From: Jim Kelsey
Written: March 22, 2007
I am now on the plane, flying home from Houston, Texas, having just completed the spring meeting of Episcopal Bishops from throughout The Episcopal Church. It was an important meeting, I think, and I'd like to do as I've done following past meetings: send you a personal account of my experience there, and my sense of what has happened and where I think we are and where we might be headed as a faith community.
As many of you know, a critical meeting had taken place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in February, which had gathered most of the Primates of the 38 Provinces of the world-wide Anglican Communion. Our Presiding Bishop (who is also called our "Primate") is Katharine Jefferts Schori, and this was the first Primates Meeting since her election at our church-wide General Convention, held last June in Columbus, Ohio. At the end of that February meeting, the Primates issued a Communiqué which made several demands, including a September 30, 2007 deadline by which time the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church were to make a commitment not to authorize liturgies for the blessings of same sex relationships, and to reiterate that no consents would be given for the election of any gay or lesbian persons to be bishop in any diocese unless a consensus emerges throughout the Anglican Communion for this to happen. (For the full text of the Communiqué, see http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/articles/42/50/acns4253.cfm
In addition, the Communiqué established a so-called "Pastoral Scheme" which was designed to respond to the pastoral needs of those within The Episcopal Church who do not agree with the majority who have affirmed the role of gay and lesbian persons in all aspects of our life and mission. The process established by the Primates in Dar es Salaam included the appointment of a so-called "Primatial Vicar", who would be nominated by the handful of bishops who have identified themselves as "Windsor compliant bishops" (meaning that they endorse the Windsor Report, which was prepared by a world-wide Lambeth Commission, and which, among other things, proposed a strengthening of four "Instruments of Unity" in the Communion: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the once-a-decade world-wide gathering of Anglican/Episcopal Bishops known as the Lambeth Conference (which began in the 1800's), the Anglican Consultative Council, known as the ACC, (which began in the 1960's as a gathering of unordained & ordained Anglicans/Episcopalians from throughout the 38 Provinces of the Communion), and the Primates Meeting (which began in the 1970's in reaction against the ordination of women in Hong Kong, the United States, and other Provinces. What is significant about the Windsor Report is that it redefines the very nature of the Anglican Communion, which has never been a world-wide Church - only a consultative and collegial relationship between completely autonomous Provinces. To redefine the Communion as a world-wide juridical Church is to make the Archbishop of Canterbury more like a Pope, the Primates more like a Curia, and resolutions passed at the Lambeth Conference more like binding legislation, none of which has ever been true in the history of our Church. And thus, there are very few bishops in the Episcopal Church who have identified themselves as "Windsor compliant", and it is quite disturbing that these few would be given authority to select a "Primatial Vicar" who would be responsible to a "Pastoral Council" (not to our Presiding Bishop, according to the Communiqué, but to a "Pastoral Council") which would be made up of five persons, two appointed by our Presiding bishop, two appointed by the Standing Committee of the Primates Meeting, and the Chair appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. This Pastoral Council would have authority to adjudicate disagreements within The Episcopal Church.
Finally, the Communiqué from the Primates' meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania reviewed a draft Covenant which is being developed for consideration at the next Lambeth Conference (in 2008) and then for adoption by the ACC thereafter. Once established, this Covenant would be offered for the various Provinces of the Anglican Communion to endorse. Any Provinces which could not in conscience sign the Covenant would be considered "associate" members, rather than full members of the Communion. In the proposed draft, Section 6 establishes the Primates as the final arbitrator of any disagreements within the Communion.
That was in mid-February, when the Dar es Salaam Communiqué from the Primates was released. Reaction across the Episcopal Church (and beyond) was swift and strong. From numerous statements released by various church leaders, and through informal conversations generated in virtually every arena of the Church, it was obvious that the demands made by the Primates would not be well received in this Church. Still, there was concern that the consequences of non-compliance could mean a further fragmentation within the Anglican Communion, and it was unclear whether the desire to stay "at the table" might cause our deliberative bodies to acquiesce to these demands. Some of us felt strongly enough about these concerns that we began organizing ourselves to be prepared to speak clearly and strongly against the Communiqué. I joined a small circle of bishops who in turn invited other bishops to join us. We agreed that we would meet at Camp Allen (the site of the Bishops' meeting) following business the first day of our time together.
With this as a background, I traveled to Texas on Wednesday, March 14. I was arriving two days before the full Bishops' meeting to participate in the regularly scheduled meeting of a group known as Bishops Working for a Just Society. Our coalition of about 50 bishops meets twice a year, facilitated by the Office for Government Relations of The Episcopal Church (centered in Washington, DC). I am never able to attend the October meeting, since it conflicts with our annual Diocesan Convention, but I have come to greatly value the spring gathering, which always precedes the Bishops' Spring Meeting. For two days, we are briefed about major legislation being considered by the US Congress, and we think through strategy for promoting policies endorsed by resolutions at General Convention and Executive Council. This year, we learned about the Farm Bill, which has tremendous (and troubling) implications for many issues reaching beyond agriculture: world hunger, school meal programs, WIC, economic justice, rural development, medical insurance programs and more. Be on the look-out for legislative alerts from EPPN (the Episcopal Public Policy Network) on this. We also learned about the shaping of the federal budget FY'08, and related moral implications, in particular concerns for the poor and those most vulnerable in our society. And we looked at work being done at home and overseas with regard to the Millennium Development Goals. Other issues addressed dealt with immigration, minimum wage, stem cell research, investment in alternative and renewable fuels such as ethanol, the war in Iraq, crises in Northern Uganda, Darfur, the Middle East, Iran, and the Environment. We also learned about CEDAW (the Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women). The United States is the only major country in the world who has not signed on to this initiative. We discussed how we, as Bishops, could work together to be more effective advocates in this work.
During the meetings of the Bishops Working for a Just Society, there was also discussion about a major world-wide gathering of Anglicans just completed in Boksburg, South Africa, convened to focus on the Millennium Development Goals, and especially the one dealing with the AIDS pandemic (MDG Goal #6). The gathering was called TEAM (Towards Effective Anglican Mission). It was moving to hear from those who were there, as they recounted the remarkable presentations by people from all over the world who told of the depth of human suffering and the response to which our Church is called. It was encouraging to hear about how these Anglicans from around the globe approached the US Episcopalians who were there, and made clear that despite the unpleasantness coming out of the Primates' meeting, they were eager to continue our partnerships in mission of all sorts and configurations, and that they had no intention of withdrawing from communion with us, regardless of what official actions are being taken by the Primates.
But it was discouraging to hear about a meeting held between Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the US Episcopal bishops who were present. It was clear that at the meeting, Rowan Williams was uncomfortable and defensive, and that he has a distorted picture of The Episcopal Church (believing that the dissidents in our midst make up 40% of the Episcopal Church - - a bizarre and wildly inaccurate figure). When asked how the rest of the world perceives our efforts to promote and advance the Millennium Development Goals, Williams responded that he thought it was received as "papering over differences, and buying votes". (Quite a different read from the face to face encounters our people experienced throughout the TEAM conference!). When asked what would happen after the September 30th deadline set by the Primates' Communiqué, and who would decide about the adequacy of the response of the Episcopal Church to its demands, Rowan Williams responded that it would not be he who would decide since, as he said, "I'm not a Pope; that's not how our system works... I'll take it to the Primates, and they will decide". (As if that's how our system works!!!) This was sobering to hear, to say the least! At least we know where we stand, and what lies ahead. This again, helped set the stage for what transpired at the meeting that was about to begin.
On Friday, March 16, the full meeting of the bishops got underway. There were about 140 of us present. We were divided into table groups (mine included the bishops of Louisiana/New Orleans, Kansas, Central Pennsylvania, Western Massachusetts, Eastern Oregon, and Hawaii). Katharine Jefferts Schori gave some of her impressions of the Primates' Meeting in Tanzania, and then invited table discussions, followed by a plenary with open mikes. Newsprint pads at the back of the meeting room recorded people's initial response to the Communiqué. While, as usual, there was a variety of points of view expressed, it was quickly becoming apparent that there was an over-riding agreement that the Primates, in their Communiqué, had far over-stepped their authority, and were claiming for themselves a power which is not theirs, and which represents a centralization which is decidedly un-Anglican. After dinner, there was another open conversation in plenary.
By the time the scheduled meeting was over for the day, and our group of concerned bishops assembled in a designated meeting room, it was clear that our group was not representing a minority position, but was in fact beginning to gather the overall mind of the full Meeting. There were 34 of us present. We went around the room and identified things we had heard in the full Meeting that we had found encouraging, and things we had found discouraging. We zeroed in on the over-riding concern about the so-called "Pastoral Scheme", which so obviously attacked the autonomy of the various Provinces (especially ours), and which clearly had little to no support among the full gathering of Bishops. We discussed the best way to articulate this concern, and many individuals agreed to speak with others not present to build consensus. A drafting committee of five bishops was asked to begin work on a draft statement, which we would review together on Sunday evening, and talk again amongst those gathered to see how things seemed to be progressing.
By Sunday evening, our group had grown to 46. We spent considerable time reviewing the draft, suggesting changes, and asking the drafting committee to further refine it. Meanwhile, each bishop present identified other bishops, by name, whom they would talk with about the basic proposal (to bring a resolution to reject outright the so-called "Pastoral Scheme"). We agreed that while most of us wanted to make clear statements about the other matters (especially concerning the blessing of same sex relationships and the ordination of gay and lesbian persons as bishop) we understood that response to these demands by the Communiqué deserve and require engagement by the whole Church, and not just by bishops. But in the case of the Pastoral Scheme, we felt that we could not wait. First, Rowan Williams had established March 16 as the deadline for two appointments by Katharine for membership of the Pastoral Council. And March 16th was the first day of our meeting at Camp Allen, and thus made impossible any deliberation even by the Bishops at that gathering, much less the rest of the Church! We were aware that there were legal implications to the creation of a hierarchical body outside of our Province to whom The Episcopal Church would be answerable, and we could not wait to make it clear that we cannot and will not allow that body to be appointed with any tacit approval on our part, at the risk of imperiling our Church.
Then, an amazing thing happened. Monday was set aside for consideration of the proposed Covenant, and we were addressed by the two Episcopal members of the international drafting committee which had prepared an initial draft for the Primates to review in Tanzania. (For the full text of that draft Covenant, see http://www.anglicancommunion.org/acns/articles/42/50/acns4252.cfm) The first to speak to us was a self-described conservative, Ephraim Radner. He has been a main player with the dissident groups in the Church, and many of us were frankly shocked to realize what a significant role he has representing our Church, given his very marginal perspective. Reception of his remarks were, at best, lukewarm. The next to speak was Kathy Grieb, a New Testament professor of Virginia Theological Seminary (a former professor of Fran Gardner's). She is our other representative to the international Covenant Design Group. Some of us, myself included most prominently, have serious questions about the very proposal to create a Covenant which in and of itself defines or determines membership in the Anglican Communion - - but that aside, her presentation itself was unbelievable. I actually had the sense that it was like an historic event, which is to say that what she articulated absolutely blew the whistle on the whole dynamic, and by her truth saying, everything was out on the table in a way that moved us ahead. It was also a tremendously stirring presentation, which received a standing ovation from some, though not by any means all, of the bishops. She described the early stages of the Covenant Design process and then described with condemning clarity how everything has changed with the Dar es Salaam Communiqué of the Primates. She explained that the Communiqué reveals how the Covenant, once established, will be interpreted, and that what it indicates is that the Primates are assuming for themselves unprecedented power and influence over the several Provinces of the Church, including The Episcopal Church, and that they are not even willing to wait for the Covenant Design process to be completed before asserting that power. She recommends that The Episcopal Church withdraw from the Anglican Communion for five years, to give everyone a chance to cool down and think through what our future relations might become. While this specific proposal was not where the Bishops were, collectively, and while such a decision would certainly involve discernment by the whole Church and not just the bishops (probably requiring a special General Convention) - her analysis was powerful and, I believe, had a significant impact on the course of the meeting. You can read the full text of her presentation at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_83906_ENG_HTM.htm
On Monday evening, following the full bishops' session, our group met again. By now, we had over 80 bishops who had indicated their support for the content of our statement (though the actual text had not been available for people to review, since the drafting committee was still working on it). The group crammed into our meeting room and heard the text of the proposed resolution read. Changes and refinements were proposed. And the decision was made to have two resolutions - one a short and succinct rejection of the Pastoral Scheme, and the other, a longer resolution which provided rationale for the first. The reason for this is that we knew that virtually everyone would agree to deep-sixing the Pastoral Scheme, but for some it would be on legal/ecclesiastical grounds, and for others, the reasons for that rejection would include a clear reaffirmation of the full inclusion of gay and lesbian persons in all aspects of the life and mission of the Episcopal Church. The 80 bishops left the room agreeing to go out and speak with others, to try to build greater and greater consensus. In addition, the text would be printed off and distributed to the full Meeting on Tuesday morning. It would be formally debated and voted upon on Tuesday afternoon during the Business Session.
I won't try to describe in detail the various parliamentary steps and maneuvers that took place during the business session, but suffice it to say, three resolutions were passed, including both of the ones written by our group, with but a few amendments along the way. See http://www.episcopalchurch.org/3577_84148_ENG_HTM.htm for the full text of all three. At one point, one moderate-to-conservative bishop suggested an editorial adjustment to the first, shorter resolution, which eviscerated it [removing the phrase: "and accordingly declines to participate" (in the Pastoral Scheme)]. Several bishops told me later that when they voted, they didn't realize that the deletion of that phrase was included in the amendment, thinking they were simply approving a minor adjustment to the previous line. Another, savvy bishop (one of our former lawyers) moved an amendment to add a new phrase: "...and urges that the Executive Council declines to participate in it." - which both restored the clarity of the original motion, and engaged the rest of the Church, through the Executive Council in this important decision. It passed quickly and overwhelmingly (proving that the previous vote had been misunderstood by many of those present). Whew! At another point, when the longer resolution was being debated, there was a motion to refer it to (my old friends) the Theology Committee. Our coalition of 80 bishops lost 20 people, who were persuaded that the fuller explanation could be incorporated into the teaching resources being prepared by the Theology Committee between now and May. Even with that defection, we still had enough votes to defeat the motion to refer, and then the full resolution was quickly passed by a voice vote strong enough so it didn't require a stand-up or count (which happens when the Chair cannot judge definitively by ear which way the vote has gone.)
In my opinion, what finally passed is a strong statement about who we are and where we are prepared to stand. We do intend to continue relationships with Anglicans world-wide, in whatever official or unofficial capacity might be possible. We have no idea how the Primates or the ACC will respond. Rowan Williams has since said he was "disappointed" in our resolution, and that is hardly surprising, since he no doubt had been hoping that we would capitulate to all of the demands of the Primates.
During the meeting, we had present four out of five members of the House of Bishops in Mexico, including their Primate who was at the Primates' meeting in Tanzania in February. They stood together on the platform before us and pledged to us their full support and their intention to stay in communion with us. In the coming weeks, Rowan Williams will be meeting with the House of Bishops in Canada. It will be interesting to see what will happen then. And there are other Provinces (such as in Scotland & Ireland & New Zealand & South Africa & Botswana) who have previously indicated their support for The Episcopal Church and their intentions to stay in communion with us. So, now we will need to wait and watch to see what the Executive Council does, and what others around the Anglican Communion choose to do. In any event, we have tried to be clear and honest about who we are and where we will stand.
By the way, those who had been at the Primates' meeting in Tanzania reported some very disturbing dynamics. The Primate of Mexico, Carlos Touche Porter, said that every time there was a break, new amendments were proposed for the Communiqué, always more critical of The Episcopal Church. His comment was, "as the meeting went on, I began to feel less like a Primate and more like a Cardinal". Between his observations and those of our press corps, it was clear, in fact, that every time there was a break, Peter Akinola disappeared into a room where Martin Minns and other conservative US folks were holed up, and when he emerged, he had the next revisions for the Communiqué - which in fact were adopted. In the earlier drafts, there was a phrase"We respect The Episcopal Church", and on the strength alone of Peter Akinola's objection, that phrase was removed. All of this provides important information: that it is clear who is in control of the Primates' Meeting, and this reinforces why it is so important that the Primates not be given increased power as a centralized authority in the Anglican Communion.
On the morning of the last business day, Stacy Sauls, Bishop of Lexington and Chair of the Property Disputes Committee gave an in depth report concerning research done on the tactics of the Network and the American Anglican Council (AAC) and other conservative/dissident groups. It was chilling. There is now clear evidence that there has been a strategy by these groups to create an alternative ecclesial structure within the United States, with alternative leadership (Robert Duncan, the Bishop of Pittsburgh as the Moderator of the Network) which might be recognized by the leadership of the Anglican Communion (i.e. - by those strengthened "Instruments of Unity") as the true Anglican Church in the United States. If indeed the Anglican Communion is transformed into a hierarchical body (through the implementation of the Windsor Report recommendations) and the Primates shift their support to the Network/AAC/CANA/AMiA congregations & dioceses, there will be a legal basis by which the dissident congregations will be able to claim ownership of all properties and church assets. This is serious stuff.
Meanwhile, of course, there were other matters being discussed during the Bishops meeting:
- we spent a day talking about the Millennium Development Goals, with special focus on Goal #7, which centers on matters of the Environment
- we heard a lecture by Ian Douglas of Episcopal Divinity School on the Mission of God, which the Church is called to share in. This included:
- an in-depth report on global climate change, and particularly its impact (along with Katrina) on the Louisiana & Mississippi gulf coast, including an update on ministry in the dioceses most effected by the hurricanes (Louisiana & Mississippi)
- issues around immigration & southeast asia & environmental racism
- more reports about TEAM (the recent conference on the MDG's in South Africa)
- TEAC (Theological Education in the Anglican Communion)
- issues for returning veterans from Iraq
- College for Bishops programs (ongoing learning opportunities for Bishops)
- a Vigil on the 4th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war
- viewing a movie entitled "For the Bible Tells Me So", concerning homosexuality and the interpretation of scripture and the movement to overcome bigotry, especially within the religious community
Finally, I want to say a word about our new Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. Everyone I talked with agreed that her style of leadership was tremendously helpful. She did not try to control or manage the group, but sought to create an environment in which folks could interact with openness and trust and honesty, and let the mind of the community emerge. While the votes to approve them were not unanimous, it was clear that the resolutions which emerged do indeed reflect where the Bishops of this Church are right now. Katharine had a gracious and gentle, yet firm hand, as she presided over the business session, and she did it well. I give her a lot of credit.
The new bishops, just elected in the past few months, seem to be a great group as well. I think we're in pretty good shape. It was a good meeting, and while it's clear that there will be others in the Anglican Communion who will wish we had come to other conclusions, what we did come up with is honest, clear, and (I believe) with integrity.
Now it is time to move ahead with God's work of redemption. Hopefully it will be in partnership with others throughout the Anglican Communion. The extent to which others are ready to keep in partnership with us has yet to be seen - - but that we are prepared to step out in faith and with courage and determination to celebrate God's liberating work in our midst and in the world, have no doubt.
It's kind of cool being an Episcopalian after all!