October 4, 2007
Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi (1226)
Sisters and Brothers, the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates of the Anglican Communion has issued its report to the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding the Response of the House of Bishops issued at the conclusion of our meeting last week in New Orleans. It is a significant statement, prepared and signed by the Primate of Australia, the Primate of Wales, the Primate of TEC, the Chair of the Anglican Consultative Council and of the ACC Standing Committee, the Vice-Chair of the ACC and Standing Committee, and four other members of the ACC Standing Committee.
The report—all 19 pages—is well worth reading in its entirety, and may be found through Episcopal Life Online (www.episcopalchurch.org/episcopal_life.htm). For brevity’s sake, however, and to point out significant highlights, I draw your attention to the following excerpts which I trust are an accurate reflection of the thrust of the document. (Those portions appearing in bold print are my emphases.)
I. From the introduction: “…(T)he House (of Bishops) has labored long and strenuously…to offer its response to the requests of the Windsor Report, as reiterated in the Communiqué of the Primates meeting in Dar es Salaam…. This reflects the fact that the House of Bishops were themselves of differing perspectives on the questions before them; it also reflects their readiness to respond to the concerns raised by the Communion….”
II. From Part One, “The Response of The Episcopal Church to the Windsor Report”:
“On public Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions….
“The House of Bishops has now said that they ‘pledge as a body not to authorize public rites for the blessing of same-sex unions’…These statements…address the request of the Primates at Dar Es Salaam…. On this basis, we understand the statement of the House of Bishops in New Orleans to have met the request of the Windsor Report in that the Bishops have declared ‘a moratorium on all such public Rites’ and the request of the Primates at Dar es Salaam that the bishops should ‘make an unequivocal common covenant that the bishops will not authorize any Rite of Blessing for same-sex unions in their dioceses’ since we have their pledge explicitly in those terms.
“On elections to the episcopate….
“…(I)n June 2006, General Convention passed Resolution B033, which stated: …Resolved, That this Convention therefore call 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…. By…making the explicit acknowledgement…that B033 does refer to ‘non-celibate gay and lesbian persons’, the Episcopal House of Bishops is answering the question of the Primates positively. They confirm the understanding of the sub-group (that is, as expressed in the Report of a Sub-Group established by the Joint Standing Committee) that restraint is exercised in a precise way “by not consenting”, and that this specifically includes ‘non-celibate gay and lesbian persons’. They have therefore clearly affirmed that the Communion Sub-Group were (sic) correct in interpreting Resolution B033 as meeting the request of the Windsor Report.
“By their answers to these two questions, we believe that the Episcopal Church has clarified all outstanding questions relating to their response to the questions directed explicitly to them in the Windsor Report, and on which clarifications were sought by 30th September 2007, and given the necessary assurances sought of them.”
III. From Part Two, “Pastoral Issues”
“On care of dissenting groups….
“In March 2004, the Bishops of The Episcopal Church adopted a plan for such congregations in the Statement, Caring for All the Churches…designated ‘Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight’.” (The Joint Standing Committee then recommended that the Archbishop of Canterbury encourage “duly designated authorities of The Episcopal Church…to consult further on the issue of the provision of pastoral care and oversight…in consultation with those who are requesting it…. In particular, such consultation could be taken in conjunction with the scheme for “Episcopal Visitors” announced by the Presiding Bishop at the House of Bishops Meeting in New Orleans….”) Then, significantly, “We believe that these initiatives offer a viable basis on which to proceed. Bishop Jefferts Schori indicated that she deliberately left open and flexible the operation of the ministry of the Episcopal Visitors, believing that it was best for the visitor and the diocesan bishop concerned to work out an acceptable scheme.” “…(T)he House of Bishops is correct in identifying that the co-operation and participation of the wider Communion, in a way which respects the integrity of the American Province, is an important element in addressing questions of pastoral oversight…. We also believe that a body which could facilitate such consultation and partnership would meet the intent of the Pastoral Council envisaged by the Primates in their Communiqué. We encourage all the Instruments of Communion to participate in a discussion with the Presiding Bishop and the leadership of The Episcopal Church….”
“On Interventions in the life of The Episcopal Church by Other Jurisdictions….
“…(T)he House of Bishops makes a point here which needs to be addressed urgently in the life of the Communion. …(T)he House is reminding all Anglicans that we are committed to upholding the principle of local jurisdiction. Not only do the ancient councils of the Church command our respect on this question, but the principle was clearly articulated and defended at the time when the very architecture of the Anglican Communion was forged in the early Lambeth Conferences, as well as being clearly re-iterated and stated in more recent times as tensions have escalated….
“As a Joint Standing Committee, we do not see how certain primates can in good conscience call upon The Episcopal Church to meet the recommendations of the Windsor Report while they find reasons to exempt themselves from paying regard to them.”
Citing both the planting of congregations in provinces other than their own, and the ordination of bishops as part of a ‘mission initiative’, the Joint Standing Committee goes on to say that “the time is right for a determined effort to bring interventions to an end.”
“The Life of Persons of Homosexual Orientation in the Church….
“Lambeth Conference Resolutions do not have ‘magisterial’ force in the Anglican Communion; that is, they are not per se binding on the faithful of the Churches of the Anglican Communion. Nevertheless, Resolution 1.10 expresses the understanding on Christian marriage and sexual relationships actually taught and held by the vast majority of Anglican churches and bishops across the globe….
“In addition, the resolution also goes on to say ‘…We commit ourselves to listen to the experiences of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ; (and This Conference)…calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialization and commercialization of sex….” (The Joint Standing Committee then cites two statements from the Primates expressing that “we continue unreservedly to be committed to the pastoral support and care of homosexual people”, and an affirming and explanatory portion of the Windsor Report.)
The Report of the Joint Standing Committee concludes with this paragraph, which I include because of its importance as a guide to both the present and the future:
“The life of the Anglican Communion has been much damaged in recent years…. With the response of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church in September 2007, the Communion should move towards closure on these matters, at least for the time being. The Communion seems to be converging around a position which says that while it is inappropriate to proceed to public Rites of Blessing of same-sex unions and to the consecration of bishops who are living in sexual relationships outside of Christian marriage, we need to take seriously our ministry to gay and lesbian people inside the Church and the ending of discrimination, persecution and violence against them. Here, The Episcopal Church and the Instruments of Communion speak with one voice. The process of mutual listening and conversation needs to be intensified. It is only by living in communion that we can live out our vocation to be Communion.”
Beloved, the concluding sentence is worth repeating: “It is only by living in communion that we can live out our vocation to be Communion.” The critical nature of the unity of the Church is reflected in our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer the night before his crucifixion—in the writings of St. Paul—indeed, throughout Holy Scripture and echoed in the Baptismal Covenant: “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship…?” Historically, “schism only begets schism”, and the Will of the Holy Spirit is discerned by study, prayer and dialogue—in communion (community) and fellowship—all, to be sure, with God’s grace. For accurate discernment, all voices should be at the table; we get nowhere by secession into groups of only like-minded persons. Remember the description of the Church as the Body of Christ, with Jesus Christ himself the head of the Body—and all parts indispensable. If we are not all present and all exercising our gifts, the Body is not functioning as effectively or as efficiently as the Spirit has designed it—in discernment as in mission.
As a diocese we are committed to the Gospel and mission of Jesus Christ—the Great Commandment and the Great Commission—and life in Christ as guided by the three authorities of the Church: Holy Scripture, Tradition and Reason. We are committed to the discernment of the Holy Will in all things, including every issue in every age. But, in order to be faithful, I am bold to remind you, we are mission-driven, not issue-driven. I pray that by God’s Grace we shall be diligent in discernment, and that by God’s Spirit we shall be powerful in mission—in proclaiming God’s gracious Good News to all of God’s children.
Of which, more anon. Subjects among those I would like to see discussed on “The Bishop’s Blog” and otherwise studied and explored earnestly: (1) What does it mean to be a bishop in this catholic church? (2) What are the implications of the affirmation that “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church?”—or, what does it mean to be part of something larger? (3) How do we honor the Anglican Communion’s commitment to “listen to the experience of homosexual persons (and to) assure them that they are loved by God and…full members of the Body of Christ” (Lambeth Resolution 1.10. Your suggestions?