From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopal bishops meet in California

Date 18 Apr 2000 15:39:38


Episcopal bishops drawn to a 'new, deeper place' at
California meeting

by Jerry Hames

     (Episcopal Life) Meeting in isolation at a conference center
high in the San Bernardino mountains March 30-April 4, about
 135 Episcopal bishops contemplated issues such as the
proposal for full communion with Lutherans, preparation for
General Convention, and a communiqué issued at a March
meeting of the Anglican Communion's 38 primates.

     "We've arrived at a new, deeper place," said Presiding
Bishop Frank T. Griswold at a conversation with the press,
describing frank conversations he witnessed among bishops.
He said he saw more mutual respect and a greater concern for
the church's common good than ever before.

     "We've been forced to that deeper place by some concerns--
some dividing issues and tensions that have to be approached in
a new way. We seek to honor those with a different view as we
move to some new place that God has yet to reveal," he said.

     They also heard lectures from Ronald A. Heifetz, director
of the Leadership Education Project at the John F. Kennedy
School of Government, Harvard University, who explained strategies
for leadership development. Author of Leadership with No Easy
Answers, Heifetz discussed the difference between authority figures
and leaders who create an environment that enables change to take place.

Three actions

     The bishops took three actions during their meeting--clarifying
the provisions of the proposal for full communion with the Lutherans;
supporting Alaskan Native-Americans and the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge; and agreeing to a leadership role they will seek to model at the
General Convention.

     They reportedly had little discussion, and issued no
statement, about the irregular consecrations in Singapore of
Charles H. Murphy III and John H. Rodgers Jr., both former
Episcopal priests who have returned to the U.S. as "missionary

     "We'll just have to see how that plays out," said Griswold
to the press after the meeting. "One doesn't know where this
is going to go."

     While Griswold said he saw bishops developing an "increasing
sensitivity" for one another's views, he said it was unrealistic to
expect or assume any change in diocesan practice. "Theology is
lived out in specific contexts," he said. "Diversity will continue to
express itself. I cannot imagine any diocese altering its perspective
[on ordaining homosexuals in committed relationships or blessing
same-sex unions] as a result of either the bishops' or the primates'
meeting," he said.

     The bishops issued a statement pledging to work cooperatively
at General Convention. "We seek to find the means through
which to speak to the House of Deputies as a community, rather
than only in terms of individual voting."

     Some issues, they said, need examination within a larger
context, and they suggested that dealing with them by vote is
not wise or practical. They promised "a pastoral letter or supportive
statement" at the end of convention, to be held July 5-14 in Denver.

     "I felt it was a very irenic meeting," said House of Deputies
President Pamela Chinnis, a guest at the bishops meeting.
"Even people with whom I suspect I disagree philosophically
were warm and welcome. I couldn't help wishing that
if the deputies could have seen the bishops in action, it would
have given them a very different opinion of the House of

     "I left the meeting feeling very hopeful for the convention,
and when I write to the deputies [next month] I intend to be
very open with them about the good feeling I had there,"
she added. "I hope that will contribute to the graciousness
of spirit and dealing with one another at General Convention."

Called to Common Mission

     In a second public statement, the bishops underscored their
 understanding of the "Called to Common Mission" agreement with
the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) to be voted
 on at General Convention. Their statement follows increasing
 resistance by some Lutherans to the document, especially the
requirement that Lutherans adopt the historic episcopate.

     Bishop Christopher Epting of Iowa, who represented the
Episcopal Church on the drafting team, said the bishops made
six points to clarify understanding for Episcopalians. "The state
ment makes clear what the text has always said," according to

     The bishops reiterated their expectation that Lutheran
bishops will participate in the ordination of all new pastors,
warning that exceptions would mean that those clergy would
not be interchangeable.

     The bishops also said that, although Lutheran laity may
be licensed by their bishops to preside at Holy Communion on rare
occasions, this practice is not acceptable to Episcopalians and
CCM makes no provision for the practice.

     Epting said the bishops responded because they heard there
 might be some non-compliance by Lutherans. "It's messier than
we hoped for," he said bluntly, but he predicted that the historic
document, the result of a dialogue over 30 years, would be

     Bishop Coadjutor Mark Sisk of New York said the bishops
do not intend to tell ELCA members what they must do. "That
's their own decision to make," he said. "We are articulating
our own understanding of the document and [what we've
 said] is entirely consistent with the text. I don't think it's
a deal-breaker."

     The bishops expressed pastoral support and concern for the
native Gwich'in people in Alaska and for the permanent
protection of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

     "Our church has had an active mission in this part of Alaska for
nearly 150 years," said Bishop Mark MacDonald of Alaska.
"The Gwich'in are among the most traditional in their reliance on
the caribou. Oil development in the Arctic National Wildlife
Refuge threatens the health of the caribou and the future of the

     The refuge is being proposed for oil development. The U.S.
Senate is expected to vote on the measure prior to General

Serious consequences

     In presenting the communiqué from the Primates' Meeting,
Griswold said that he stressed the fact that one church's action
can be felt far beyond its borders. "We must be mindful that
any actions we take formally and officially as a church may
have serious consequences throughout the Anglican
Communion," he said.

     Donald Mtetemela, archbishop of Tanzania, and Johannes
Seoka, bishop of Pretoria and vice-chair of the Council of
Anglican Provinces in Africa, were guests at the House of
Bishops meeting.

     "Their presence and their reflections helped our bishops
to a deeper appreciation of the contexts of brother and sister
Anglicans--the heavy burdens in term of poverty and world
debt,  HIV/AIDS, civil unrest, the negative aspects of
globalization and the increasing militancy of Islam," Griswold
 "We were encouraged by hearing some of the heroic
ministry that is being carried out in the name of Jesus Christ."

     In an April 6 letter to his fellow primates, Griswold noted
 the point made during their meeting together that "this age
of instant communication makes us all vulnerable to
misrepresentation and misinterpretation--thus making the need
for personal contact and correspondence all the more urgent."
Griswold said he intends to invite guests from overseas at
future meetings of the bishops.

--Jerry Hames is editor of Episcopal Life, the monthly
newspaper of the Episcopal Church.

For more information contact:
Episcopal News Service
Kathryn McCormick

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home