Executive Council set to discuss communiqué, Anglican covenant responses

Proposed statement, summary of draft covenant response lead June 14 agenda
June 12, 2007

A task group of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council will propose June 14 that Council tell the Anglican Communion that no governing body other than General Convention can interpret Convention resolutions or agree to deny "future decisions by dioceses or General Convention."

A draft of the statement, titled "The Episcopal Church's Commitment to Common Life in Anglican Communion," says it "strongly affirm[s] this Church's desire to be in the fullest possible relationship with our Anglican sisters and brothers."

The draft would have the Council decline to participate in a so-called Pastoral Scheme proposed by the Primates of the Anglican Communion for dealing with some disaffected Episcopal Church dioceses. In March the House of Bishops said the plan "would be injurious to The Episcopal Church" and urged the Council to decline to participate.

The draft of the statement was released to Council members and staff the afternoon of June 13 at the Council's meeting in Parsippany, New Jersey. The draft, and three proposed accompanying resolutions, will be discussed by the entire Council June 14.

The statement was written by the EC008 Task Group, which was called for by the Council (via Resolution EC008) during its March 2-4 meeting in Portland, Oregon.

Also on June 14, Council will hear the report of a sub-committee of its International Concerns Committee (INC) summarizing comments solicited by a study guide aimed at helping the Episcopal Church respond to the draft version of a proposed Anglican Covenant.

Meetings of the Executive Council's INC, Administration and Finance (A&F), Congregations in Ministry (CIM), and National Concerns (NAC) committees took up most of the day on June 13. Those committees, along with the EC008 Task Group, will bring resolutions for the Council to consider during two plenary sessions on the meeting's last day, June 14. The Council began meeting June 11 in at the Sheraton hotel in Parsippany, New Jersey.

Communiqué response proposed
The proposed statement, and three resolutions, suggest a response to portions of the communiqué issued by the Anglican Primates at the end of their February meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The communiqué contained the Pastoral Scheme and called for the Episcopal Church "to effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges."

The proposed statement would have the Council acknowledge the communiqué as "a good-faith contribution" to the on-going discussion about Anglican identity and authority but state that the "requests of the Primates are of a nature that can only be responded to by our General Convention." The Convention next meets in the summer of 2009.

The statement would have the Council "question the authority of the Primates to impose deadlines and demands upon any of the churches of the Anglican Communion."

"Assertions of authority met by counter-assertions of polity are not likely to lead to the reconciliation we seek," the draft statement says. "Our salvation is not in the law but in the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Savior; so too with our relationships as Anglicans."

The statement would have the Council say that "the only thing we really have to offer in that relationship is who we are -- a community of committed Christians seeking God's will for our common life."

The draft statement claims unity through baptism, says that "we are, whether we wish it or not, God's gift to each other" and acknowledges that the church has historically struggled to embrace people who have been marginalized, including the current debate over the place and vocation of gay and lesbian people in the life of church.

The task group proposes three resolutions for Council. The first would receive and adopt the statement the group has drafted.

The second, titled "Commending the report of the Communion Sub-Group, " refers to the report of an Anglican Communion group which generally gave the Episcopal Church positive marks for its response to various requests to explain its decisions regarding same-gender blessings, the episcopal ordination of an openly gay and partnered priest, and its desire to remain a part of the Anglican Communion. The resolution would have the Council encourage the House of Bishops to consider the report as it prepares to meet in September.

The third resolution, "Executive Council's response to the House of Bishops' Mind of the House Resolution on the Proposed Pastoral Scheme," refers to the House of Bishops' declaration in March that a plan the Primates put forward for dealing with some disaffected Episcopal Church dioceses "would be injurious to The Episcopal Church." The bishops' resolution urged that the Executive Council decline to participate in it and the proposed statement would in fact have Council decline and "respectfully ask our Presiding Bishop not to take any of the actions asked of her by this scheme."

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson appointed the EC008 Task Group. Resolution EC008 named Anderson, who is vice president of Council, to chair the work group. (Jefferts Schori is president of the Council.)

The members of the task group, in addition to Anderson, are Puerto Rico Bishop David Alvarez; Los Angeles Bishop Jon Bruno; Sharon Denton of the Diocese of Western Kansas; the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas of Massachusetts; Delbert Glover of Western Massachusetts; the Rev. Canon Mark Harris of Delaware; the Rev. Timothy Kimbrough of North Carolina; the Rev. Gay Jennings of Ohio; and Lexington Bishop Stacy Sauls. Anderson's chancellor, Sally Johnson, was a consultant to the task group. Council members Kim Byham (Diocese of Newark), Bruce Garner (Diocese of Atlanta), Dottie Fuller (Diocese of El Camino Real), Dennis Stark (Diocese of Rhode Island) and the Rev. Winnie Varghese (Diocese of New York) also met with the group.

Douglas, who is also a consulting theologian to the House of Bishops' Theology Committee, acted as a liaison between the two groups as the theology committee worked on a study document meant to help bishops in gathering comments in their dioceses prior to the bishops' mid-September meeting in New Orleans where they will formulate a further response to the communiqué.

Draft-covenant study guide responses to be outlined
The INC draft-covenant subcommittee chair Rosalie Ballentine of the Virgin Islands told the full INC committee June 13 that the 411 responses to the study guide's questions ran four to one against the covenant, although INC and sub-committee member the Rev. Dr. Ian Douglas of Massachusetts noted that "the vast majority of the responses were very nuanced."

Of the responses, 210 responses came from the laity, 100 from priests and deacons, 64 from organizations and groups, 27 from parishes, and 18 from bishops. The stack of responses is about three inches high and they range from one-sentence replies to each of the guide's questions to 10-page replies.

The comments are meant to help Council create a response to the draft covenant at its October meeting in Detroit, Michigan.

The Rev. Dr. Lee Alison Crawford, Vermont, told the committee that in the responses "over and over again people thanked the Episcopal Church for the chance to respond."

Ballentine concurred, saying that "people took it as very, very important to respond" and noting that "they came from all over [including the dioceses of] Fort Worth, Fond du Lac, Albany, Pittsburgh, Long Island, Ohio -- all over."

Committee member Bishop Julio Holguin of the Dominican Republic said he "would have felt better if we had gotten 10,000 responses," instead of 411, which he called insufficient. George Frazer Stain of Honduras agreed, adding that when INC reports to the whole Council, it ought to add its own opinions. Holguin said the Church needed more time to respond to the study guide, which was released April 16 and set a June 4 deadline for responses. He also said the study guide needed more promotion to make a larger share of the Church aware of its existence.

The Windsor Report, released in October 2004, proposed a covenant as a way for the Anglican Communion to maintain unity amid differing viewpoints. The Primates received and discussed the draft during their February meeting in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. They then released both it and an accompanying report to the entire Communion, asking for comment from of the 38 provinces by January 1.

Based on those responses, it is expected that a revised version of the covenant will be presented to the 2008 Lambeth Conference of Bishops, to be followed by a final text that would be proposed to the 2009 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC). If the ACC adopts the text, it would offer it to the provinces for consideration.

The Executive Council's covenant-review process comes in response to Resolution A166, passed by the 75th General Convention in June 2006. The resolution calls for the Episcopal Church, "as a demonstration of our commitment to mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Anglican Communion," to support the process of the development of an Anglican Covenant "that underscores our unity in faith, order, and common life in the service of God's mission." It also called for the INC and the Episcopal Church's members of the Anglican Consultative Council to follow the development processes of an Anglican Covenant and report regularly to the Executive Council as well as to the 76th General Convention in 2009.

In a letter to the Episcopal Church at the close of its March 2-4 meeting in Portland, Oregon, the Executive Council said "responding to the draft covenant does not presuppose agreement with the terms and principles advanced in the draft."

Also in plenary on June 13
Late in the afternoon on June 13, Council heard reports from its liaisons to the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

"I was very much welcomed," said the Very Rev. Petero Sabune, describing his experience with the Canadians.

New Westminster Bishop Michael Ingham, Council's Anglican Church of Canada partner, told the members that the Episcopal Church had faced into the recent years' struggles with human sexuality and Anglican identity "very faithfully," if not without pain.

Ingham also said that the Canadian bishops' meeting in April with Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams contained a "design flaw" that had Williams speaking to the bishops but did not give him any chance to listen to them. Ingham urged those Episcopal Church bishops who are planning their September meeting in New Orleans to let Williams "hear from the Episcopal Church and not simply speak to the Episcopal Church." (Williams announced in April that he would come to the September meeting.)

Ingham described Williams' four unscripted talks during their "quiet day" as "brilliant."

"He literally unfolded the Scripture to us," Ingham said, adding that "there is a kindness to Rowan Williams' theology" that is needed at this moment in the Communion's history.

The Rev. Canon Victoria Garvey of the Diocese of Chicago said her attendance at a recent ELCA leadership meeting showed her "a spirit of abundance and a great pride in who they are as Lutherans, and I wanted that to permeate over to us."

NAC committee chair John Vanderstar summarized for the members what he has learned about how dioceses are living out General Convention Resolution A123's call for every diocese to collect and document its experience of "the complicity of The Episcopal Church in the institution of slavery and in the subsequent history of segregation and discrimination" and the "economic benefits The Episcopal Church derived from the institution of slavery."

He reported that the dioceses of Newark, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, New York, Mississippi, Florida, Atlanta and Maryland were actively involved in the documentation process, and other dioceses have passed resolutions recently to begin the process. "It's a big job, but we're making progress -- slowly, but we're making progress," Vanderstar said.

The Rev. Jayne Oasin, the Church's social justice staff officer, plans to post the dioceses' finding on the church's website, Vanderstar said, adding that they hope the information will also give other dioceses some ideas on how to proceed.

The resolution is limited to African slavery because, Vanderstar said, it was thought that such limits might actually result in the documentation happening. Some dioceses believe they have no history of African slavery but are using the resolution to look at other forms of racism such as mistreatment of Native Americans, he reported. Vanderstar urged Council members to "keep at" their dioceses to do this work, and to keep Oasin and the Council informed. Eventually, he said, he hopes that the Episcopal Church is able more fully to address the issue of reparations for the harm done by the practice of slavery.

Nigerian Anglican Davis Mac-Iyalla, founder of his country's only gay-rights organization, Changing Attitude Nigeria, also spoke to Council June 13. He met June 11 (LINK) with the INC and NAC committees. As he did at that session, Mac-Iyalla told Council "we need your support; you are the people we are looking to."

Again he accused Anglican Church of Nigeria Archbishop and Primate Peter Akinola of lying when he says there are no gays and lesbians in his church. "We were born in the Church and we are part of the Church," he said.

Mac-Iyalla urged the Episcopal Church to oppose a Nigerian bill that would criminalize homosexuality and those who associate with gay and lesbian people. Saying that the bill still has the potential to be passed, Mac-Iyalla said its adoption would stymie the Anglican Communion's Listening Process because gays and lesbians would not be able to gather "or tell their experience in the Anglican Church of Nigeria."

The Executive Council carries out the programs and policies adopted by the General Convention, according to Canon I.4(1)(a). The council is composed of 38 members, 20 of whom (four bishops, four priests or deacons and 12 lay people) are elected by General Convention and 18 (one clergy and one lay) by provincial synods, plus the Presiding Bishop and the president of the House of Deputies.

Related Topics: