'There will be no outcasts in this Church,' Presiding Bishop tells live webcast audience

Jefferts Schori reflects on Church's mission, House of Bishops meeting
October 16, 2007

Opening with an overview of the mission-driven September 20-25 House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori set the tone October 16 for her second webcast held at the studio facilities of Trinity Church, Wall Street, in New York City.

"We met intentionally in New Orleans, as an act of solidarity with the people of Louisiana and the Mississippi Gulf coast, so that we might represent the prayers and concern of the whole church, and offer a small contribution to the rebuilding effort," Jefferts Schori said in her opening remarks of the one-hour webcast, anchored by the Rev. Jan Nunley, executive editor of Episcopal Life Media. "We were told that 100,000 housing units were lost during Katrina and its aftermath, displacing nearly 250,000 people. Of those housing units, only about 4,000 have been made habitable once again."

Many of the bishops, their spouses, "as well as a number of our Anglican Communion visitors," Jefferts Schori said, "participated in various rebuilding efforts on one day of meeting."

"We pounded nails, placed dry wall, distributed sandwiches, and listened to the stories of despair and hope," she said. "Faith communities, including the Episcopal Church, are the backbone of ongoing relief and rebuilding efforts, and it appears that their primary role will continue to be vital."

She described the first part of the meeting as "an opportunity for the bishops to hear from our Anglican Communion visitors, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, and to share our own joys and concerns with them."

"We heard some challenging words about different contexts around the Communion, and shared our own. We discovered, as we did in our labors in New Orleans and Mississippi, the reality and depth of our interconnectedness," she explained. "When one part of the body suffers, all suffer. When one part rejoices, the spirits of all are lifted."

She said the statement that was produced in the latter part of the meeting represented "a remarkable consensus among the bishops."

"The truly surprising aspect of this statement was its almost complete unanimity," she said. "With the exception of a small number who did not stay for the rest of the meeting following the Archbishop's departure, the overwhelming majority of bishops engaged in the work of developing the statement with profound respect for one another. While there are parts of the statement that challenge each of us, we were able to stand together in offering it to the wider church."

According to Jefferts Schori, the statement "both affirms the church's commitment to the full dignity of gay and lesbian persons and cautions us to wait before their full sacramental inclusion."

She concluded her opening remarks by quoting one of her predecessors, Edmond L. Browning, "who was fond of saying 'in this church there will be no outcasts.'"

"I concur, and I challenge each one of us to consider who it is we would most like to be rid of," she said. "That person, my friends, is the image of Christ in our midst. There will be no outcasts in this church, whether because of sexual orientation or theological perspective. God has given us to each other, to love and to learn from each other. May God bless each and every part of this body."

The webcast, co-sponsored by Trinity Church Wall Street and Episcopal Life Media, is available for on-demand viewing here.

Questions mixed
Questions from the live studio audience, and those calling and emailing ranged from how Jefferts Schori was handling her first year as Presiding Bishop to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and climate change.

Asked about her experience with testifying before a Congressional Committee, the Presiding Bishop said that it was "fascinating."

"Both in the support that I received from the [Episcopal Church's] Office of Government Relations in Washington, D.C., preparing for that experience and teaching me about what was going on and watching the operation," she said. "I was there to speak about climate change and that was what my testimony was on."

Another caller asked what is the Episcopal Church going to do to lift up and support the institution of marriage. Jefferts Schori said there was both a "theological and pastoral" answer.

"In terms of theological discussion, we have not had a discussion as a church or certainly as a Communion on the theology of marriage for a very long time," she said. "The Prayer Book that we use now in this church acknowledges that companionship and assistance to the other partner in growing up into the full stature of Christ is really the aim of marriage, not reproduction. That’s a significant change in the history of the church."

She cited programs such as Marriage Encounters, in the church, as offering support.

A question via email asked whether membership was increasing in the Church. The Presiding Bishop acknowledged an increase from the immigrant, Asian, and gay and lesbian population.

Responding to a question about youth and how to attract them to the church, Jefferts Schori said, "I would turn it around and ask what is the church doing to go out into the larger society and engage young people in their spiritual quest?"

Studio audience offers feedback
Gloria Cruz, a member of St. Ann's Episcopal Church in the Bronx, New York, was part of the studio audience. She is an activist against gun violence and asked the question of whether the Episcopal Church had a stance on gun control.

Cruz said that the webcast was "very informative" and that Jefferts Schori's response to her question was "an open and honest one."

"She wasn't sure about it but I liked the fact that she made reference to the Bible because I too believe that God did not create us to be violent towards each other," said Cruz.

Diane Pollard, trustee of the Church Pension Fund and former member of Executive Council, was also part of the studio audience. She said the positiveness of Jefferts Schori's conversation always helps with "so much of the anger that we hear from other people."

"I think today was excellent and that she presents to the church a new model of a way of being churched," said Pollard. "She was very forthright and clear in her answers to issues. I hope it certainly makes other people think about the way we should be in the church and the way that we should accept others who are different from us."

Kevin Brown, a third year seminarian at General Theological Seminary (GTS) in New York City, from the Diocese of Pennsylvania, thought the Presiding Bishop was "very candid in her responses and answered the questions appropriately."

"It felt very good to know that as a seminarian, and as a future leader of the church that the changes that need to be made would probably be a little more welcome than they have been in the past," he said. "That's encouraging for a seminarian."

Blane Van Pletzen-Rands, a first year seminarian at GTS, from the Diocese of Utah, said Jefferts Schori "did a remarkable job at reminding us that in the middle of this conflict, no one is going to come away hugely triumphant."

"No one is going to come away hugely disappointed [because] there's this vast middle ground in between," he said. "We’ve gone through similar battles over issues that seem to be no longer important to us and so this issue of the day, while it is occupying a lot of our attention, is not going to define who we are going to become. Ultimately its part of our tradition in dealing with change."

Benjamin Johnson, a member of Trinity Church, said "all her answers were intelligent and in the general spirit of Christianity."

"I really respect her gifts as a communicator," said Sarah Dylan Breuer, a second year seminarian at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "To be in direct conversation with the church and her willingness to take some very challenging questions and to respond with grace and good humor is just a wonderful thing to see."

Breuer also said she "appreciates the many ways she is calling the church to engage in mission."

The Rev. Dr. Ellen Francis Poisson, OSH, said the Presiding Bishop "absolutely nailed" her question on monastic orders.

"She said those who enter a religious community, choose the community but we don't choose the other brothers and sisters with whom we live. So it's a way of walking in love with all these different people who aren’t necessarily the people who you choose but loving them anyway," said Poisson. "That's what the Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church is also. We chose to join the church, and to join this effort to live together and walk together in love [so that] even when we have enormously different points of view, we can still be one in Christ."

Looking ahead
"This time we are in a less tense place than we were at the end of February and the questions were much broader," said Jefferts Schori. "People weren't so focused on the presenting issue."

She said these conversations are "very important" and that she'd "love to see this happen more often and probably in a more interactive way."