The Presiding Bishop's Address at the Church of Sweden Synod Opening

September 23, 2008

I bring you greetings from members of the Episcopal Church in Micronesia, Taiwan, Honduras, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the Convocation of American Churches in Europe, as well as 100 dioceses in the United States. The Episcopal Church exists in those many places both as a result of the history of the United States as a colonial power, but more significantly as a result of the choice of some dioceses which were formerly independent and eligible to join other provinces. We also continue in covenant relationship with parts of the Anglican Communion which were formerly part of the Episcopal Church, specifically the Philippines, Brazil, Mexico, and Liberia. We also have some ongoing responsibility for the Episcopal Church in Cuba, and live in hope for the regularization of relationships between the U.S. and Cuba, which we firmly expect following regime change in both places.

I also give thanks and bear greetings to you in the land of my ancestors. My great-grandparents emigrated from Sweden to the western United States in the late 19th century, and the names I bear have Swedish roots – Jefferts thanks to my great-grandfather Carl Gävert of Norrköping, and Katharine for the saint of that name in Vadstena. My ancestors left here to avoid conscription and because they were looking for economic opportunity, and I return looking for the possibilities that increased communication and relationship between our two churches may hold for building the reign of God in our own time.

I join you in giving thanks for your intrepid example in welcoming women into pastoral leadership in this Church. Fifty years of women’s example, witness, and ministry have brought abundant, productive, and transformative change in this place, all of which define the church’s ministry of leadership. If we look around us at a world still woefully short of the reign of God, that necessarily implies our prophetic duty and responsibility to effect change toward that goal.

My own church has been passionately involved in work toward the dream of God that is exemplified in Isaiah’s vision of the abundant banquet, of people living in peace with justice, of an end to war, and the full flourishing of all humanity. Jesus claimed that vision as his own mission when he entered the synagogue in Nazareth and read from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19). All Christians share that mission. The vision of a healed world that is held up in the Millennium Development Goals begins to move toward that end. Particularly in the United States, the Episcopal Church has urged our government to meet its financial commitment to international development, and we’ve worked to educate our parishioners and motivate their participation in caring for the poorest around the world. We give abundant thanks for the leadership of Sweden in working toward those goals. You are one of the few developed nations who have met or exceeded the promises made in the year 2000 to fund this work in the poorest countries. My own nation still falls woefully short of its commitment, yet we continue to lobby our Congress to increase our giving for international aid and debt relief.

The MDGs are intimately related to what you gather to celebrate in 50 years of women’s ordained leadership in this Church, for the empowerment of women is foundational to resolving poverty. When girls have access to education at all levels, when women are equally employed and compensated for their labor, when women and their children have adequate health care, all the members of their communities begin to flourish. And when we make peace around the world, the most vulnerable can truly begin to develop their God-given gifts for the good of all.

The bishops of the Anglican Communion gathered in England this summer for three weeks. Part of our conversation had to do with how we can be better partners and advocates for the full flourishing of all humanity, particularly in ways represented by the MDGs. We talked about leadership and our role in the transformation of society, and the need we have to partner with any and all who share that great dream of God for shalom. We had those conversations despite the deeply entrenched sexism and patriarchy in most parts of our Communion. In the days just before the Lambeth Conference began, a layman from England said to me that the biggest difficulty in the Church of England’s struggle to embrace women’s ministry as bishops is that, in his experience, most men cannot imagine taking orders from a woman. I think he is both right and wrong, for the ordained ministry is not about giving orders so much as it is modeling Jesus’ kind of servant leadership. When we begin to shift the understanding of ordained leadership, indeed all leadership, toward that model of servanthood and friendship, then we do begin to transform the world toward that great vision of God’s, where no one is devalued or ignored or excluded because of that person’s created gifts: gender, race, class, sexual orientation, age, or physical ability. A world where that is reality would move us a long way toward a community that upholds the image of God in all God’s creatures, and toward a society of friends, all of whom are equally called to heal the world.

Give thanks and celebrate your 50 years. The world joins in your rejoicing. Yet I would challenge you to continue your courageous leadership. Where is God asking for your boldness? Where can you as a Church help to liberate the oppressed, set the prisoners free, and give sight to the blind? You have a great history of liberating work. Who or what is next? We Episcopalians would welcome your partnership on that journey. We’re wrestling with that call to courage and liberation as well, and it is gospel truth that where two or three are gathered, even in a cold and lonely upper room, Christ is to be found in their midst.

Tack sa mycket.