What happened at the House of Bishops meeting, I

Those of you who follow the internal politics of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion may be aware that the Church’s House of Bishops met last week, and that our relationship with the rest of the Communion was near the top of the agenda. For some reason, the Church leadership always assumes that it is best if the rest of the Church knows as little as possible about what transpires at these meetings. But, almost invariably, much of what transpires leaks out in a form that fans the very anxiety that church leaders were hoping to bank.

It comes as almost no surprise then that a member of the House, Bishop Kirk Smith of Arizona, has written an account of the meeting that, perhaps against his wishes, is now circulating on the internet. It gives us the fullest sense we have had of how the House of Bishops hopes to handle the issues of same-sex blessings and the consecration of future gay and lesbian candidates for the episcopacy.

So far, within my own limited feedback loop, it has had the effect of engendering a type of discussion I had not heard previously. A conversation in which the word “sellout” is being used, in which resistance to the bishops’ by the House of Deputies is being discussed, and in which the pros and cons of getting out of Dodge (leaving the Anglican Communion) are being evaluated. I don’t know that anything will come of these conversations, but until this week, I wasn’t even hearing this kind of talk, and that strikes me as significant. My hunch is that this is not what Bishop Smith intended.

Here is his report:

Sitting in the airport, waiting to catch a plane back to Phoenix from the North Carolina House of Bishops meeting gives me a chance to add my own unofficial “Word to the Church” as an introduction to the official published document, which I have included below in case you have not already seen it. There were several large and important issues we dealt with at this meeting. We were very much aware that many in our own country, not to mention the wider Anglican Communion, were waiting to see how we would react to the Windsor Report on the eve of our June General Convention. You will note the mention, in the “Word to the Church” document, of the Special Commission on the Anglican Communion. Although this Commission did not give us a written report (that will be published in a few weeks), it did outline several recommendations, which will take the form of resolutions at General Convention. From my perspective, these resolutions represent an endorsement of the Windsor Report and express a clear desire not to do anything that would further jeopardize our standing with the rest of the Communion. The resolutions, which I also expect will pass in June, I would sum up as follows nothing is official at this point:

Click for the rest.

1. A restatement of our commitment to the Communion and the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury; an endorsement of the Windsor process as the way forward for all of us.

2. An invitation that representatives from the wider Communion join us on our national standing committees.

3. An expression of “repentance” (and that is the word used rather than “regret”) for actions of our church, which have caused pain to the wider Communion.

4. An encouragement of “very considerable caution” in electing future bishops whose “acceptability poses a challenge” to the Communion, until a wider consensus emerges.

5. A call for a wide breadth of responses and pastoral care to the needs of homosexual people. However, the authorization of same sex unions is to be put on hold “until a broader consensus emerges in Communion.” Bishops who have authorized such are to apologize for their actions.

6. A commitment to the care of all people, especially those who dissent with the decisions of the national church and thus feel marginalized. The provisions of DEPO (Delegated Episcopal Oversight) are to be revised.

7. A call to strictly enforce the ancient rule of bishops respecting the boundaries of other dioceses.

8. Urge the adoption of the Millennium Development Goal of .7% of income given by all parishes and dioceses to the needs of the developing world.

9. A recommitment to a grass roots listening process in which there would be face-to- face interchange of leaders of the Communion. The work of the Anglican Consultation of Women is given as a model for this.

10. Strong support of international human rights for gay men and women.

I think one might say this represents a “go slow” approach for our church. Without backing away from decisions we have made, it is nonetheless a clear message that we will work to conform to the requests of the majority of the Anglican Communion as expressed in the Windsor Report.

I know that some of you will have questions about my point #4. There are at present three openly gay candidates (out of six) for the next Bishop of California to be elected in May. If one of them should be elected, consent would have to be given at the June General Convention. In that scenario, and given the mood of this meeting, my sense is that those consents would not be forth-coming from a majority of the bishops. Although the response to the Windsor Report was the main focus of attention, the HOB did a lot of other good work. We got to hear from the seven candidates for the next Presiding Bishop. My personal observation is that there is no clear choice at this point. We also issued a pastoral letter on racism, and, of special note to Arizonans, we rejected any legislation that would make humanitarian aid to immigrants a crime. As our communications officer pointed out, we are more likely to get press coverage for that action than anything else we did! Amidst all of this work had time for a day-long silent retreat led by Frank Griswold, who will be stepping down as Presiding Bishop after 9 years. We honored him at a roast on the last night of the meeting. We also had two reports on the effects of Katrina by the bishops of Louisiana and Mississippi. They were heartwarming in their accounts of the tremendous generosity of the church, but also heartrending in telling of the work that is yet to be done. But their reports gave us all a great example of the church at its best. This was pointed out by the visiting English Bishop of Exeter in his remarks to us:

“If there was just one thing I could carry away from all the words that have been uttered in this room this week, it would be the testimony of the Bishop of Mississippi, ‘We have discovered something of brokenness, when all your walls are broken down, grace abounds.’ In the context of the Anglican Communion and hope for its future, I want to say Amen to that.”

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