Episcopal News Service February 23, 2007
Presiding Bishop briefs Church Center community on Primates? Meeting Time to slow down and rest in God, Jefferts Schori says
By Mary Frances Schjonberg
[ENS] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on February 23 told the community of people who work at the Episcopal Church Center in New York that the new structures asked for by the primates in Dar es Salaam, and the clarifications they want about the Episcopal Church?s stance on blessing same-gender relationships and partnered gay and lesbian priests becoming bishops, can be a ?container? in which the Anglican Communion can continue to discuss issues that many Anglicans would rather avoid.
An mp3 audio recording of Jefferts Schori?s statement is available here (http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_82571_ENG_HTM.htm). The text of the Primates? Communiqué is available here (http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_82571_ENG_HTM.htm).
She told the gathering that the Episcopal Church is called to ensure that the conversation about the inclusion of gays and lesbians in the church continues in the Communion.
?It is part of our mission as a church,? she said. ?This conversation that has been going on for at least 40 years is not going away. God keeps bringing it back to us.?
Jefferts Schori said that she understands that some people feel that the primates? recommendations are a ?hard and bitter pill for many of us to talk about swallowing.? But, she said, worldwide attitudes about the inclusion of gay and lesbian people are changing and ?I don?t expect that to end.?
?We?re being asked to pause in the journey. We are not being asked to go back,? she said. ?Time and history are with this Church.?
Jefferts Schori said ?I ache for the pain that this communiqué is causing to people in our own church who see issues of justice as absolutely central, because I share that view. I also hunger for a vision of the world where people with vastly different opinions can sit at the same table and worship at the same table because I think that eventually that is how all of us are converted.?
She said that her understanding of the Body of Christ is that ?none of us can say that we have no need of you.? She acknowledged that ?we don?t always like the people God gives us.?
The ?low point? of the Primates? Meeting came, Jefferts Schori said, when one primate equated homosexuality with pedophilia and another said he couldn?t see why the Anglican Communion should study homosexuality if it doesn?t need to study murder.
?We have a very, very long way to go in raising awareness so that reason can become an equal partner in the discussion with scripture and tradition,? she said. ?I think that that is one of the gifts that this church has to give to the world.?
?The reality, I believe, is that the Archbishop of Canterbury will respect whatever the primates decide, whether or not that accurately reflects the polity of the Anglican Communion,? Jefferts Schori said.
?I don?t know if our church is ready to say to the rest of the Communion what?s been asked of us. I don?t know that,? she said. ?I do know that if we?re removed from a place where we can speak to the rest of the Communion, we?re going to lose that advantage of being there at the table to challenge views like that.?
The value of continued conversation, especially conversation with gay Christians, is that people are then faced with the incarnational reality of something that up until that point had only been a theory, she said. Often, she said, conversion happens.
In the Anglican Communion there are member provinces that more or less agree with the Episcopal Church?s stance that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are full and welcomed members of the church, Jefferts Schori said, and some who are ?very close? to being able to agree. Then there is a ?vast group? who do not see the question as their ?defining issue.?
And there are ?a few neuralgic places in the Communion that have discovered that this is their defining issue ? I think with encouragement from some people in our own Church,? she said.
During a question-and-answer session following her statement, Jefferts Schori said that the primates? plan for a primatial vicar is similar to one she and other bishops proposed (http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_80010_ENG_HTM.htm) last November?with the addition of an accompanying supervisory pastoral council.
?What is different is a structure of accountability,? she said, but she called that structure ?manageable,? noting that she would appoint some of the council?s members and must consent to the choice of the vicar.
She said that a ?saving grace? of the primatial vicar proposal is that it would eventually end the incursion of other primates into the Episcopal Church.
She said that the House of Bishops can answer the requests made by the primates. Those include stating that they will not authorize official rites for same-gender blessings, and will not consent to the consecration and ordination of partnered gay or lesbian people as bishops ?unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion.? (Those requests echo recommendations in paragraphs 143, 144 (http://www.anglicancommunion.org/windsor2004/section_d/p3.cfm) and 134 (http://www.anglicancommunion.org/windsor2004/section_d/p2.cfm) of the Windsor Report.)
While the bishops can indeed agree to do those things, Jefferts Schori said, ?whether they have the will to do that, I don?t know.? Very few of the bishops are interested in acting ?unilaterally,? she added.
Their decision will not come during the House of Bishops meeting that begins on March 16 at Camp Allen, outside of Houston, Texas, she predicted. They will discuss the communiqué in March, as will the Executive Council, which meets March 2-4 in Portland, Oregon. The Executive Council meets again in June and the bishops will meet again in September in a previously scheduled gathering, before the September 30 deadline for a response set by the primates.
In between, Jefferts Schori said, efforts are underway for conversations about the communiqué to be held this summer in dioceses around the Episcopal Church. Those conversations will be meant for the bishops to hear what is being said among the people of their dioceses and for the bishops to teach about the nature of Anglicanism.
She said that gay clergy have asked her in the last six months ?when, when? they will be able to fully offer their gifts to the church as bishops.
?I have not been able to answer,? she said, adding that the Episcopal Church ?has a choice ahead of it.?
But ?I don?t believe that this church has any will or desire to abandon you,? Jefferts Schori told a Church Center staff member who said he was speaking to her, in part, as a gay priest.
?I know where my heart lies and it?s in a divided place,? she said, explaining that she hungers to affirm the place of gays and lesbians in the church and she hungers to ?see this body reconciled.?
?In my better moments, I firmly hope and pray that these things are not diametrically opposed.?
?I fully recognize that this is a heavy time for most of us, but what better way to start Lent? I think it?s a time for us to slow down, to rest in God?which is the only place we can rest?and to realize that we?re not deciding today,? she said. ?Whatever we decide, God will continue to be God and this church will continue to be engaged in mission.?
-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.
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