Dear Christ Church family,
I am writing to inform you about an important matter. The upcoming House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans (September 19- 25) is one of the most important meetings in the history of the Episcopal Church. Weighing in the balance is whether the Episcopal Church will walk with the Anglican Communion or choose to walk away from our Anglican heritage. It’s perhaps the last opportunity for the Episcopal Church to choose “communion” over “independence.” No one expects overnight changes from this meeting, but the House of Bishops actions (or failure to act) will determine the future of the Episcopal Church.
Nineteen “Windsor Bishops,” of whom Bishop Lillibridge is an active member, met a few weeks ago. I have high hopes that their presence at the House of Bishops meeting will be known and recognized, if for nothing else as a minority group of bishops (there are about 120 diocesan bishops in all) who are committed to be constituent members f the Anglican Communion by agreeing to follow the directives of the Windsor Report and the Tanzania CommuniquÃ©. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams will interrupt his sabbatical to meet with the bishops gathered in New Orleans for the first part of their time, along with the Joint Standing Committee of the Primates and representatives of the Anglican Consultative Council.
There is still much that isn’t clear. For example, it’s not clear if moderate uncommitted bishops will join the nineteen in support of traditional values. It’s not clear if the meeting with the Archbishop will impact the invitations to attend Lambeth 2008 (if at all). If it doesn’t impact the invitations as they stand, a number of Global South Primates have already said they will not be attending. It’s unclear how Canterbury will lead: with his personal sympathies, or with the will of the wider Communion that overwhelmingly upholds what the Bible teaches about marriage and sex? And it’s not clear what kind of solution will be offered by the Primates for oversight of churches and dioceses for whom it would be a violation of conscience to continue as Episcopalians.
Even though there are many unknowns, there are some things that are clear at this point. First, there is no indication that Episcopal Church leaders (House of Bishops and our Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori) will change their direction back to traditional and biblical values. And they seem largely unfazed by the possibility of severing our tie to the Anglican Communion. This was evident by their rejection of portions of the Primate’s CommuniquÃ© at the last House of Bishops meeting. Secondly, Bishop Lillibridge has repeatedly told the diocese that he will continue to uphold the values and principles of the Windsor Report that uphold traditional Christianity. We have a bishop who courageously stands against the tide for the things that are most important to us and to the people of the Diocese of West Texas. Thirdly, it seems that the different groups and personalities that make up the conservative wing of the Episcopal Church will argue and bicker among themselves, not understanding that different churches have had to respond differently because of different circumstances. And lastly, for the traditional-minded churches and dioceses who feel that they have been pushed off the back of the boat, the Primates will not leave us to drown but will provide some means for us to connect to the Anglican Communion. It’s clear that one of the results of the realignment will be to rethink the way we do dioceses and provinces.
Even though this is an unprecedented time in the life of the Episcopal Church, I couldn’t be prouder of our vestry and people who have stood strong for our core values and for the historic Christian faith. Because we have been principally rather than politically led, we’ve had a clear path to follow. It has demanded more from our vestry and staff in terms of prayer, study and surrender. We love the institutional church in which many of us have come to know Christ and have called home for many years, but we have an even greater commitment to the doctrinal foundations that have always defined what the church believes. Unity that is institutional and not doctrinal is not unity at all (John 17:17).
Bishops Lillibridge and Reed continue to be strong supporters of the Windsor Report and the recommendations therein. I have asked for a Service of Prayer for the Episcopal Church and the House of Bishops. I hope everyone will come. We will celebrate Holy Communion and pray for our bishops on the day their meeting starts in New Orleans. Our vestry members have agreed to each take a day during the House of Bishops meeting to concentrate their prayers for Bishop Lillibridge and Bishop Reed. Please join us in pleading to God for the Episcopal Church.
ALMIGHTY God, giver of all good things, who by thy Holy Spirit hast appointed divers Orders of Ministers in thy Church; Mercifully behold this thy servant, now called to the Work and Ministry of a Bishop; and so replenish him with the truth of thy Doctrine, and adorn him with innocency of life, that, both by word and deed, he may faithfully serve thee in this Office, to the glory of thy Name, and the edifying and well-governing of thy Church; through the merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen. (1928 Prayer Book)
With gratitude for God’s mercy,
–The Rev. Chuck Collins is rector, Christ Church, San Antonio, Texas