Letters to primates and clergy offer Griswold’s perspectives on convention

August 24, 2003

In letters to the other 37 primates of the Anglican Communion and to the clergy of the Episcopal Church USA, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold offered his perspectives on some of the controversial actions of the Minneapolis General Convention—and he committed himself to “helping our church to find a way forward that both preserves the unity of the church and honors the deeply divergent points of view among us.”

Acknowledging that the actions of General Convention in consenting to the election of the Rev. Gene Robinson, an openly gay man who has been living in a committed relationship with another gay man, may have strained “our bonds of fraternal affection and respect,” Griswold cautioned the primates against listening only to “the urgent voices which speak of crisis or extreme pastoral emergency.”

He said in the August 19 letter to the primates that “the mission of the church was the primary focus of the General Convention and one of the most important aspects of our work was a strong and clear acceptance of our call to be active ministers of global reconciliation.” Noting that some bishops are “promoting the establishment of an alternative structure to the Episcopal Church,” he said that “my own sense is that one of our Anglican gifts is to contain different theological perspectives within a context of common prayer.”

Potential gift?

Griswold said that he was now “obliged to ask what potential gift is buried beneath the surface of this present situation… asking God to show me how this occasion might be used for the good and to build up the life we share in Christ. It is my firm conviction that in the open space of God’s mercy the present moment may yield a blessing.”

Addressing questions raised by some of the primates, Griswold said that “I must say in the strongest possible terms that if I believed in any part of my being that the consent to this election was unfaithful to an authentic way of reading Scripture and contrary to the leading of the Holy Spirit, I could no longer serve as the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.” As he has on other occasions, Griswold said, “How we have been shaped and formed as Christians and the context in which we live have a great deal to do with how we interpret various passages in the Bible and the weight we give them in making moral decisions.”

On the issue of blessing same-sex unions, Griswold pointed out that the resolution passed by the General Convention “recognizes the reality of a variety of local pastoral practices, without either endorsing or condemning,” and calls for “continued prayer, study and discernment” under his direction. The church’s position on holy matrimony has not changed, he reported to the primates.

Witness to the world

In an August 20 letter to clergy of the Episcopal Church, Griswold said that “regardless of one’s point of view of the outcome of various votes, General Convention was almost universally perceived to be a well ordered and caring community with sensitivity to the feelings of others and with mutual respect. This was noted many times in the media and I believe was a witness to the world.”

In his September column for Episcopal Life, the presiding bishop said that the media coverage noted the civility of the convention but “I believe what they actually saw was our Anglican charism at work. They were witnessing our reluctance, because of our deep sense of belonging together as limbs and members of Christ’s body, to say to those of a differing view ‘I have no need of you.’”

He concluded that “our gift is needed not only in our church but also in the world around us, where points of view seem so often to be polarized and no common ground can be found. More than ever we must now claim our Anglican way of coming at things from a both/and perspective rooted in common prayer.”

Role for clergy

Speaking as chief pastor, Griswold said that he realized the difficult role for clergy who would return home to create room “in which difference could be honored and respected, just as it had been during the course of General Convention.”

Describing the “webs of relationships” that tie together parishes, dioceses, provinces and the national church, as well as the rest of the Anglican Communion, Griswold said the relationships constitute “forcefields of energy in which our various perspectives and ways of embodying the gospel constantly interact—challenging and enlarging one another and thereby more fully revealing God’s truth. Difference, and the capacity to welcome otherness, are essential to the vitality of these various forcefields. And the energy which gives them life is love.”

The fundamental question becomes, Griswold said, “not how do we create unity or overcome our differences, but rather how do we live into the communion into which God is drawing us. The challenge before us at the present moment is to live into that communion, to go to the deeper place and draw more fully from the springs of God’s eternal and deathless love, which alone can give life to us all.”

Griswold ended by saying that he looked to the clergy and the bishops “to help us move through these present days with grace and in truth.”