June 12, 2003
For all bishops
Dear brothers and sisters:
General Convention is almost here and its theme, Engage God's Mission, draws upon energies and commitment evident around our church. We will be building on work in which we as a House of Bishops have been engaged for some time, particularly since our fall meeting in 2001 in Burlington, Vermont immediately following the events of September 11. Over these last three years, we have explored mission as our participation in God's work of reconciling all things to himself in Christ. I have every expectation that our forthcoming Convention will take us deeper into that work as we draw upon the grace of Christ and the wisdom of the Spirit. Everything that happens in the life of the church is an invitation to reveal more fully the reconciling power of the gospel: this is something I have been made freshly aware of by my recent visit to my brothers and sisters in the Church of Uganda.
The election of the Rev. Canon V. Gene Robinson by the laity and clergy of the Diocese of New Hampshire to serve as their Bishop Coadjutor has received wide comment in the press and other media. Great joy and deep distress are emotions being felt by many within our church. Some view the election as prophetic and an action of the Holy Spirit, while others view it as disregarding Scripture, Tradition and the larger view of the Anglican Communion, which they see as expressed in a resolution on sexuality of the 1998 Lambeth Conference. This variety of opinion should not surprise us. As the report of the Theology Committee so clearly stated, 'The depth and complexity of human sexuality are reflected in the multiple understandings and interpretations held by thoughtful people.' We have seen these various interpretations articulated over these last days in response to the New Hampshire election, and discussion will doubtless continue.
In the face of strongly-held divergent opinions on what constitutes God's desire, my concern is how we move with grace through this time. As Presiding Bishop and chief pastor of the church, it is my duty to ensure that all perspectives are treated with reverence, care and mutual respect in the service of a unity, not of our own creation, but rather given to us through our baptism into Christ. This means that though we may disagree, no one can say, 'I have no need of you' to another member of the church. I hope that in the weeks ahead we will be mindful of this, and of the following points as well.
First, we need to respect the action of the Diocese of New Hampshire. After a search, nomination and election process they have made their choice of a priest who has served in their Diocese for 28 years. Gene Robinson was elected by the Diocese of New Hampshire because he is a highly respected person. He is a fellow member of the body of Christ, not the symbol of an issue.
The election of a bishop also involves approval by the whole church, inasmuch as a bishop is a bishop for the whole church. According to the Constitution of our church, when the election of a bishop occurs fewer than 120 days before a General Convention, the church's consent must be secured at the Convention by the House of Deputies and by the diocesan bishops with jurisdiction. By canon and by tradition, the House of Deputies first gives its consent and then the consents of bishops with jurisdiction are sought. At our forthcoming General Convention, the election of ten bishops will be put forward for consent. All of these are equally important.
And here I need to add that it is unfortunate, but predictable, that the media and some others will doubtless be focused upon consent in the case of the New Hampshire election. I hope that a distinction can be made between the consent to the consecration of a bishop who is a priest in good standing partnered with a member of the same sex, and the continuing debate regarding formal actions by the church in the area of human sexuality. We as bishops, together with our diocesan deputations, need to keep our eyes fixed on the larger purposes for which we gather as a church, namely the enduring mission of God in Christ who has reconciled all things to himself through the cross.
Last of all, let me share with you a prayer I recite frequently. You may find it useful as well, particularly during the days of our General Convention. It comes from a man who knew the burdens of episcope intimately--Philaret, Patriarch of Moscow. It runs as follows:
Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace.
Help me in all things to rely on your holy will.
In every hour of the day reveal your will to me.
Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul,
and with firm conviction that your will governs everything.
In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings.
In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by you.
Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others.
Give me the strength to bear the fatigue of the coming day with all that it shall bring.
Direct my will. Teach me to pray. Pray yourself in me.
As always, in the love of Christ, your brother,
Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate