Bishops form Coalition




By Jim Naughton*


April 23, 2004 - [ENS] Episcopal bishops from 30 dioceses have formed a coalition to work on behalf of public policies that benefit the nationís poor.

The new group, Bishops Working for a Just Society (BWJS), was created in late March at a meeting in Navasota, Texas, before the annual spring meeting of the House of Bishops.

Washington Bishop John Chane said the group decided to focus on issues of economic justice, including improving the quality of public schools, providing health care for uninsured Americans, and increasing the availability of low income housing.

Chane and Bishop William Persell of Chicago, who worked together in organizing the group, were named co-conveners and members of an interim steering committee. Bishop Suffragan James E. Curry of Connecticut was named the groupís secretary.

The Episcopal Church establishes its official position on political issues through resolutions at General Convention, but bishops are frequently asked to speak out on issues for which no Convention precedent exists. The creation of BWJS allows them to be better informed, and to coordinate efforts on a statewide or nationwide basis, Chane said.

The groupís initial meeting was facilitated by Maureen Shea, director of the Episcopal Churchís government relations office.

Persell said a good relationship with Shea and her staff will be essential to the success of the bishopsí work. ìThey are a resource for us in terms of contacts and we are a resource for them in communicating the views and priorities of the church, nationally and locally,î he said.

Shea agreed. ìIf there were 30 bishops in their communities talking about these issues, it would be a great help to our advocacy efforts,î she said.

Chane said part of the groupís mission will be to work with the Washington office to help make bishops better public advocates.

ìWe hope they can be the primary feeder source to urge the bishops to be more politically active,î he said. ìThere is a need to help bishops understand how to work better politically and how to help dioceses learn to deal better with the media. We need to learn how to take complex information and without diluting it or dumbing it down, communicate it to our people as something that has merit theologically.î

Bishop Suffragan Mark Andrus of Alabama, is spearheading the effort to write a brief theology statement for the group.
Shea said the meetings that led to the groupís formation were quite lively. ìThey spurred each other on to get out there and be more public in their advocacy,î she said. One bishop told Shea, ìThis is a real kick in the pants for us.î

Chane said that Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold, who did not attend the meetings but passed by the meeting room several times, said he had never seen bishops having so much fun.

ìI said we are dealing with a common issue,î Chane said. ìThere is nothing that divides us here.î

The most immediate fruits of the meeting will be an email listserv for members of the coalition and other interested parties. The group will report on its activities to the full house of Bishops at its meeting in Spokane, Washington, in late September.

Other members of the temporary steering committee are: Andrus, Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris of Massachusetts, Bishop Johncy Itty of Oregon and Bishop Pierre Whalon, bishop in charge of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe.

--*Jim Naughton is director of communications for the Diocese of Washington. David Skidmore, director of communications for the Diocese of Chicago, contributed to this report.