Making connections and forging relationships with Anglican bishops from around the world was a highlight of the just-concluded Lambeth Conference, said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori in a live webcast on August 7.
Also appearing on the webcast from the Episcopal Church Center in New York City was Bishop Mark Sisk of the Diocese of New York, who said the gathering was "an opportunity to put a face to this communion."
The conference, which took place in Canterbury, England from July 16 to August 3, is a once-per-decade meeting of the bishops of the Anglican Communion that is held at the invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The 2008 conference drew 670 bishops from 37 of the 38 Anglican provinces; about 135 bishops of the Episcopal Church registered.
During the webcast, which is available for on-demand viewing here, questions were accepted from a live audience in New York and via email.
One of the contentious issues of the Lambeth Conference was a continued call for moratoria on blessing same-sex unions and consecrating partnered gay persons to the episcopate and on interference in other jurisdictions to minister to conservatives.
Jefferts Schori said that on the question of moratoria affecting gay and lesbian Christians, the Episcopal Church has been living in a "season of gracious restraint for some time and I don't see there is any church-wide push to end that in the coming months. The General Convention is going to have to consider these issues. General Convention is the only body that really can decide to do anything significant related to them. Individual bishops have always made their own decisions within the canonical responsibilities of their dioceses."
Incursions into other dioceses "do not reflect positively on the mission of the church," said Jefferts Schori. "The overwhelming majority [of bishops] sees incursions as inappropriate and needing to cease. That said, I'm not terribly hopeful that they will stop," she said.
Sisk said he realized how difficult a conversation about homosexuality is in some cultures and contexts. Simply to be talking about homosexuality was "offensive and shocking, even," he related. Continuing this conversation is going to be a serious challenge. "There are places where churches are in the minority and where to be associated with homosexuality is to be associated with evil. Lives are quite literally in danger. I was reminded of just exactly how straight the line is between our actions and the kind of oppressive circumstances in which some of our brothers and sisters live in parts of the world where we are a tiny minority," he said.
Both bishops noted that there is often a lack of understanding in other parts of the world about The Episcopal Church. "I was surprised at questions about basic theological tenets and whether we really believe them or not. It's a reminder that even though we may think all Anglicans believe the basics of the faith, not everybody believes that we believe them," said Jefferts Schori.
Addressing the development of a proposed Anglican covenant that would outline basic beliefs, Jefferts Schori said, "there was great willingness to think about a a covenant that spoke positively about what we do share as members of the communion. There was really no interest in producing a covenant that defined who could be excluded."
A committee called the covenant design group will meet this fall to consider the comments from the bishops and possibly produce another draft that will then be made public and presented to the international Anglican Consultative Council in May. "The ACC will make a decision about what to do next, whether to send it back for further revision, reject it or send on to the provinces for consideration," said Jefferts Schori.
Sisk said one bishop in his group talked about how important it is for families to have standards, "but I said that you stick together, even if you disagree."
When asked how Lambeth affects the status of gay and lesbian church members, Jefferts Schori said, "we were very clear for an overwhelming majority of the bishops of this church that the well being and adequate and appropriate pastoral care of gay and lesbian members of the church is a significant mission issue for us. We have been having conversations and debate for more than 40 years. Even though other parts of the communion may not understand that, we have been working at this for a long time. Our conversations are not going to end."
Jefferts Schori said that an American bishop told her that he had encountered a bishop from another part of the world and that bishop said to him, âWhat you're doing is making it very difficult for me but your job is not to make my life easier. You need to be paying attention to the pastoral realities in your own context as I need to be in mine.'"
Sisk said that in church, "there is only 'us,' not a 'them and us'" and that the roles of gay and lesbian people have been "affirmed time and time again."
Both bishops praised the small Bible study and discussion groups, a new feature of the conference, which was designed to avoid the kind of legislative parliamentary sessions that in 1998 produced rancor over the passing of a resolution that said homosexual practice is incompatible with Scripture.
Sisk said that in 1998, the structure of the legislative sessions seemed "designed to produce winners and losers," but this time "there was not a sense of winners and losers at the end of the day."
The UN Millennium Development Goals for global social progress were the source of much discussion at Lambeth, said both bishops, citing the July 24 bishops' march through London in support of poverty reduction.
Jefferts Schori recalled that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown challenged nations to advocate for poverty reduction and other goals such as maternal health care. Sisk said he heard frustration expressed among the bishops that much time was devoted to talk about sexuality, when such issues as poverty are crushing communities.
Jefferts Schori noted the presence of the Anglican order of Melanesian Brothers and Sisters, both in the opening worship and closing service at Canterbury Cathedral, where the names of seven brothers murdered during peacemaking efforts in the Solomon Islands were placed in a chapel of martyrs.
The conference ended with a shortfall of one million British pounds, or about US$2 million, said Jefferts Schori, who added that Episcopal Church bishops provided bursaries for bishops in other provinces to come to Lambeth and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has expressed a desire to come to the U.S. for fundraising work.