From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Presiding bishop reflects on first triennium of his leadership

Date 02 Feb 2001 13:19:15


Presiding bishop reflects on first triennium of his leadership

by James Solheim

     (ENS) Reflecting on his first triennium as presiding bishop, Frank T. 
Griswold sent a reflective letter to all bishops of the church 
( and sat down for an 
interview with the church's new director of communications.

     "I continue to view our General Convention as a profound experience of grace 
which exceeded all my expectations, though to be sure we have yet to live out 
some of our decisions made in Denver in ways that reveal Christ and upbuild the 
body while respecting the variety of its many parts," he wrote in his December 
letter to bishops.

     He expressed regrets that "some in our community of faith have reduced 
'orthodoxy' to particular views of sexuality" because that "suggests that sex 
overrides the gospel," he said. "How our sexuality is integrated into our 
response to the gospel is an important ethical concern, but for it to occlude all 
else that binds us together in Christ--including Scripture, the Sacraments and 
the Creeds--is to make sexuality an idol."

     He reminded the bishops that the Executive Council is charged by General 
Convention with implementing the canons on the ordination of women. He said that 
he trusts the council's judgement and was "exceedingly mindful of my own 
responsibility" to insure that such implementation is carried forward with 
"courtesy, tolerance, mutual respect and prayer for one another," as stated in a 
resolution from the House of Bishops.

Beyond the labels

     Griswold said that, in preparation for a meeting of his Council of Advice, 
he asked the nine members, representing the church's nine provinces, "to try to 
determine by checking with the bishops in their province the extent of the 
separations of congregations from the communion of the Episcopal Church" as the 
result of new missionary efforts by conservatives who contend they are trying to 
protect "orthodox" churches.

     According to the reports he received, Griswold said that "there are actually 
few such cases" and that "the pattern seems to be that departing congregations 
have had long-standing difficulties that contributed to their departure, such as 
a history of conflict with, or isolation from, the bishop and diocese on the part 
of the congregation, and more often the clergy."

     Yet the loss of any members of the body of Christ "is a cause for grief and 
deep sadness," Griswold added. "When one member of the body suffers, we all 
suffer and therefore we must pray and work always for the Spirit to reconcile and 
consecrate us in the Truth." He also reminded the bishops that they are charged 
with the unity of the church, making it particularly painful for them "to take 
part in the alienation or division of a congregation under our care."

     He added, "It is possible that in our struggles, and those going on in other 
parts of the Anglican Communion, God is at work seeking to draw us all more 
deeply into communion in Christ and one another in ways yet to be revealed that 
transcend our categories of 'conservative' or 'liberal' and the like."

A wise friend

     In the midst of the struggles, Griswold told his Council of Advice that he 
is in frequent contact with Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and "he has 
been extremely helpful and supportive… I consider him in every way a wise and 
discerning friend."

     Griswold said that Carey was very clear that "he strongly disapproves of the 
Singapore ordinations" of two Episcopal priests as "missionary bishops." Any 
regularization of those ordinations "can come only from the Episcopal Church," he 
said. Carey has also made it clear, according to Griswold, that he "would not 
recognize a body other than the Episcopal Church as a province of the Anglican 
Communion in the USA." Conservatives have formed the Anglican Mission in America 
in hopes of creating a second province in this country that would gather 
disaffected conservatives.

     The Council of Advice was "very enthusiastic about this direct communication 
of the PB with all the bishops--and particularly pleased with his upbeat response 
to the state of the church," according to Bishop Douglas Theuner of New 
Hampshire, the new president of the council.

     The bishops picked up on his comment about how easily events can be 
distorted and misinterpreted in an electronic age and they "welcomed this 
opportunity to communicate directly," Theuner said. The council is broadly 
representative of the church since its members are elected, rather than 

More than fixing an institution

     "Rebuilding the church isn't fixing an institution," Griswold told Dan 
England, the church's new director of communication, in an interview. "It is the 
commitment or the recommitment of the members of the church as living stones to 
the mission of the church." (Hear full conversation at

     Drawing on his experiences in the first three years as presiding bishop, 
Griswold said that he has seen "a real refocusing of the life of the church on 
mission," and especially its efforts to seek reconciliation "within the community 
and beyond the community in terms of justice, peace and love."

     He also sees "a lot of very good energy coursing through the veins of 
Christ's body as it is represented within the Episcopal Church. I see a recovery 
of confidence, a sense that our tradition actually is a life-giving tradition." 
He also thinks that the church "has become less contentious and begun to 
appreciate more deeply what it means to reconcile difference in a context of 
common prayer."

     Responding to a question on his relationship to the archbishop of 
Canterbury, Griswold said, "We couldn't be better friends and stronger 
colleagues. We have very much the same sense of the diversity of the communion 
and the richness of that diversity," looking for positive ways to channel that 
energy in "all the cultures and historical contexts in which Anglicans are 
seeking to proclaim and live the Gospel."

     Constant contact and "direct means of communicating" make it less likely 
that others can "misrepresent the wonderful vitality and faithfulness of the 
Episcopal Church." According to Griswold, Carey "sees us as a very important ally 
in his ministry, as a sign and symbol of unity in the Anglican Communion."

The diverse center

     Addressing what he called "some real issues in the life of the church," 
Griswold acknowledged that "there are some people who are deeply distressed by 
what they perceive to be the direction of the church." Yet he said that the vast 
majority of church members, what he called "the diverse center," are grounded in 
"a love of the church, not as an idol but because it really is the context in 
which they meet Christ in word and sacrament and in fellowship with others. They 
love the church. They have a deep sense of its unity. And the deep sense of unity 
gives them the capacity to make room for difference without being fractured or 
feeling that everything is falling to pieces."

     Differences contribute to the church's vitality, Griswold said. "You 
absolutely need the extremes or you're not going to have any life at all. You 
need people who are impatient and tugging and pulling you toward a yet-to-be-
disclosed future that may be problematic or frightening."

     At the same time, "you need people who are reminding you of your grounding, 
the tradition, Holy Scripture, of the creeds… You need these sort of tensions. 
But it is very much this sort of a broad middle" where every viewpoint is 
represented, Griswold argued.

--James Solheim is director of the Episcopal Church's Office of News and 

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