'Sustained pastoral care' for parishes at odds with their bishops will be discussed at the House of Bishops meeting March 7-12 at Camp Allen in Texas. The meeting will center on the theme of 'Inhabiting Reconciliation.'
In a January 11 letter to bishops, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold said the bishops will continue the discussion began at their September meeting in Burlington, Vermont on how bishops can be reconcilers, 'personally, corporately within the church, and in the nation and the world.'
Griswold also said he wants to examine the bishops' role as 'chief pastors to the whole flock of Christ committed to our charge, and how we can develop sensitive and creative ways of ministering directly and indirectly to congregations who feel estranged from us and the life of our dioceses.'
The concept of 'sustained pastoral care,' whose main supporters are conservatives upset with the church's perceived liberal drift, was endorsed by the Primates Meeting at Kanuga in March 2001.
The presiding bishop's office said the bishops will not consider any form of Provincial Episcopal Visitors or 'flying bishops' program, such as the one established in the Church of England since 1993. Under the program, a Church of England parish may petition its diocesan bishop for alternative episcopal oversight by one of three bishops appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Quoting Brazilian archbishop Helder Camara, Griswold wrote that bishops should be 'open to everyone, absolutely everyone, both on the right and on the left.' He said the vast majority of bishops practiced this kind of oversight, 'costly as it may be.'
Several bishops, including Bishop Geralyn Wolf of Rhode Island and retired bishops Allen Bartlett of the Diocese of Pennsylvania and Mary Adelia McLeod of the Diocese of Vermont, have allowed conservative bishops to minister to parishes in their dioceses, without relinquishing oversight.
Conservative bishops said they were pleased with the planned discussions, but want them to be more than a 'token gesture.'
'It is unfortunate that it took so many years to make it to the agenda, but perhaps we bishops can now begin to work together to find a way to restore at least some degree of peace and unity in our church,' said Bishop Robert Duncan of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, a leader in the conservative American Anglican Council.
The primate of Nigeria, the Most Rev. Peter Akinola, and the primate of Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Rev. Iraj Mottahedeh, will join the American bishops for their meeting.