Divine messengers "act to drive out fear," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said in her homily marking the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels observed September 30 at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. "That may be the best test of the messenger's source," she added.
"When the message is about fear or hate, we can be sure that it comes from an unholy messenger," Jefferts Schori said, having noted that the "encounter between Michael and the dragon is a reminder of that reality. [Full sermon text is available here.]
"Sometimes the unbidden messenger is one that instills fear -- real fear, not the awe of God -- or uses fear to motivate, like the creeping urge we have to protect ourselves from people who are in some way different."
That measure reaffirms "restraint" in consenting to any future elections of lesbian and gay bishops, and reiterates that General Convention has not to date approved rites for blessings of same-gender unions. These actions came in reply to the Anglican Communion Primates' request, issued in Dar es Salaam in February 2007, for response by September 30.
"Despite what has been claimed," said Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams September 21 in New Orleans, "there is no 'ultimatum' involved" in the September 30 date. "The Primates asked for a response by September 30 simply because we were aware that this was the meeting of the House likely to be formulating such a response." The full text of the Archbishop's statement is available here. At present, Williams continues his own assessment and consultation regarding the bishops' statement.
Jefferts Schori told the standing-room-only forum audience that the House of Bishops reiterated the stances of the General Convention, "not going backward, but willing to pause" in its consideration of full inclusion of lesbian and gay persons in the life and ministries of the Episcopal Church. "We reiterated our understanding that all gay and lesbian persons" are deserving "of the fullest regard of the Church," she said.
"We live in the hope that there will be full inclusion," she told reporters in a news conference before the forum talk, calling anything less "not lamentable, but egregious."
Bishop Marc Handley Andrus of the San Francisco-based Diocese of California concurred with Jefferts Schori. He also pointed to the Episcopal Church's commitment to "global flourishing" to counter conditions of severe poverty, and underscored the importance of New Orleans and its post-hurricane rebuilding work "as a just place" as the venue for the recent bishops' meeting.
Moderating the forum, Grace Cathedral Dean Alan Jones asked the bishops why media reports varied so significantly in their coverage of the bishops' meeting. The New York Times coverage, for example, has been critiqued as heavily skewed toward views and voices of dissident clergy, while the Associated Press was said to have captured more fully the compromise measure of "restraint."
The range of coverage "reflects the House" itself, Jefferts Schori said, pointing to the "variety of opinions reflected" in both the membership and its September 25 statement.
Asked by Jones to bring "a sense of proportion" to the current conflict, the Presiding Bishop cited reports that of the Episcopal Church's more than 7,600 congregations, some 45-60 of those have experienced votes by a majority of parishioners to affiliate with an overseas Anglican diocese. "That is well under 1 percent" of total congregations, and many of those continue in name and mission as Episcopal congregations within their dioceses, Jefferts Schori said.
Jones further reported that active diocesan bishops of some five of the Episcopal Church's 110 total dioceses participated in a September 25-28 "Common Cause Partnership" meeting in Pittsburgh seeking a realigned structure for Anglicanism in North America.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, meanwhile, has affirmed previously that he will not recognize in North America Anglican Provinces other than the U.S.-based Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church of Canada, and the Anglican Church of Mexico.
Primates and other groups within a number of the Anglican Communion's 38 member Provinces are in solidarity with the positions of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada, Jefferts Schori added. She further cited international learning that is occurring around the Episcopal Church's baptismal covenant to "respect the dignity" of all people. A similar covenant is not in place in the vast majority of Anglican Provinces, the Presiding Bishop said.
Laity should be more widely involved in international conversations about the shape and direction of Anglicanism, said Andrus, bishop of the California diocese since 2006 and previously bishop suffragan of the Diocese of Alabama.
For the morning's liturgy, Andrus joined Jones and the procession in meeting the Presiding Bishop at the cathedral's great doors, replicas of Ghiberti's Renaissance masterpieces adorning the cathedral baptistery in Florence, Italy. After three knocks outside the San Francisco cathedral, the Presiding Bishop entered through its doors, and was later welcomed with a standing ovation.
The Presiding Bishop also blessed a new stone labyrinth recently completed inside the cathedral nave. Replacing a previous woolen labyrinth, the new stonework was made possible by a gift from Margaret and Will Hearst.
In her homily, Jefferts Schori said that angels are sometimes "amazingly practical...sometimes they offer comfort and reassurance, and sometimes they motivate us to get up and do something bold.
...What are we supposed to do about these encounters with a message or inspiration from God? These messengers have a mission to bring a message, and that message gives you and me a mission to accomplish as well ... May those messages be effective in us, may they accomplish the purposes of God, through each one of us.
"Imagine a flock of angels ascending from this city, with cries for help, with the pain of hunger and loneliness, with yearning for peace in the last hours of life, with appeals for justice everywhere. Imagine as well a flock of angels descending on this body, with messages for us like, "there's a fellow outside these doors who needs a good meal, and another one who could use a job." "The fellow who lives next door is having a hard time dealing with his father's death." "Your sister needs to hear from you." "Your co-worker is edging toward an unethical business decision, and your voice and friendship might prevent it." "This city needs your voice and participation as it tries to figure out how to provide decent housing for all its people." You get the idea. What do you hear? And what are you going to do about it?"