A response and reflections on General Convention 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Permit me to begin with the Collect for this day, the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost. I realize that all of you heard this a moment ago at the outset of the service, but in light of what I am going to share, it bears being offered once again.
“Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” [BCP p.232]
This prayer sums up what is before us, and how this will ultimately be brought to be, if we allow God’s will and the leading of his Holy Spirit to move us beyond the place and condition in which he finds us this day. Many have waited for General Convention 2009, and this being with the hope that it would bring a clearer sense of the direction in which the Church is going. Prior to General Convention I called upon the diocese to share with me in prayers for clarity – clarity that would prayerfully bring us to a renewed place regarding the several issues that have wrought division not just on The Episcopal Church, but the wider Anglican Communion. General Convention is now behind us and many questions still loom before us.
Some no doubt feel that nothing was accomplished over the vast number of days spent in California, but I am confident that our deputation would share that some positive action was taken by the House of Deputies and House of Bishops. Sadly though, just a few resolutions turned the focus from that of a Church on fire for the ministry of our Lord, to one of that was drawn deeper into a questionable future. This was stated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan D. Williams, at the outset of his response of July 27, 2009 to General Convention. The Archbishop follows very quickly on his words of commendation about the hospitality offered by The Episcopal Church at General Convention, with the following. “There has been an insistence at the highest level that the two most strongly debated resolutions (D025 and C056) do not have the automatic effect of overturning the requested moratoria, if the wording is studied carefully.” In the next paragraph Archbishop Williams continues with “However, a realistic assessment of what Convention has resolved does not suggest that it will repair the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces; very serious anxieties have already been expressed.” [Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future, Monday, July 27, 2009]
Resolution C056, while appearing to avoid the development of rites for same gender, calls for “an open process for consideration of theological and liturgical resources for the blessing of same gender-relationships.” Further, it states “That the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music, in consultation with the House of Bishop, collect and develop theological and liturgical resources, and report to the 77th General Convention.” Additionally, the fourth resolve states “That bishops, particularly those in dioceses within civil jurisdictions where same-gender marriage, civil unions, or domestic partnerships are legal, may provide generous pastoral response to meet the needs of members of this Church;” and lastly, “That this Convention honor the theological diversity of this Church in regard to matters of human sexuality.” When read carefully, the wording of the above resolution very clearly states that not just bishops in certain civil environments, but all bishops can authorize the blessing of same-gender unions, but are not required to do such. The action authorized by this resolution could not be more displacing to the moratoria of the Communion.
What is being addressed in D025 is the fact that while not stating that it is a repeal of B033, the resolution of General Convention 2006 that set the moratoria in place, D025 does state “that gay and lesbian persons who are part of such relationships have responded to God’s call and have exercised various ministries in and on behalf of God’s One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church and are currently doing so in our midst” and that “General Convention affirm that God has called and may call such individuals, to any ordained ministry in The Episcopal Church.” Here again, when carefully read, the content of this resolution also discharges the intent of the moratoria with regard to the election of a non-celibate gay or lesbian to the Office of Bishop.
It is important to note that neither of these resolutions, D025 and C056, addresses specifically Resolution B033 and the related moratoria against the consent and consecration of a non-celibate person, nor the blessing of same-gender persons. But rather, through the manner in which they have been put forth, bring about a dismissal of that provided through B033, and yet, both are critical to the ongoing development of the Anglican Covenant. [It is important to note that neither your elected deputation nor I supported the above two resolutions – C056 or D025.]
Where will this divisive action lead and what is the Communion saying about The Episcopal Church? The Archbishop of Canterbury has acknowledged that the Communion is indeed already broken in his reference about “the broken bridges into the life of other Anglican provinces” as shared above. The Episcopal Church has sadly demonstrated over and over again a wanton willingness to allow for a separation within the family, and in this instance, in opposition to the urging of Archbishop Williams at the outset of General Convention for those assembled to not carry out further actions that would divide the Communion beyond where it is today. The reality of this division was so very evident by the noticeable absence of brothers and sisters who have been a part of the Councils of the Church in years past, and yet even with their departure, their lives remain in a state of uncertainty due to the void of recognition by the Anglican Communion and Archbishop of Canterbury.
While separated from some in the sense of the Church, and this due to the behaviour of portions of The Episcopal Church, we are truly one in the Spirit of Christ with them, and must endeavour to live this out in our lives regardless of where we stand. Our love, prayers and support for one another must be rooted in the language of Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians this day, “As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope when you were called – one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” [Ephesians 4:1-6]
Thus, after what appears to be too many years of waiting, as I come before you this day, I can’t help but present the need for us to not overreact, but rather, take things one day at a time. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken before, and of late of a two-tiered or two-track Communion, and while providing a sense of hope for some with respect to the Communion and Covenant process, there still looms before us many questions to be answered, and for that matter, too many to endeavour to explore in this Pastoral Letter this day.
All of us will have the opportunity to talk about these issues and other weighty matters that came about through the action of General Convention as we share in the Post-General Convention Gatherings in the days ahead. (Information on this is being furnished with this letter, and sent to all congregations and clergy.) The things to be discussed are important, for they include legislation on a mandatory health care program and a mandatory lay pension plan that will impact congregations across the entire Church to mention just a few.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, I wish there were words that I could offer today that would put our questions behind us and send us forth with a sense of peace, but unfortunately there are none. What I can tell you is to repeat what I have said for the past six years, and this is that we must first and foremost be about God’s work. The mission of the Church is before us and God’s expectation of how this is to be lived out is clearly spelled out for us in the Baptismal Covenant and Catechism.
We have no control over the direction taken by The Episcopal Church, the mechanism for this has been moving and continues to move in a direction that is contrary to Scripture, polity and the Constitution and Canons of General Convention. Yes, the train has left the station and sadly, appears to soon be fully off the tracks as it relates to the relationship of The Episcopal Church with the Anglican Communion.
What we do have control over however, is our Lord’s ministry in this portion of his vineyard, the Diocese of Western Louisiana. We need to continue to be about the exercise of this work as we have been for the past thirty years (Western Louisiana was formed in 1979), and as we have particularly for the past six years. And should we not, shame, shame on us. And what does this look like? We have, and must continue as the Body of Christ to ”“ “… contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” [Jude 1:3] Continue in the teaching and fellowship of the apostles and carry out Christ’s mission to all people. [BCP p.854]; Proclaim the Gospel with faithfulness as we seek to build up God’s kingdom in this place; Seek to fulfill the mission of the Church which is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. [BCP p.855]; Provide a welcoming place of worship for all of God’s people; Engage in and support the Covenant process as a diocese and member of the wider Anglican Communion, in communion with the See of Canterbury.
Where will I, your bishop, be in all of this?
Endeavouring to be ever present in my capacity as bishop for all of you, and remaining steadfast in guarding the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church as handed down from the apostles and down through the ages;
My position with regard to the blessing of same-gender unions remains the same, they will not be permitted in the Diocese of Western Louisiana;
My position with regard to the consent and consecration of non-celibate candidates to the episcopate remains unchanged. I will not give my consent;
My commitment to the work of Communion Partner Bishops as we seek to uphold our place within The Episcopal Church as a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, in communion with the See of Canterbury.
I know well the answers some were looking for today are not here, but I would be disingenuous to imply that I know otherwise. For the moment and in the immediate days ahead, I envision our course of action to be one of following closely the response of the larger Church and further insight coming from the Archbishop of Canterbury, and seeking to build on the “Anaheim Statement” that was developed by a group of us during General Convention and to date signed by 35 bishops of the Church. (This statement can be found on the diocesan web site and in the issue of ALIVE! published this week.)
As your bishop I remain committed to ministering to the whole of God’s people in this diocese, and ensuring that we live with faithfulness into our Baptismal Covenant. To do this, I need your help and prayers and trust you know of my prayers for each of you. In closing I look to the Gospel of this day, and to Jesus words in response to the question, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” “Jesus answered, ”˜The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.’” and to which he later adds, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” [John 6:28-29; and 35]
Let us pray: “O Christ, we share the strengths and the frailties of your first disciples. We share their devotion to you. We share their weaknesses: we do not fully trust in your power to heal and to save. Nor do we believe that we share in these gifts. We find your words cloaked in riddle and parable, your actions hard to understand. Like Peter, we refuse to believe that rejection, sacrifice, and death can ever be God’s way. Yet, O Jesus, you love us and continually call us to your side. Cleanse our hearts of selfishness and fear; give us the love that bears all things, believes all things, and hopes and endures all things. Amen.”
Faithfully in the light of Christ,
–(The Rt. Rev.) D. Bruce MacPherson is Bishop of Western Louisiana