I returned home from the spring House of Bishops’ Meeting this past Thursday (March 19th). It was held at Kanuga Conference Center in North Carolina. I am very appreciative to all of you who were holding me and the other bishops up in your prayers. Besides for getting stuck in Atlanta and thinking I was never going to get out, all the travel plans went well. Compared to the previous two House of Bishops’ Meetings, this meeting was much less contentious. Fortunately we were not faced with the deposition of any more bishops. Based on the comments of several of the bishops, I missed the best part of the meeting which occurred on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning before I arrived. Guest speakers Bill Bishop and Walter Brueggemann, gave a presentation entitled “A New Era of Engagement: Gospel Alternatives to Polarization.” Apparently it was very well done and thought provoking. While I am sorry I missed the presentation, I was not going to miss seeing my daughter Catie’s Friday evening performance in the school musical, “Cinderella.” (Catie and all the other kids did an outstanding job.)
Besides for the daily Bible Study and worship services, most of each day was spent in meetings dealing with a variety of topics. One of the main events that occurred was the election of the Bishop of Ecuador Central. Due to some internal diocesan difficulties, the Diocese of Ecuador Central asked the House of Bishops to elect their new bishop. Three nominees chosen by the Diocese were presented. The Rev. Luis Fernando Ruiz, a priest from the Diocese of Columbia, and rector of the Cathedral de San Pablo in Bogota, was elected on the first ballot, receiving 102 of the 117 ballots cast.
The most controversial discussion during the HOB meeting centered on the election of the Rev. Kevin Thew Forrester, Bishop-Elect of Northern Michigan. A number of bishops spoke both for and against the consent of Bishop-Elect Forrester. Concern was expressed over the election process itself which resulted in Rev. Forrester being the only nominee; the controversy surrounding his connection with Zen Buddhism; several of his liturgical practices to include his rewriting the Baptismal Covenant and Eucharistic prayers; and his teachings on the Trinity. Bishops with jurisdiction and all Standing Committees of The Episcopal Church will be asked to vote for or against the consent of his election. It is too early to know what the final outcome will be. The consent process can last up to 120 days. I voted NO to his consent.
The Mission Funding Initiative was another topic that generated a great deal of debate and expressed concern by several bishops. The stated intent of the MFI is to provide supplemented support of TEC’s mission efforts which have traditionally been funded by assessment income. Large and substantial gifts will be solicited reportedly to support the following five Funds: The Fund for Congregational Development; Leadership in Ministry; Communications; Spiritual Enrichment; and Global Ministry. An additional use of the funds, not formally listed among the five Funds of the Mission Funding Initiative identified above, but verbally mentioned by one of the presenters was the establishment of a legal fund to support future legal actions taken by TEC. I expressed my grave concern to the House of Bishops over all the ongoing law suits dealing with property disputes within The Episcopal Church. I am very much aware of all the arguments and rationale for the law suits, however, I firmly believe that regardless of who wins in court, ultimately everyone loses. There has to be a better, more pastoral and Christ-like way of dealing with these issues than the current actions being taken. The Lord calls the Church to rise above the ways of the world in dealing with disputes. We need to conduct ourselves in such a way that the love and Good News of Jesus Christ shines forth, building up the Kingdom of God, not tearing it down.
Other topics covered at the House of Bishops’ included a briefing on General Convention structure and orientation as well as some of the items that will be addressed at General Convention. Included in that was a discussion on the proposal to enter into full communion with the Moravian Church; a brief discussion on some of the proposed changes to Title IV dealing with issues of clergy discipline; and a presentation on the proposed mandatory Denominational Health Plan (something I have serious questions about).
One of the final acts of the House of Bishops at its spring meeting was the issuance of A Pastoral Letter from the Bishops of the Episcopal Church. A copy of the letter will follow in a separate email. As always, it is good to be back home in the Diocese of Albany.