The bishops of the Episcopal Church, meeting March 19-25 in Camp Allen, Texas, have pledged to work together "with generosity of spirit in order that the church might live the fullness of the gospel for the sake of the world."
In a communiqué released at the culmination of their annual retreat meeting, the bishops spoke about how they "are committed to caring for all of our people, regardless of their differing points of view" and expressed a deep awareness "that the ministry we share as bishops exists solely for the well being of all God’s people."
Serving pastoral needs
Over these last months the bishops have worked hard to develop a plan which will "attend the pastoral needs" of those who feel "disaffected" or "alienated" from their bishop because of decisions of the 74th General Convention, as expressed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in their statement of October 2003. The plan, entitled "Caring for all the Churches," commits to a process for delegated episcopal pastoral oversight while recognizing the constitutional and canonical authority of bishops and the integrity of diocesan boundaries. The bishops have listened to many voices within the church and around the Anglican Communion and they believe that this plan will meet the expressed needs for oversight called for at this time in the life of the church.
Furthering their work on global reconciliation, the bishops welcomed Archbishop Martin Barahona, Primate of Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America, Archbishop Joseph Marona, Primate of the Sudan, and Archbishop Ellison Pogo, Primate of Melanesia, to the meeting to "[remind] us of the larger world for which Christ died, lives again, and brought us back again to the question of mission." The presence of the three primates "sharpened our focus and made us acutely aware of the vastly different contexts in which brother and sister Anglicans seek to proclaim and live the gospel," the communiqué stated.
Marona has been actively involved in advocating for peace and justice in his country, which has been torn apart by a 20-year civil war. Speaking as the spiritual leader of over 2 million Anglicans, he said that thousands of members of his church are scattered all over the world as the Sudan has been challenged by the forced imposition of Islamic law.
Several program offices of the Episcopal Church have been supporting the call for peace, justice and reconciliation in the Sudan and the church's Office on Government Relations in Washington informs leaders in Congress and the State Department of resolutions passed by the General Convention and Executive Council, working ecumenically to bring the faith community's position on Sudan issues before the Administration.
Archbishop Martin Barahona has been Primate of Central America, one of the newest provinces in the Anglican Communion, since April 2002. President of the National Council of Churches in El Salvador, Barahona has a long history of involvement with ECUSA, serving as a member of the Facilitator Team for Province IX to teach in Mexico, Central America, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela 1978-1988, and as a member of the House of Bishops 1992-1997.
Since April 1998 Barahona has been vice-president of the Anglican House of Bishops of the Central American Region.
Having served as Archbishop and Primate of Melanesia for ten years, Pogo is an enthusiastic ecumenist and a prominent spokesperson for the South Pacific on many international forums (notably the World Council of Churches), and in the field of theological education in the Pacific Islands. One of the longest-serving primates of the Anglican Communion, he is a member of the International Anglican Liturgical Commission and is the Chair of the Design Group for the Lambeth Conference to be held in 2008.
The Rt. Rev. Edward Neufville, the Bishop of Liberia, also added his voice to the table informing the bishops about the struggles of his war-torn country and the continuing effort of the church there to be a source of peace and reconciliation.
In 2002, the Episcopal Church renewed a covenant with the Episcopal Church of Liberia stating that ECUSA will "assist in the renovations of church related buildings, including schools, clinics and hospitals" and will help "to develop and operate outreach programs to assist Liberians who have lost their homes, possessions and means of livelihood" as a result of civil conflict. Neufville's presence at the House of Bishops continues a long history of mutual involvement between the Episcopal Church of Liberia and ECUSA.
The bishops also offered prayers for and sent greetings to "our brothers and sisters in Haiti, who are living through a time of social and political violence and upheaval."
Committed to God's mission
The Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Director of Anglican, Global, and Ecumenical Studies at Episcopal Divinity School, explained how the theme of reconciliation in the House of Bishops had been explored on three key levels--personal, ecclesial, and global--and that this helped to keep the vision of how the bishops can exercise their episcope for the service of God’s mission. "The meetings are more of an opportunity for education, reflection and spiritual nurturing," Douglas said. "They are not designed, as such, to make lasting decisions about the life of the Church. Rather they are about resourcing the bishops towards a more fruitful service to God's mission. Anyone who is looking for some easy answers on one side or the other to come out of this week’s meeting is misconstruing the way the House of Bishops operates under the current primacy of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold."
The bishops came away from their days together "strengthened, challenged and committed anew to God's mission in the world" referring to words from the Prayer Book which "[tell us] to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ," and asking to be "renewed in this mission as we live these days of Lent and come with joy to celebrate the Paschal Feast."