includes in its membership representatives other than bishops and archbishops. Its makeup is more consistent with the American model of ministry and leadership in the Church in that it includes lay people as well as bishops, priests and deacons. All four instruments have their role, but none is primary, none is supreme. Accordingly, while the Primates may request that The Episcopal Church respond in a particular way and in accordance with a deadline, they do not have the authority to mandate either response or deadline. At Camp Allen, the Archbishop of Mexico was asked how he had experienced the Primates’ Meeting at Dar es Salaam. He responded that it was great—that although he arrived in Dar es Salaam as an archbishop, he departed as a “cardinal”! His point was clear. The Primates had assumed unto themselves authority which they have not heretofore possessed. I believe the Primates have, on the whole, good intentions. However, it is clear to me that they do not fully understand our heritage, the difference between their extensive authority and the limited constitutional authority of our Presiding Bishop, or our polity. Third, the Presiding Bishop—after the House had taken final action on the three resolutions—was asked this important question: “Do you feel that you still have the authority to appoint a Primatial Vicar (for those dioceses which have requested one)?” She answered, “Yes. There is nothing final in these resolutions”—or words to that effect. Indeed, the Presiding Bishop responded to those dioceses last December. Working with some of their bishops, and with several others of us, she offered a model that honored their requests and is consistent with our Constitution and Canons. She is still prepared to do so. I support her in that determination. Finally, as the Archbishop of Armagh, chair of the Lambeth Commission, wrote in The Windsor Report, “This Report is not a judgment. It is part of a process.” The process—very much like a conversation—continues. Actions by the Church in Canada and the United States provoked much of our present conversation. The Archbishop of Canterbury joined the conversation. Then the Primates, and then the Anglican Consultative Council, added their voices. The conversation continued with the resolutions of the General Convention last summer, adopted in response to Windsor. Then the Primates spoke again. Now the House of Bishops has continued the discussion. The conversation will continue. We in Upper South Carolina, striving to be faithful within both the Anglican Communion and The Episcopal Church, having our voice, will be part of it. With God’s grace, and our continued commitment to “continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers”, we will together come out in the place God wants us.
Beloved, this period in the life of the Church makes us anxious. You are anxious. I, blessed to be your bishop, am anxious. And your clergy are anxious, probably to a person. If you are not already praying for each other, for your clergy and bishop, about this anxiety and its inevitable distraction from ministry, I urge you to do so. In that same regard, I am attempting to have the same insight into the contents of this letter that I would have were I still the rector of a parish, or a vicar, or a communicant in the pew. Would it increase, lower, or have no effect on my anxiety? I think I would hear—as I hope you hear—my commitment as your bishop to give everything I have and know how to give, to maintain our faithfulness to God in The Episcopal Church and in the Anglican Communion. Anglicanism is not only dear to me, but I believe it to be the clearest manifestation of authentic Christianity yet achieved. The Episcopal Church is dear to me—and I believe its development in the setting of the New World to be the clearest manifestation of authentic Anglicanism yet achieved. Neither is perfect. The Kingdom of God is not yet fully realized on earth. God is not finished with us yet! But that’s why we have the Holy Spirit, sent to lead us into all truth and to strengthen us as the Body of Christ for Christian living. The Windsor Report concluded, in part, by calling upon “all parties…to seek ways of reconciliation and to heal our divisions”. To be a Windsor Bishop and a Windsor Diocese is to continue to participate diligently and conscientiously in the process and in the conversation leading to reconciliation and healing. Deadlines and demands from any single party seem less than helpful to the biblical mandate, which comes to us from one who does have authority, and with which I conclude this epistle: “God…reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation…., entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ…” (2nd Cor. 5:18-20a). My fellow ambassadors for Christ, may you be blessed by the Risen Lord throughout this Easter season and forever. My prayer for us all is that the Peace of the Lord will make us less anxious and more hopeful.
Alleluia! The Lord is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Faithfully and with a blessing,
Upper South Carolina VII