Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
This morning I awoke to an e-mail from the Archbishop of Canterbury informing me of my invitation to participate in the Lambeth Conference, the meeting of bishops from across the Anglican Communion held every ten years and scheduled next for the latter half of July 2008. The text of this letter is available on the diocesan website.
In it you will find the following paragraph:
“At this point, and with the recommendations of the Windsor Report particularly in mind, I have to reserve the right to withhold or withdraw invitations from bishops whose appointment, actions or manner of life have caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion. Indeed there are currently one or two cases on which I am seeking further advice. I do not say this lightly, but I believe that we need to know as we meet that each participant recognises and honours the task set before us and that there is an adequate level of mutual trust between us about this. Such trust is a great deal harder to sustain if there are some involved who are generally seen as fundamentally compromising the efforts towards a credible and cohesive resolution.”
Shortly thereafter I received the news report that Bishop Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire who was elected and consecrated according to the Canons and Constitution of The Episcopal Church, was one of the bishops about whom Archbishop Williams is seeking further advice and to whom he has not issued an invitation to participate. The news service reported that Bishop Martyn Minns, the former Episcopal priest of the Diocese of Virginia ordained by Archbishop Akinola of Nigeria to serve as a missionary bishop to the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA) was another. I am told that Bishop Minns, along with the Bishop of Bolivia, was in the Diocese of Ohio last week to participate in an ordination in Akron, neither bishop having sought or received my permission to perform episcopal acts within the ecclesiastical jurisdiction for which I am responsible.
I write to let you know that I am aware of the current scope of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s invitations to the Lambeth Conference and respect his privilege and prerogative in making those invitations. I also want to be clear with you that I do not believe it is Bishop Robinson’s “manner of life” that has “caused exceptionally serious division or scandal within the Communion,” rather it is the divisive actions of those who have used it in an intentional effort to divide both The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
Archbishop Williams rightly points out in his letter that the productive work of the Lambeth Conference is dependent upon “an adequate level of mutual trust.” In light of the challenges facing our global fellowship, he accurately states that “such trust is a great deal harder to sustain if there are some involved who are generally seen as fundamentally compromising the efforts towards a credible and cohesive resolution.”
Bishop Robinson’s presence at the Lambeth Conference might be awkward or difficult for some of the other participants, but that is hardly uncommon in Christian community. There are plenty of bishops whose presence in the councils of the Church I find difficult, and doubtless plenty who find mine the same. However, Bishop Robinson, throughout his ministry, has been unfailingly honest and open, consistently establishing and maintaining trust within the diocese he has faithfully served and throughout the Church. Time and time again he has been an instrument of reconciliation and resolution.
As Bishop of Ohio, I cannot say the same about those bishops who have come into this diocese to exercise episcopal ministry in contempt of the centuries old practice of jurisdictional respect, bishops of our own province and from abroad, beginning the month before I became the Bishop of Ohio and continuing even until last week, including the Archbishop of Kenya who presided at an ordination in Cleveland only weeks before last February’s meeting of the Primates.
Regardless of one’s perspectives on human sexuality and how the intimate expression of personal relationships is seen in the eyes of God, we must be able to distinguish between Bishop Robinson’s ministry and that of bishops who indeed are “fundamentally compromising the efforts towards a credible and cohesive resolution.
It is important that none of us, whatever her or his perspective, responds precipitously to this news, rewarding with our reactivity the power of evil’s desire for division. At the same time, I will only be honest with you and say that I am deeply disappointed. Just as I do not imagine representing the more conservative communicants of the Diocese of Ohio without the companionship and participation of conservative bishops, at Lambeth or any other council of the Church, I can not foresee representing the lesbian and gay communicants of this diocese, and their more liberal peers, without the companionship and participation of the Bishop of New Hampshire. And none of this even begins to address representation of the faithful communicants of the Diocese of New Hampshire, whose duly elected, consented to, and ordained Diocesan Bishop may be kept from fulfilling his responsibilities.
In a note to the bishops of The Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori has urged “a calm approach to today’s announcement,” reminding us that “aspects of this matter may change in the next 14 months, and the House of Bishops’ September meeting offers us a forum for further discussion.” I concur both with her sense of patience and her hope for productive conversations with the Archbishop of Canterbury in New Orleans this autumn.
By circumstance, I will be spending the next three days with Bishop Robinson and three other members of our ordination class of bishops. Of course we will consider this recent news thoughtfully and prayerfully, as will you, seeking not to be reactive, but faithfully responsive. And as we move into the time ahead, I invite you to continue in your openness with me about this and all other concerns of our common faith and mission.
The Rt. Rev. Mark Hollingsworth, Jr.
Bishop of Ohio