A palpable sense of apprehension was in the air as the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church gathered at Camp Allen in Texas on 16 March 2007, for their five-day spring meeting. Everyone was in a dither about the recently issued Communique from the Dar es Salaam meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion, calling for an ‘unequivocal’ response from the American bishops to the Windsor Report requests for a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions and the consecration of any bishop living in a same-sex partnership. The bishops have to give an answer by 30 September 2007.
In the days leading up to the meeting, all the bishops had been peppered by emails and letters from the lesbi-gay lobby group to ‘just say no!’ to this interference in our internal affairs. The Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, preparing to preside at her first meeting of the HOB, wrote to all the bishops to assure them that no decisions were to be made on the Communique at this meeting and to publicize that fact to others. This was to be a time for gracious conversation and careful listening to one another. Decisions were to be put off until the September meeting of the House in order to comply with the Primates’ deadline.
However, the liberals were not buying that approach and were determined to take a stand now, perhaps not on the issue of the requested moratoria, which could wait until September, but certainly on the proposed Pastoral Scheme that would undermine the canonical integrity of TEC. A small group of bishops had been discussing a paper that they would spring on the meeting near its end and had arrived at Camp Allen with draft copies in hand. Their urgency was driven by a fear that the Archbishop of Canterbury was moving too quickly in the formation of the Pastoral Council and the selection by Windsor Bishops of a Primatial Vicar who would minister to those congregations and dioceses who were alienated from their church by recent actions of the General Convention.
So after much talk and prayer, as the final day approached, a business session was called and the bishops moved into the legislative mode, adopting two ‘Mind of the House’ resolutions, ‘A Communication to The Episcopal Church,’ and a pastoral letter entitled ‘A Message to God’s People.’
The first resolution, while affirming the desire for TEC to remain a full member of the Anglican Communion, called the proposed Pastoral Scheme ‘injurious to The Episcopal Church’ and urged the Executive Council to ‘decline to participate in it.’ Never mind that the Communique never asked the Executive Council to do anything about the Pastoral Scheme and that the Presiding Bishop had declared her support of such an arrangement at the Primates’ Meeting; the majority of the bishops felt the need to act quickly and decisively to protect ‘our own polity and canons.’
The second resolution, proposed by Central Florida Bishop John Howe, a member of the Anglican Communion Network, again affirmed a ‘passionate desire to remain in full constituent membership’ in the Anglican Communion, underscored that ‘we are unable to accept the proposed Pastoral Scheme,’ and went on to cite ‘an urgent need’ for the HOB ‘to meet face to face’ with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates’ Standing Committee ‘at the earliest possible opportunity’ The resolution even went on to give the assurance that such a meeting would be ‘at our expense for three days of prayer and conversation regarding these important matters’ But, one might ask, why the need for such an additional meeting? Do they expect the ABC and Standing Committee to repudiate the requests for moratoria made by the Windsor Report and reaffirmed by the Primates? Is it an opportunity to explain once again the unique polity of TEC that all orders – bishops, priests and laity – have to be involved in making policy decisions for this church? Is it just an effort to delay the inevitable decision to walk apart? The resolution was adopted without dissent.
Then it was time to perfect the ‘Message to God’s People,’ which some bishops had been working on for days in advance of arriving at Camp Allen ‘for conversation.’ After carefully pointing out the international make up of TEC – ‘we represent fifteen sovereign nations, the fifty United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, The Virgin Islands, and Micronesia’ – the statement trumpets the ‘ health and vitality of our Church.’ Mention is made of the Millennium Development Goals (but of course!), the work of the Covenant Drafting Committee, the war in Iraq, and the progress of the Bishop’s Task Force on Property Disputes. Then comes the heart of the matter: the Communique from the Primates.
Millennium development goals
In a rather self-serving and defensive fashion, the statement goes on to say (once again!) that though we really want to remain in the Anglican Communion, we must do so on our own terms. Down with the Pastoral Scheme, down with the appointment of a Primatial Vicar and Pastoral Council, down with foreign interference in the life of TEC! The Primates are chastised for the Communique’s failure to draw attention to ‘the pressing issues of violence against gay and lesbian people around the world, and the criminalization of homosexual behavior in many nations of the world.’ The statement concludes with the promise of ‘a teaching guide’ that will be provided for the study of the Communique and the proposed Covenant. We can hardly wait!
As for the last document, the pastoral letter – it contains more of the same. You really must read it to believe it! It is the most robust defence of our rights and privileges as American Episcopalians that I have seen to this date! The Windsor Bishops and the Anglican Communion Network have yet to make a specific response to the Camp Allen decisions and declarations. And as for the HOB of TEC, they shall meet again in the fall for more graceful conversation and careful listening.’ As we say in Texas: ‘Well, bless their hearts!’
–(The Rt. Rev.) Jack Iker is Bishop of Fort Worth; this article appears in the May 2007 issue of New Directions Magazine