07 August 2008

Report on the Presiding Bishop's webcast

At two o’clock today, the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, the Most Rev'd. Katharine Jefferts Schori, participated in a live webcast about the recently completed Lambeth Conference 2008. The Presiding Bishop was joined by the Rt. Rev’d. Mark Sisk, Bishop of the diocese of New York.

The Presiding Bishop said that Lambeth had been

A remarkable encounter between bishops from all over the globe. I learned what it is like to serve as a bishop in other places. There was a real sense of connections. Links that are vital and important were both formed and deepened.

She added that she had been enriched by new friends and the desire to work together to end suffering around the world. She concluded her opening remarks by thanking the members of The Episcopal Church for the prayers that sustained them during the conference.

One of the first questions concerned the proposed covenant, where we stand on it, and what happens now. Bishop Katharine replied

There was unanimity in rejecting the latter portions of the document – the so-called St. Andrew’s draft. There was also little willingness to accept point 3.2 and following, including the appendix.

There was a great willingness for a covenant that stated what we share in common, not one that defines who would be excluded.

Bishop Sisk agreed that there was a “wide willingness to have a covenant that was cooperative, built upon what we share.” He added that

There was a near universal feeling that any document that included sanctions was “out of the spirit of Anglicanism. There were a few exceptions to that sentiment, but very few. The prevalent feeling was that families do have standards, but families do not exclude other family members from the family. That is the spirit of Anglicanism.

As for the process, it was explained that the committee would receive comments from all those bishops who attended the conference. The comments will help form another draft that will be made public for comments, revised, and then sent to the provinces for more revision, approval, or rejection.

On of the questions asked was, how to help our liberal members [GLBT] see that restraint is not an obstacle. The answers were a revelation:

TEC has been living in gracious restraint for some time. I don’t see any church wide push to end that in the coming months. General Convention is the only body that can decide to do anything significant related to that. Individual bishops always make their own decision about what is best for their own diocese. All of us are urged to live in gracious restraint.

Bishop Sisk added that he was surprised

How little was known about our gracious restraint in the communion as a whole.

One U.S. Bishop took an opportunity to give a lengthy objection to language about a moratorium as a future possibility.

With clarity and passion, he pointed out that these have been acted on at great cost by TEC. The other bishops in his indaba group were completely unaware that TEC had been living in restraint.

The bishop’s comment was the first time most others in his group had heard of what TEC was actually doing. That bishop was encouraged that the document was revised to reflect out actions.

TEC has willingly provided seasons of rest; but we have to think about that impact has on our members and dioceses.

The Presiding Bishop added

There was a major lack of information and also major misinformation around the communion concerning this Episcopal Church of ours. The basic theological tenants that we believe were not even known in many places in the communion.

We assume that all the Anglican Communion believes the same tenants, but not everyone in the Communion believes we believe those.

When asked what the outcome of Lambeth will mean for the status of GLBT priests and members, the Presiding bishop said:

There is a clear majority of bishops who agree that appropriate care of [GLBT] members is of significant importance to us. This debate has been going on for forty years. Other parts [of the communion] may not understand that we’ve been working at this for a very long time. Conversations will not end.

She added that TEC recognizes the conversation has caused pain and embarrassment in places where it is not appropriate to discuss sexuality of any kind in public.

She said one bishop with whom she spoke said, "What you're doing is making it very difficult for me but your job is not to make my life easier. You need to be paying attention to the pastoral realities in your own context as I need to be in mine."[Thanks to Diane for this correction.]

Sisk continued

There is no 'them' and 'us' – there is only us [together]. When we consider these requests, it is we as a whole community.

In terms of gay and lesbian folks that are part and parcel, and integral to the Diocese of New York, Lambeth does not change their status one iota. Typical around our church, the role of gay and lesbian people is affirmed in our community life, resolutions and canons.

Requests made at Lambeth have already been responded to. No action will be taken beyond what we already responded to in general convention.

As to the impact on gay and lesbian folk, the actions of Lambeth don’t affect their life in our church at this point.

One interesting question concerned U.S. bishops who did not attend. In her answer, the Presiding Bishop said that

Despite statements by some Primates that no bishop in that province would attend, bishops representing every province in the Communion were Lambeth Conference – regardless of whatever sanctions awaited them back home.

One or two U.S. bishops did not attend for health reasons, and four did not “attend for various personal reasons.

When asked what the differences between Lambeth '98 and '08 were, Bishop Sisk responded that ’98 seemed to be designed from the beginning to produce 'winners and losers.' This conference was very different in that there were no opportunities for anyone to win or lose. “The decision to have no votes was good.”

Regarding the process to end incursions by other provinces, the Presiding Bishop said there is no plan.

[Among those who attended Lambeth] it was nearly universal that incursions do not reflect positively on the mission of the Church and that the incursions present challenges that people haven’t considered. The overwhelming majority see incursions as inappropriate and an act that needs to cease. That said, I’m not terribly hopeful that they will stop.

One question asked about money. The questioner wanted to know if TEC has been asked to “foot the bill” for the two million dollar deficit.

Yes, we’ve been asked, and the bishops have responded by providing bursaries for those who could not afford to be there. The Archbishop desires to come to the U.S. to do some fundraising. We have offered our assistance.

Note that the answer was not, “yes, we were asked and yes, we are cutting a cheque.” I find the fact that Rowan wants to come to the U.S. and ask the people he has attacked to give him money is bizarre.

When asked, given the fact taht TEC is basically a democratic governance, how TEC can subscribe to a covenant, the Presiding Bishop stated

General Convention has to agree to it. That is the only way we can do it as a church. Interesting complexities were raised in this process of talk about a covenant. There was some concern in the Church of England that Parliament would not agree to a covenant because of internal concerns about the Church of England.*

Once again, we see the idea of a covenant is dead on arrival.

When asked what impact Lambeth Conference will have on the average parishioner who sits on the last pew will be, the answer was interesting. Bishop Sisk responded:

One advantage, or benefit, of controversy is that we are part of a world wide communion. I would think that many of the nuances and intricacies will not affect that person one iota, and shouldn’t.

But what can benefit that person is a deeper sense that is widely shared – that we are in this together. Their horizon can be expanded by recognizing that they have a brother or sister in a vastly different part of the world, facing vastly different challenges, but who worship the same God.

There is spiritual danger in seeing the world around is as it is; the world around us is only a small part of the real world.

One of the final questions was “the real issue is not homosexuality but honesty. How do you deal with the call for moratoria on same-gender unions, when it is reported that other provinces are doing the same thing but not publicizing them.

Katherine responded.

How we deal with honesty is not just a matter of black and white, but culture ramifications. In many cultures, it is inappropriate and rude to say anything directly and baldly. It does damage. That’s part of reality.

Part of question of awareness is that subterfuge diminishes the community. It prevents the community from growing up to full statue of Christ which is where we are all called.

The webcast can be found here.

Corrections to this text will follow. I wanted to get a report out as quickly as possible, and I apologize for textual errors and for any factual errors contained herein. If you spot an error, plase let me know and I will correct it.

*Unless there has been a change in British law of which I am not aware, the approval of Parliament and The Queen will be necesary as the covenant will establish doctrine of the Church of England, the State Church.