Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A PASTORAL LETTER TO THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH FROM THE PRESIDING BISHOP


Pentecost continues!

Pentecost is most fundamentally a continuing gift of the Spirit, rather than a limitation or quenching of that Spirit.

The recent statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury about the struggles within the Anglican Communion seems to equate Pentecost with a single understanding of gospel realities. Those who received the gift of the Spirit on that day all heard good news. The crowd reported, “in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power” (Acts 2:11).

The Spirit does seem to be saying to many within The Episcopal Church that gay and lesbian persons are God’s good creation, that an aspect of good creation is the possibility of lifelong, faithful partnership, and that such persons may indeed be good and healthy exemplars of gifted leadership within the Church, as baptized leaders and ordained ones. The Spirit also seems to be saying the same thing in other parts of the Anglican Communion, and among some of our Christian partners, including Lutheran churches in North America and Europe, the Old Catholic churches of Europe, and a number of others.

That growing awareness does not deny the reality that many Anglicans and not a few Episcopalians still fervently hold traditional views about human sexuality. This Episcopal Church is a broad and inclusive enough tent to hold that variety. The willingness to live in tension is a hallmark of Anglicanism, beginning from its roots in Celtic Christianity pushing up against Roman Christianity in the centuries of the first millennium. That diversity in community was solidified in the Elizabethan Settlement, which really marks the beginning of Anglican Christianity as a distinct movement. Above all, it recognizes that the Spirit may be speaking to all of us, in ways that do not at present seem to cohere or agree. It also recognizes what Jesus says about the Spirit to his followers, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:12-13).

The Episcopal Church has spent nearly 50 years listening to and for the Spirit in these matters. While it is clear that not all within this Church have heard the same message, the current developments do represent a widening understanding. Our canons reflected this shift as long ago as 1985, when sexual orientation was first protected from discrimination in access to the ordination process. At the request of other bodies in the Anglican Communion, this Church held an effective moratorium on the election and consecration of a partnered gay or lesbian priest as bishop from 2003 to 2010. When a diocese elected such a person in late 2009, the ensuing consent process indicated that a majority of the laity, clergy, and bishops responsible for validating that election agreed that there was no substantive bar to the consecration.

The Episcopal Church recognizes that these decisions are problematic to a number of other Anglicans. We have not made these decisions lightly. We recognize that the Spirit has not been widely heard in the same way in other parts of the Communion. In all humility, we recognize that we may be wrong, yet we have proceeded in the belief that the Spirit permeates our decisions.

We also recognize that the attempts to impose a singular understanding in such matters represent the same kind of cultural excesses practiced by many of our colonial forebears in their missionizing activity. Native Hawaiians were forced to abandon their traditional dress in favor of missionaries’ standards of modesty. Native Americans were forced to abandon many of their cultural practices, even though they were fully congruent with orthodox Christianity, because the missionaries did not understand or consider those practices exemplary of the Spirit. The uniformity imposed at the Synod of Whitby did similar violence to a developing, contextual Christianity in the British Isles. In their search for uniformity, our forebears in the faith have repeatedly done much spiritual violence in the name of Christianity.

We do not seek to impose our understanding on others. We do earnestly hope for continued dialogue with those who disagree, for we believe that the Spirit is always calling us to greater understanding.

We live in great concern that colonial attitudes continue, particularly in attempts to impose a single understanding across widely varying contexts and cultures. We note that the cultural contexts in which The Episcopal Church’s decisions have generated the greatest objection and reaction are also often the same contexts where women are barred from full ordained leadership, including the Church of England.

As Episcopalians, we note the troubling push toward centralized authority exemplified in many of the statements of the recent Pentecost letter. Anglicanism as a body began in the repudiation of the control of the Bishop of Rome within an otherwise sovereign nation. Similar concerns over self-determination in the face of colonial control led the Church of Scotland to consecrate Samuel Seabury for The Episcopal Church in the nascent United States – and so began the Anglican Communion.

We have been repeatedly assured that the Anglican Covenant is not an instrument of control, yet we note that the fourth section seems to be just that to Anglicans in many parts of the Communion. So much so, that there are voices calling for stronger sanctions in that fourth section, as well as voices repudiating it as un-Anglican in nature. Unitary control does not characterize Anglicanism; rather, diversity in fellowship and communion does.

We are distressed at the apparent imposition of sanctions on some parts of the Communion. We note that these seem to be limited to those which “have formally, through their Synod or House of Bishops, adopted policies that breach any of the moratoria requested by the Instruments of Communion.” We are further distressed that such sanctions do not, apparently, apply to those parts of the Communion that continue to hold one view in public and exhibit other behaviors in private. Why is there no sanction on those who continue with a double standard? In our context bowing to anxiety by ignoring that sort of double-mindedness is usually termed a “failure of nerve.” Through many decades of wrestling with our own discomfort about recognizing the full humanity of persons who seem to differ from us, we continue to work at open and transparent communication as well as congruence between word and behavior. We openly admit our failure to achieve perfection!

The baptismal covenant prayed in this Church for more than 30 years calls us to respect the dignity of all other persons and charges us with ongoing labor toward a holy society of justice and peace. That fundamental understanding of Christian vocation underlies our hearing of the Spirit in this context and around these issues of human sexuality. That same understanding of Christian vocation encourages us to hold our convictions with sufficient humility that we can affirm the image of God in the person who disagrees with us. We believe that the Body of Christ is only found when such diversity is welcomed with abundant and radical hospitality.

As a Church of many nations, languages, and peoples, we will continue to seek every opportunity to increase our partnership in God’s mission for a healed creation and holy community. We look forward to the ongoing growth in partnership possible in the Listening Process, Continuing Indaba, Bible in the Life of the Church, Theological Education in the Anglican Communion, and the myriad of less formal and more local partnerships across the Communion – efforts in mission and ministry that inform and transform individuals and communities toward the vision of the Gospel – a healed world, loving God and neighbor, in the love and friendship shown us in God Incarnate.

May God’s peace dwell in your hearts,
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Churh



Quickly - I think the letter is brilliant and pastoral, as a pastoral letter should be.

H/T to John Chilton at The Lead, where you can view the video of Bishop Katharine giving the address.

25 comments:

  1. Amen, Bishop Katharine!

    She has said it well. And slapped down a great deal of nonsense graciously but firmly. It is a solid rebuke to +Cantuar, one much deserved.

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  2. Paul, the letter is so good that I'm pinching myself to see if I will wake up from a very pleasant dream.

    She uses all the right Scripture references. I love that she cites the early English church, and the Elizabethan Settlement, AND the hypocrisy in the CofE, AND the CofE's refusal, thus far, to treat women equally, which she links with the denial of equality to LGTB folks.

    Yesss!!!!

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  3. Amen and Hallelujah, she writes like the Bewhiskered Buffoon did, back before he chose Archbishop Alka-Seltzer for a dance partner.

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  4. Thank you Bishop Katherine.

    "In all humility, we recognize that we may be wrong, yet we have proceeded in the belief that the Spirit permeates our decisions."

    That statement is , for me, Episcopalianism in a nutshell, and why I stay with this church.

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  5. What Counterlight said!

    Our Kate has hit it over the fence with the bases loaded. Wild cheering from the bleacher seats!

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  6. Rowan, with all his learning and intelligence, has lost his grasp of the concept of Anglicanism.

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  7. What a Bishop! What a woman! I am so thankful to have her at the head of the Episcopal Church. Her clear style of saying what she means and meaning what she says in language that is simple and elegant, as opposed to +Rowan where we read it, reread it, and end up thinking, "Say what?" is nothing short of magnificent.

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  8. And Rowan has forgotten how to be pastoral.

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  9. +Katharine has definitely hit a grand slam with this letter. Magnificent!

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  10. And it looks like a fly ball going into right field... it's going, going... Oh, it is out of the PARK! Home Run! This is why I love our Church!

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  11. It is not just Rowan that has forgotten how to be pastoral. The entire show has become obsessively managerial and yet is falling to pieces structurally and financially.

    I am delighted that herself has responded so strongly.

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  12. Amen, Mimi. I said my piece -- too verbosely, of course - over here.

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  13. The PB is a blessing for you Church!

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  14. The letter is a thing of beauty. Our Katharine speaks from the heart, which poor Rowan seems no longer capable of doing.

    TheMe, you hit the nail on the head. Rowan has taken on the role of a manager, a position for which he has no skills.

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  15. This letter is everything I could have hoped for. We are blessed.

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  16. I love the letter.

    (Would you all think me terribly grumpy and ungrateful, however, if I said that I only wish she had sent it 4 years ago? Might have saved us a lot of wasted time in front of the computer....)

    Pax,
    Doxy

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  17. Laurel, we are blessed, indeed.

    Doxy, I don't think you're grumpy at all. I think our Katharine has been on a learning curve in a difficult position. Imagine, the only woman amongst the guys! But she learned and got her moxie with this splendid letter as one of the results.

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  18. Ormonde at Through the Dust has one caveat about +Katharine's letter. As his commentary concerns canons, I remain out of the discussion.

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  19. I can't remember where I saw the comment, but someone noted that the joy so evident at the LA consecrations may have removed any remaining doubts that +KJS' might have had about the proper response to the +ABC. That's probably about right---but a lot of us felt that same joy at +VGR's consecration.

    I will admit that patience is not one of my virtues. I am grateful to the PB for writing this unequivocal letter--and for schooling +Rowan in what it REALLY means to be Anglican.

    Pax,
    Doxy

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  20. I loved this letter from its very beginning: "Pentecost continues!" Because when I read the Archbishop's letter, his suggestion that we needed a new Pentecost really bothered me. If the story of Pentecost is about the Spirit's coming to be among us to lead us into all truth, the Spirit that Jesus promised would be with us always, then the Spirit that showed up at Pentecost is still with us. Pentecost is not a one-time event.

    I love the rest of the letter, too, of course. It's masterful. I do believe the Spirit was at work when she was elected PB.

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  21. Oops. I meant, Pentecost was a one-time event that, like the Spirit's presence with us, is ongoing.

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  22. Think of it! The Presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal Church giving the Archbishop of Canterbury lessons in Anglicanism.

    Penelope, the title is perfect.

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  23. Doxy, the observation about KJS at the LA ordinations was Caminante's, in the comments over here.

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  24. I am just so proud to be an Episcopalian! She speaks for so many of us, and so strongly too!

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