December 21st, 2000
Just before Christmas the Presiding Bishop sent a letter to all bishops reflecting on the common life of the Episcopal Church. The Presiding Bishop's Office has received numerous requests from others for copies of this letter. Therefore, as it may be of more general interest, it is included below.
For all Bishops
My dear brothers and sisters:
As we approach Christmas and the ending of my first triennium as your Presiding Bishop, I thought it might be an appropriate moment to reflect upon these past months as we look ahead to a new year, and the challenge and grace it may contain.
First of all, I feel an immense gratitude for each of you in the ongoing life we share as a community of bishops. Your companionship, and your fidelity to Christ in the varied contexts in which you find yourselves called to exercise your "concern for all the churches" is a gift to me. I am very aware of the joys and sorrows that have consoled and burdened many of you, as I am aware of the joys and sorrows - the interplay of consolation and desolation - present in my own life. These last three years have made incredible demands on me, and at the same time revealed manna "I knew not of" and would never have known if I had not allowed myself to be put in situations that stretched me.
At last year's meeting of the primates meeting in Porto, Professor David Ford of Cambridge University spoke of the dangers of electronic communication and of how easy it is for distortion and untruth to be sent around the world in the twinkling of an eye. Personal communication, preferably face to face, is therefore all the more important lest we become victims of the agendas or misrepresentations of others. The Church - as a community of people who care deeply and passionately about many things - is particularly vulnerable, and I sometimes think we are awash in such misrepresentation. Anything, even total fabrication, repeated often enough, copied to various electronic lists, takes on a life of its own.
We also know that, without the clarifying word, speculation can go unchecked in ways that can be destructive, or sometimes merely amusing. An example of the later is that I am told for some weeks letters to the editor in The Living Church went back and forth on why the Presiding Bishop had chosen to wear a stole over his chasuble at the General Convention. Many people weighed in on this delicate matter. Well, the answer is: the vestments were designed to be worn that way. There you have it! In any event, I am mindful of the necessity of what we might call "the direct transfer of information" as I write to you today.
I continue to view our General Convention as a profound experience of grace which exceeded all my expectations, though to be sure we have yet to live out some of our decisions made in Denver in ways that reveal Christ and upbuild the body while respecting the variety of its many parts.
It is unfortunate that some have portrayed D039 as prescriptive rather than descriptive of where we are as a church. Also, the fact that some in our community of faith have reduced "orthodoxy" to particular views of sexuality, suggests that sex overrides the gospel. How our sexuality is integrated into our response to the gospel is an important ethical concern, but for it to occlude all else that binds us together in Christ, including Scripture, the Sacraments and the Creeds, is to make sexuality an idol.
Resolution A045 on the implementation of the canons concerning the ordination of women will be addressed by the Executive Council at their February meeting. I trust their judgement in this matter and, at the same time, I am exceedingly mindful of my own responsibility in insuring that A045 will be carried forward, in the words of our Mind of the House Resolution, with "courtesy, tolerance, mutual respect, and prayer for one anotherâ¦"
My Council of Advice - which I will remind you is made up of the bishops elected president or vice president of their province - met in early December. As always, I was helped by their wise counsel and energized by hearing of the various mission initiatives flourishing across the church. We expressed our gratitude to Bill Smalley for his leadership over these last years as president, and elected Doug Theuner to succeed Bill.
In advance of our meeting, I had asked the members of the Council of Advice to try to determine by checking with the bishops in their province the extent of the separation of congregations from the communion of the Episcopal Church. Their conversations indicated there are actually few such cases. Further, the pattern seems to be that departing congregations have had long-standing difficulties that contributed to their departure, such as a history of conflict with, or isolation from, the bishop and diocese on the part of the congregation, and more often the clergy.
Nonetheless, regardless of the statistics, for any members of the body to cut themselves off and say, "I have no need of you," is a cause for grief and deep sadness. When one member of the body suffers, we all suffer and therefore we must pray and work always for the Spirit to reconcile and consecrate us in the Truth. As well, we have to admit how painful it is for us as bishops, charged with the unity of the church, to have to take part in the alienation or division of a congregation under our care. In such moments, we must keep before us the fact that unity is not our creation. It is God's gift. Therefore, when we pray for the church we ask God in the words of Eucharistic Prayer D "to reveal its unity." It is possible that in our struggles, and those going on in other parts of the Anglican Communion, God is at work seeking to draw us all more deeply into communion in Christ and one another in ways yet to be revealed that transcend our categories of "conservative" or "liberal," and the like.
During the Council of Advice meeting one of the bishops asked about my relationship with the Archbishop of Canterbury. George Carey and I are in very frequent contact (thanks to the miracle of email) and he has been extremely helpful and supportive. He knows us well from his frequent visits, and does not depend on others for his sense of who and what we are as a province of the Anglican Communion. I consider him in every way a wise and discerning friend.
There are two things the Archbishop has made absolutely clear. First, he strongly disapproves of the Singapore ordinations. If there is to be any "regularization" of the same, it can only come from the Episcopal Church. Second, the See of Canterbury would not recognize a body other than the Episcopal Church as a province of the Anglican Communion in the USA.
As I have said all along, whatever differences we may have within the Episcopal Church, it is for us to seek the truth in Jesus together - however costly and difficult that may be - not for our own sake, but for the sake of the mission of the Church which is "to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ."
How can we proclaim a reconciling word to others if we are unwilling to live the excruciating process of reconciliation among ourselves? One of the ways we bear witness to the uniqueness of Christ is by recognizing Christ present in the uniqueness of one another. This means welcoming voices that are very different from our own, voices that can as easily challenge and convict as they can affirm and uphold. Such is the mystery of the fullness of Christ experienced in the household of faith since the very beginning, as we see in the case of no lesser apostle than Paul, who "opposed [Peter] to his face."
One further word: I am well along the road to recovery from my surgery in September and all tests confirm that I am "cancer free." I cannot begin to tell you how strengthened and supported Phoebe and I have been by the prayer and concern of bishops and spouses over these past months. While I experienced some moments of fatigue and desolation, at such times the prayer and faith of the Body of Christ took over and carried me. Thank you.
Enough for now. May the days of Christmas be a time of joy and peace for you all. And again, please know how much I value each of you as a fellow overseer of the church, and as a fellow pilgrim.
Yours ever in Christ,
The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA