Executive Council letter affirms Episcopal Church's welcome to all people

Letter says Primates' requests 'raise important and unresolved questions'
March 3, 2007

The Episcopal Church's Executive Council, at the close of its three-day meeting in Portland, Oregon, acted "clearly to affirm that our position as a church is to welcome all persons."

"We wish clearly to affirm that our position as a church is to welcome all persons, particularly those perceived to be the least among us," the Council said in a letter to the Church issued at the end of the meeting. "We wish to reaffirm to our lesbian and gay members that they remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church.

"Further, we offer our prayerful affirmation to all who struggle with the issues that concern us: those who are deeply concerned about the future of their Church and its place within the wider Communion, and those who are not reconciled to certain actions of General Convention. We wish to reaffirm that they too remain a welcome and integral part of the Episcopal Church."

The letter said that the requests made by the recent session of the Primates Meeting "raise important and unresolved questions about the polity of the Episcopal Church and its ecclesiology."

"The questions facing us raise significant concerns for members of the Episcopal Church," the letter acknowledged.

The full text of the letter is available here.

The Council authorized the appointment of a work group to consider the role, responsibilities and potential response of the Executive Council to the issues raised by the Primates. The work group will make a report and recommendations at the June 2007 meeting of the Council.

The Executive Council's letter was drafted by a committee appointed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson. It included Kim Byham (Diocese of Newark), the Rev. Gay Jennings (Diocese of Ohio), Bishop Wilfrido Ramos-Orench (Diocese of Central Ecuador), the Very Rev. Petero Sabune (Diocese of New York), the Rev. Winnie Varghese (Diocese of New  York) and Belton Zeigler (Diocese of Upper South Carolina).

The entire Council discussed the draft, asked the committee to give it a second version, which the committee produced after about 45 minutes. The Council then approved the second version with no discussion. Council member Bishop Jon Bruno (Diocese of Los Angeles) and Bruce Garner (Diocese of Atlanta) were invited to join the second draft discussion.

During the discussion about the first version, Ziegler told the Council that the drafters worked "very hard to balance our statements of concern" for various groups within the church who may support or oppose the actions of General Convention.

Garner called for a clear statement about the continuing inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in the Episcopal Church. He said that the statement was needed because gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were "targeted" by the communiqué issued by the Primates after their Tanzania meeting. Those people are feeling "very vulnerable" and worried that they have been cast out of the Church or will be "exiled" soon.

He recalled that while being in church on Ash Wednesday he found it "painful for me to keep replaying parts of that communiqué and wondering if I was welcome in that place." Garner said that if he, who has felt for years that he was welcomed in the Episcopal Church, wondered how new members of the church must be feeling.

The Rev. F. N. "Butch" Gamarra (Diocese of Los Angeles) told the Council that he was conflicted between the desire to work for remain open to reconciliation and the "elephant in the room," which he said was the fact that the Church is getting "hammered" for being inclusive.

The people in the pews need to hear from the Council that "we are not appeasing" people whom he characterized as bullying and disrespecting the Episcopal Church, he said.

"The language is terribly important to people in the pews," said Bettye Jo Harris (Diocese of Hawaii). She described how her son feels as if he's been driven from the Church since the communiqué was issued.

In her closing remarks to the Executive Council, Jefferts Schori urged the members to live in the abundance of God's grace rather than in a model of scarcity. An attitude of scarcity can prompt "violent responses" because scarcity makes us feel that "our very lives are at stake."

Communiqué raises questions

In their communiqué, the Primates of the Anglican Communion called for the formation of a "Pastoral Council" that would work in cooperation with the Episcopal Church to negotiate the necessary structures for those who feel unable to accept the direct ministry of their bishop or of Jefferts Schori.

The Primates also requested that the Episcopal Church's House of Bishops "make an unequivocal common covenant" that they will not authorize same-gender blessings within their dioceses and confirm that Resolution B033, passed at the 75th General Convention, means that a candidate for bishop who is living in a same-gender relationship "shall not receive the necessary consent unless some new consensus on these matters emerges across the Communion."

The Primates told the House of Bishops to respond to them by September 30, 2007. The House of Bishops meets twice before that time, first March 16-21 at Camp Allen outside Houston, Texas, and again in September. Executive Council meets again in early June in Parsippany, New Jersey.

"We are in a process of discerning what it means to be members of a global and multicultural Anglican Communion, autonomous yet interdependent, diverse yet living a common life as a family of churches," the letter said.

The letter also described how the Executive Council created a process to allow for the "full participation of all Episcopalians in the response to a draft text for a possible covenant for the Anglican Communion, as envisioned in the Windsor Report (page nine and appendix two).

"Responding to the draft covenant does not presuppose agreement with the terms and principles advanced in the draft," the letter cautioned.

(The Covenant Design Group, appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, submitted its report and proposed draft covenant to the Primates Meeting. The report and draft text are available here.)

That Executive Council's discussion took place primarily in the Standing Committee on International Concerns, which gave the Council a written report of its discussion. The report notes that the paragraphs 15-16 of the recent Primates Meeting communiqué acknowledged that the draft text of the proposed Anglican Covenant has not yet been officially adopted and was not offered for approval or authorization.

"As a result we want it to be made clear that responding to the draft covenant is an opportunity to participate in the covenant development process but does not presuppose agreement with the terms and principles advanced in the draft," the report said.

Chair Sandra McPhee (Diocese of Chicago) told the Council that a Covenant Response Facilitation Team has been formed. It will be chaired by Rosalie Ballentine (Diocese of the Virgin Islands) and includes the Rev. Dr. Lee Alison Crawford (Diocese of Vermont), the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas (Diocese of Massachusetts and Anglican Consultative Council member), the Rev. Canon Mark Harris (Diocese of Delaware), Josephine Hicks (Diocese of North Carolina and Anglican Consultative Council member), Bishop Julio Cesar Holguin (Diocese of the Dominican Republic), along with New York Bishop Suffragan Catherine Roskam (Anglican Consultative Council member).

The draft's implications for the Episcopal Church were not clear, McPhee said at a news conference after the end of the Council's meeting, adding that the draft needed "to be unpacked a bit."

The team will begin an exegesis, or analysis, of the draft text of the proposed Covenant for the use of the entire Episcopal Church.

The letter cautions that the 75th General Convention also passed Resolution 166 that states "responding to the draft covenant is an opportunity to participate in the covenant development process but does not presuppose agreement with the terms and principles advanced in the draft."

The letter includes an outline other actions the Council took during its meeting.

Further ENS coverage of the meeting is available here.

Reframe question

The day before, the Executive Council heard New Westminster Bishop Michael Ingham, its Anglican Church of Canada partner, urge the council to reframe the question being asked by the Primates' Meeting.

He said provinces should not be "forced to a divisive kind of question" of choosing between belonging to the Anglican Communion and belonging to all the members of its church.

Such a choice, he said, "does not feel like the Gospel choice, nor does it seem like orthodoxy" he said. Framing the question another way, he said the two churches are being forced to choose between "conformity and autonomy."

Ingham said those choices are the "product of a political agenda and they are not imperative to the Gospel."

He predicted that the Episcopal Church's response to the Primates will have a "huge impact" in Canada, England and other places – not just in Africa.

"There are still many Anglicans who look to the U.S. and Canada to be their signs of hope" during times that seem very dark, Ingham said.

Praising the Episcopal Church's effort to stay focused on its mission and ministry, particularly its support of the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Ingham said, "you are a light to lighten the Gentiles."

The council also passed three resolutions related to the issue of the treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. The members agreed to "complete" General Convention Resolution A168 which affirms the Episcopal Church's "conviction" that homosexual persons are entitled to equal protection under the law and to affirm paragraph 146 of the Windsor Report that declares that any "demonizing" of homosexual persons "is totally against Christian charity and basic principles of pastoral care."

The second resolution, a completion of Resolution C010, urges the Joint Standing Committee on Planning and Arrangements to not propose any future General Conventions sites located in states that specifically prohibit domestic partnerships or the rights normally accorded to such partnerships. Executive Council member Kim Byham (Diocese of Newark) said four states, Michigan, Ohio, Texas and Virginia, have such laws.

The council also agreed to complete Resolution D073. The resolution notes with concern the criminalization of homosexuality in various countries and the increasing violence against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. It encourages the U.S. government to grant asylum to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people who live in countries where homosexuality is criminalized or whose lives are threatened, and calls on the Episcopal Church to aid in their resettlement.

National Concerns Committee Chair John Vanderstar (Diocese of Washington) said the resolution is "very timely" given legislation pending in Nigeria to criminalize homosexuality as well as make it a crime to advocate for homosexual persons.

(The Executive Council can choose to "complete" resolutions because General Convention Resolution D098 gave the Secretary of General Convention, Gregory Straub, the authority to refer not-completed resolutions to the council or other interim bodies  for consideration. Several other resolutions passed by the Council at this meeting completed General Convention resolutions.)

The Executive Council carries out programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, and oversees the ministry and mission of the Episcopal Church. The council is comprised of 38 members, including bishops, priests or deacons, and lay people, 20 of whom are elected by General Convention and 18 by provincial synods.


-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.

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