The Bishop Speaks #3 (July 13, 2006)

September 7, 2006

A Pastoral Letter to the Episcopalians of Upper South Carolina

Concerning General Convention 2006

John 13:5—A Good Place to Stand

Click here for a printable version of this letter. (PDF)

“Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash his disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel.”

I’ve been asked where we stand as a diocese. Kneeling to wash one another’s feet is a blessed place for us to stand. Physically and literally that is impossible, to be sure; but spiritually and figuratively it is the appropriate posture for anyone seeking to “Love with the Heart of Christ; Think with the Mind of Christ; and Act in the World as the Body of Christ”—our diocesan spiritual vision statement.

Beloved, stress is not new in my life, but General Convention 2006 has to top my list—as it did for many. But the experience preceding the Convention and the Convention’s proceedings themselves fill me with renewed hope for the Episcopal Church—and yes, pride in the Church which has meant so much—life itself!—to so many of us. To be sure, this is a time of tension. But I proclaim with conviction: this is a time of Christian hope for us all! “Our hope”, we affirm, “is in the Lord”. “And we shall never hope in vain”.

Some hastily dismiss reports of our actions in Columbus, Ohio—the site of the General Convention—as “spin”. It does seem that persons of different persuasions can see in those actions what they—and we—want to see. Thus I invite you to look beyond headlines and public statements from whatever source—including your bishop—and determine for yourselves the relevant facts. To assist with that I have prepared and published two previous statements under the heading, “The Bishop Speaks”. One is “On the Election of the 26th Presiding Bishop”; the other, “On the Response of General Convention to Windsor Report”. The first does express my own thoughts about the choice of Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. The latter I hope will be helpful, particularly because of its format, as you seek to make an objective consideration: it is a two-column, side-by-side comparison of the specific recommendations for the Episcopal Church and the actual language of the resolutions adopted in Columbus. Some observers have said the Convention did “too much”—others, “too little”. Read and draw your own conclusions. (Both writings are available on our web-site.

How can I be hopeful? For nine months my life was largely driven in preparation for, and the experience of, this convention. At the request of the Presiding Bishop, I served, beginning last September, on the Special Commission for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. At Convention I served as Chair of the House of Bishops Special Legislative Committee of the same name—and, thus, as co-chair of the joint (or “cognate”) Bishops’ and Deputies’ Committee. Both the Commission and the Committee were charged with the responsibility of assisting the Convention in preparing a response to the Windsor Report. It was a heavy responsibility, but living into it and through it—despite the physical and emotional exhaustion it entailed—was an incomparable blessing. In meetings of Commission, Committee and Convention, I witnessed Christians of diverse convictions, ethnicity, sexuality and experiences brought to a common mind through a shared commitment to Christ and to Christ’s mission. We intentionally and with great care immersed the process in prayer. The report and resolutions we eventually produced were “expensive” in the sense that they were costly, indeed painful, to everyone—and an answer to prayer. And the goal for which we all strove—unity, mission, and faithfulness—was also motivation for looking beyond individual cost and pain to the welfare of the Episcopal Church and for the larger Church of which we are a part—an indispensable part. This fills me with hope.

How can I be hopeful? “Brought to a common mind”, I observe above, but, borrowing from Blessed Richard Hooker, we—at least substantial majorities—were brought to that common mind by seeking to maintain the “middle way not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth”. That is both my conviction and my prayer about the decisions we made, knowing through faith that what God cannot bless, God redeems. That goes for Commission, Committee, Convention, Communion—and, Beloved, for you and for me. This fills me with hope—sure and certain hope.

I shall comment about actions of the Convention in more of the series, “The Bishop Speaks”. Presently my purpose is to address the status of the Diocese of Upper South Carolina—where we stand:

  • We are a diocese of The Episcopal Church and as such a constituent part of the Anglican Communion. This is consistent with our Anglican ecclesiology, Anglican polity, and the constitution and canons of our Episcopal Church and our diocese.
  • We are a “Windsor Diocese” with a “Windsor Bishop”.
  • As a Windsor Diocese with a Windsor Bishop, we honor the Windsor Report in its entirety—not just our favorite parts. I maintain my previous pledge to honor the recommendations of the Windsor Report; this is consistent with the resolution adopted at our last diocesan convention which provided, in part, that our diocese, “receives, accepts, and endorses, the Windsor Report, and pledges to comply with its proposals and expectations….”
  • As a Windsor Diocese with a Windsor Bishop, we honor Lambeth Resolution 110 in its entirety—not just our favorite parts. This means that while we accept the stated position on sexuality, we maintain the commitments of Lambeth to gay and lesbian people.
  • As a Windsor Diocese with a Windsor Bishop, we continue to “seek and serve Christ in all persons” loving our neighbor as ourselves, and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”. Thus we oppose every form of bigotry, violence, and discrimination, and we support equal rights under the law for everyone.
  • As a Windsor Diocese with a Windsor Bishop, we strive to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all things. In St. John’s Gospel our Lord says, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (16:12-13). We don’t know the fullness of God and God’s truth and will not until we are in God’s nearer presence; in the interim we will not shrink from any effort—no matter how challenging, how unnerving, how painful—to know God and God’s truth as it is revealed to us by the Spirit. Indeed, we will be assertive in seeking to discern that divine truth.
  • As a Windsor Diocese with a Windsor Bishop, we will be faithful to the process set out before us by the Archbishop of Canterbury—including the listening process and the covenant development process recommended by Windsor and endorsed by General Convention. The process involves a working group already appointed by the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and the Anglican Consultative Council to assess The Episcopal Church’s response to Windsor, and to assist the Archbishop of Canterbury as he prepares for the next Primates’ Meeting (February 2007) and Lambeth Conference 2008.

How can I be hopeful? General Convention, although intense in its focus on Windsor, was not distracted from the overall mission of Christ. We affirmed the Millennium Development Goals, a worldwide effort to eliminate global poverty, by devoting .07% of our resources to that effort. We passed resolutions strengthening our commitments to evangelism, church planting, and many issues at the heart of the social gospel. We responded to our Lord’s call for the unity of the Church, not only by our resolute commitment to the Anglican Communion, but by entering into an interim agreement with the United Methodists. All this fills me with hope.

Beloved, a final point: By God’s grace and mercy, I pledge to you my commitment to stay the course—to continue with vigor what we have begun together—a commitment which found its stellar moment in the Great Gathering. These may be “wilderness” times for us—akin to the wilderness of our Israelite forebears. Like them, we could lose heart and lose our way—but, as a people of biblical hope, we need do neither. Your Diocesan Council and I have made a covenant that, together, we will commit ourselves and our best efforts to live more and more fully into our plan for being Christ present in the world as “One Body” with “One Mission” which is “Changing Lives”. This is a covenant all Episcopalians in Upper South Carolina share, and I believe to be one which God can bless as our best efforts to be faithful to the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.

“After washing their feet and taking his garments again, (Jesus) sat down. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ he asked. ‘…(I)f I, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example: you are to do as I have done for you.”

As we face with both hope and challenge the times ahead, what does our Lord’s example say to us in our relationships within the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion—and, indeed, within the Church Catholic? Consider the concluding words of the Windsor Report: “Our aim throughout has been to work not for division but for healing and restoration.”

Kneeling and washing feet, working not for division but for healing and restoration—seems like a good place to stand—following the example of our Blessed Lord—our true hope and our life.

God bless you and keep you.

Faithfully yours in that Blessed Lord,

Dorsey F. Henderson, Jr.

Upper South Carolina VII


2 Responses to “The Bishop Speaks #3 (July 13, 2006)”

  1. Karen McLeod Says:

    While I don’t always agree with the bishop, I am thankful to have one whom I truly believe to be honest and who truly tries do do God’s will.

  2. Pamela Monahan Says:

    I am so glad he is our bishop. I met him for the first time a few months ago, and I just love him. Reading his response gives me peace.

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