What Happened on Wednesday?...
Mark Harris
Diocese of Delaware
Thursday, June 22, 2006

Wednesday was a fine day for a media frenzy. The Blog of Daniel has been following the ways in which the media has consistently gone for the bait and gotten caught in the surface story. There was plenty of bait to go around.

Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori preached at the final Eucharist on Wednesday morning. It was a short homily in which a whole new set of images was invoked to talk about the call of the Gospel and the need to press for a world in which fear is cast out. It was refreshingly concrete. It closed with an invocation of Jesus our mother, echoing Julian of Norwich. The whole thing was a homiletically well crafted piece. I think we will be in for a preaching treat. Only the “Jesus our mother” remark made the press.

Yesterday I predicted:

“The big guns will be in the house today. What I do know is that if the big guns get paternalistic there will be hell to pay. It may not be a good thing to insult the maturity or integrity of this large body of people who have been working hard for a long time with resolutions that concern our work in the Anglican Communion. That work, unlike the resolutions regarding mission and program, concerns high level interchange, not local contextual realities. Most deputies have little connection to the wide range of people and organizations that are central to the Communion. Most will never meet or see the Archbishop of Canterbury, most will never go to a Lambeth Conference, almost none will participate in any of the “instruments of unity.” And yet these people are asked to bear the brunt of the struggle to maintain a way forward in Anglican Communion processes. These Deputies are asked to surrender some vague edges of autonomy to some not too clearly understood or seen “higher” power.The House of Bishops would do well to remember that Lambeth may be a fine time for them, but it is not nearly as important as money for local ministry or canons for ministry, or a budget for missionaries. The Archbishop of Canterbury would do well to understand that emissaries that seem to come from the monarch or the patriarch bearing messages of caution and dictates for action are not well received by this rag-tag body of deputies who got sent here to be the Episcopal Church assembled to empower mission, not the local branch of the Anglican Communion convened to receive marching orders.”

Well, I was right, regrettably. The Presiding Bishop called for a special joint session of bishops and deputies. On one can remember this ever having been done before, although I think such a joint session was called at the Special Convention in South Bend. It was an extraordinary meeting. One political observer of many conventions said, “If you want to know what it means when we say ‘The Episcopal Church,’ you know now. Episcopal means bishops. When they call the shots, everyone caves.”

The Presiding Bishop came and spoke. His speech can be found HERE. He announced a proposed House of Bishops’ resolution, B-033. He did not tell us how to vote, but we all knew the bait was being set. You can read that speech HERE. He left, and we proceed with other matters until the Bishops voted on the matter and sent the bill to us for what was assumed to be rubber stamp approval. The read of the house, however, was that B-033 was bad – bad for the realignment crowd, bad for the progressives, worse for the Gay and Lesbian community.

The whole thing put Integrity and friends in the worse sort of position. If we joined with the right in killing this resolution there would be no formal response at all to the Windsor Report’s central requests. If we went with the resolution several upcoming elections, notably in the Diocese of Newark (whose candidates have yet to be announced), would become hostage to this resolution, and of course for some time to come there would be hostages.

What the resolution says is, “This Convention therefore call(s) upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.” Interestingly, the resolution does NOT say, “requires” or “instructs” but instead says “call(s) upon.” It does NOT say electors can not elect, but that Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction (the two groups that must consent to an election) “exercise restraint by not consenting.” It does NOT say anything about gay and lesbian candidates.

The trouble is, of course, that this broadly based threat will be read by gay and lesbian persons, women, people of particular theological or ecclesial persuasions, and for that matter a whole host of interesting but peculiar people, as insulting, demeaning, and damning. And they will be right to so think. Candidates of all sorts will be held hostage by the vehemence of the attacks to come.

So the rumblings were heard all around the hall. And they must have been heard back in the House of Bishops too, for in the midst of the debate on B-033 the Presiding Bishop Elect, Bishop Schori, came to the House of Deputies and was given permission of the chair to address the deputies. Again an unheard of intervention by one house in the workings of the other. Again Bishop Schori spoke eloquently and powerfully. She did not tell us how to vote, but the bait previously set by the Presiding Bishop was firmly set now. And the episcopate worked its will.

Deputies now had to face into grim reality that the big guns had been brought to bear. If they did not vote for B-033 gay and lesbian persons and their progressive friends would be considered spoilers and would lose all political leverage for the future. If we did vote for B-033 we were making gay and lesbian candidates and others hostages to a bad piece of legislation. Only the fact that legislation can be changed by any General Convention made for a little light. Bad legislation can be reversed the next time we meet. Still, it means hostages for three years. Integrity let it be known that of the choices, a yes vote was better than a no.

So we voted and passed B-033. We were not informed as to how the Bishop’s voted. Immediately following bishops from the left and the right disassociated themselves from the resolution.

The House of Bishops, having initiated this resolution and brought out the guns to bear, now retreated into various forms of righteousness, leaving the House of Deputies to hang out without any protection at all. It was dirty, and insult and finally a shame on us all.

On Tuesday the House of Deputies had done a stunning thing: it had rejected a bad resolution (A161) that deserved to die a horrible death. A deeply divided house had found a voice for a moment. On Wednesday expediency ruled, and the House of Deputies lost its voice to Episcopal oversight.

I am not at all sure of the outcome, but my sense is that the internal strains on the relation between the bishops and the deputies will need some work. We were used and then abandoned. At the end of the afternoon we had said something in response to Windsor, something immediately rejected by the Network and by a number of progressive bishops. There was deep gloom or grey resignation as the afternoon wore on.

So, what is the score card for this General Convention as regards the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion?

We have elected a Presiding Bishop, a stunning affirmation of both the courage of our electing bishops, our new Presiding Bishop, and a sign to the Communion that we mean to be the Church we are called to be.

We became a more serious active part of the Millennium Development Goals process, something the Windsor Report thinks important.

We passed a budget to get on with the Church’s work, one that included funding for the Anglican Consultative Council, thus signaling our desire to continue in the Listening Process and other Anglican Communion activities.

We passed a statement of regret, (A 160), a statement on interdependence in the Anglican Communion (A 159), a statement committing ourselves to the Windsor listening process, and a new statement (B 032) asserting that it is independent churches that constitute the Anglican Communion. We did pass, at great cost to our common life and good faith concerns, B 033, on restraint from consent on Bishop elections.

We did not act on same sex blessings, thereby leaving the matter as it stood at the last Convention, namely that we were not going forward with the development of Public Rites, but that those blessing locally were within the community of the church.

So what we have is a new day, a new Presiding Bishop, and the same old problems. Bishop Schori deserves our prayers and blessings as she undertakes this work.

The message back to Canterbury needs to be this: we need you to stick by us. With us, support Katharine in her ministry as Primate. Look at what we have done: we damn near killed ourselves trying to address the Windsor Report and related matters. We put up with being told by English prelates how to act, vote and respond, to the point that stretched our patience and our honor. We internally ripped ourselves apart trying to be true to our claim that we want to continue with the churches of the Anglican Communion.

The media world will move on. But we remain. And the Archbishop’s advisors need to know we are doing all we can, given that we are indeed The Episcopal Church and not another thing.

* Published in PRELUDIUM by Mark Harris+ (Delaware)

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