Thinking Anglicans

Bishop of Gloucester and the Anglican Communion

Updated again Saturday

Michael Perham, the bishop of Gloucester, gave an address about the Anglican Communion to his clergy on 6 May 2010. Here is an extract.

I think there are some things here we need to explore sensitively together. In doing so I want to acknowledge the honesty and courage of my friend, James Jones, the Bishop of Liverpool, who has publicly told his own story of moving his position on the issue of homosexuality over recent years and urged the Church not to allow this issue to divide us in a way that breaks communion. And I also need to acknowledge that I have long been in a different place and so have not had to travel as difficult a path as he has to be in the place where I now am. My own understanding has long been that the Church of England’s current stance is not tenable long term, but that, while we engage, struggle, with these issues, it must be task of the bishop to uphold our agreed policy, with all its weaknesses, and to try to hold the Church together while we tackle the things that divide us. I don’t believe I can move away from that position, though I need to share with you some of my discomfort.

It is difficult to know where to begin, but I think the best place is with the categorising of first and second order issues. I am quite clear that the issues on which the creeds make a firm statement – God as trinity, the divinity of Christ, the death and the resurrection of the Lord, the role of the Spirit and more – are first order issues on which there can be no change in what the Church teaches. They are fundamental to the Christian faith. I am equally clear that there are second order issues, which are important, and where interpretation of the tradition needs to be careful and prayerful, but where nevertheless individual churches and provinces need to be free to define doctrine in the way that seems to them to be in accordance with the mind of Christ.

The full address is a 40kB Word document and can be downloaded here: Bishop Michael’s address on the Anglican Communion. Read the whole address for Bishop Michael’s views on first and second order issues, the Episcopal Church, his own diocesan triangular partnership with Western Tanganyika and El Camino Real, the Anglican covenant, and the status in England of clergy ordained abroad by a woman bishop.

Updates

An html copy of this address can now be found here on this website, and over at this website.

For Bishop Mary Gray-Reeves’ comments on this, see below the fold.

Email comments of Mary Gray-Reeves Bishop of the Diocese of El Camino Real, on Bishop Michael Perham’s comments regarding Mary Glasspool’s ordination to the episcopate. Reproduced with her permission.

By way of background, The Diocese of El Camino Real of which I am bishop began a triad partnership with Gloucester and the Diocese of Western Tanganyika in Advent, 2008. We, bishops, Michael, Gerard and I, met at Lambeth and began to consider what it would be like to see if a partnership could form across huge differences of opinion on human sexuality and other matters before the Anglican Communion. We, who might ordinarily remain on opposite sides of the room, not connecting, have managed a lot of diversity and conversation around the issues that divide the Anglican Communion. There are, for example, no ordained women in Western Tanganyika, and of course no women bishops in Gloucester. My presence has been welcomed in the conversation that is ongoing in the Communion and has contributed to increased understanding of the presence of women in all orders of ministry. On team visits to each of our three dioceses we have listened and spoken about the issues before us. We have listened to the strains our decisions cause in everyday life in Africa for Anglicans. They have listened to the stories of gay and lesbian couples. While +Gerard represents conservative Anglicism, and depending on who is ticking the boxes, I represent liberal Anglicanism, +Michael is devoted to the holding together of the Anglican Communion. Nonetheless, he is one of the leading proponents of the ordination of women to the episcopate in the Church of England. We have had many honest, difficult and yet graceful exchanges that have been exemplary of Anglican breadth, diversity and patience.

Our partnership is significant in each of our dioceses. In El Camino Real this relationship has taught us so much about reconciliation and been of great value to our healing as a diocese. It has encouraged us in our own efforts towards rebirth. The people of El Camino Real, a diocese that has been described in years past as “failed” and “broken” knows first-hand something of the work of reconciliation. It is one thing to talk about it, it is another to do it. This diocese began gut-wrenching work of reaching across divides before I arrived in 2007 and we continue living into our call as the reconciling body of Christ sharing the good news of God’s kingdom.

While Bishop Michael’s comments refer to the partnership directly, it is important to remember that decisions about matters as deep as human sexuality will naturally be systemic. One thing affects another. Bishops, charged with oversight and care of large systems, must not think only of their personal opinion, but must consider the greater good of the people and context they serve. In the case of our diocese, respectful listening and acting, building trust, and giving voice to everyone have been crucial components of our healing. I have consistently said that God has set a broad and gracious table in El Camino Real for all people – including the ones that do not agree with me.

I am aware that historically in El Camino Real GLBT folks have not always felt heard; and that our conservative members have also felt silenced and pushed back from the feast. Layer this on a diocese that has struggled with being reconciled one to another for all sorts of other reasons, and a trend appears. And I am quite sure it is not unique to El Camino Real. It happens everywhere: that before we know it, our appropriation of grace, that unlimited commodity of God, starts fissuring with all sorts of boundaries and limits as to who is in and who is out – and then we are stuck not talking about how far from God’s grace we have actually gotten ourselves. The successful ministry of El Camino Real depends on us talking, remaining in a graceful conversation that is transformational. The future of the Communion relies on that same dynamic. An emergent church leader in Seattle I met recently, Eliacin Rosario said in a conversation I had with him in February, “Reconciliation requires something of you.” That it does. And the big picture of the work may require different things of different people.

For myself personally, I rejoiced at Mary and Diane’s election. I would have been happy to get just one more woman bishop in California – but two! It was like Christmas! I knew though that many did not share this joy, and that included people in our partnership and in my diocese. After weeks of prayer and conversation I realized I had an opportunity to make no one particularly happy, but importantly to act in a way where the integrity of everyone’s deeply held beliefs – and their very beings – could be honored so we might remain at the table. In our system, it is consents that allow a bishop to be ordained. I consented to Mary’s election without hesitation. The laying on of hands makes a bishop, and in other provinces where there is no consent process like ours, this is a very key symbol. It took awhile, and as +Michael said, I did not come easily to the decision of not attending on Saturday. But the truth is, Mary and Diane had plenty of bishops to get the job done, and my hands were not needed there on May 15th. They were needed to reach other places and so I did.

As people have emailed me or blogged their anger and concern it seems that people think I was pressured by my partner bishops. Indeed, they made a request – as did many in the Anglican Communion of our entire church – for us not to consent or consecrate Mary. While listening is an important part of our partnership, we respect one another’s autonomy. Hopefully we the body of Christ all make prayerful decisions with one another in mind. You may not like the decision I made, but let me be clear, it was mine to make, not +Michael’s or +Gerard’s.

My gesture of not attending on Saturday was received graciously by both partner bishops, and we will just have to see what the future holds for our unusual and extraordinary relationship. We give thanks for every day we are blessed with this fellowship and agree to forgive one another when we fail, including if that means we can’t walk together. Likewise, my diocese understands my decision well because of our context. El Camino Real has lived through and beyond brokenness to reconciliation. There has been support for my decision across the diversity of opinion around human sexuality and Mary’s ordination, liberal to conservative and vice versa. We are functioning like a graceful body should, forgiving each other when we let each other down.

Mary Glasspool and I are friends, having now enjoyed one another’s presence immensely at the last House of Bishops meeting. What a beautiful human being she is! She knows all about my decision making process. She is my sister bishop – as is Diane – with whom I also shared what I planned to do (their elections and consecrations go hand in hand as a matter of circumstance and my not being at one meant I couldn’t be at the other). Mary and Diane are graceful women, and we look forward to years of serving together as bishops, crossing our border at least occasionally for lunch!

I do want to say that while the temptation to run with the anxiety in the Anglican Communion right now is high, please resist that. Take care not to impose +Michael’s words on our context and ours on his. In his context, his speech represents much prayerful consideration and a stepping out from the traditional “holding the line” of their House of Bishops. We do not have this same expectation in our system and don’t understand it very well. Furthermore, the people of Gloucester are not, of course, uniform in their opinions on GLBT and women in all orders of ministry. In fact +Michael is giving voice to a broad center in this speech that may facilitate some movement on issues of inclusion in that system. As one who believes all orders of ministry should be open to all people regardless of gender or orientation I encourage and support that voice – in that context.

Finally, I pray and hope the Anglican Communion ultimately makes it. I am not always very confident about that. Michael, Gerard and I, and our dioceses, concur that our partnership provides an excellent model for the development of valuable relationships across the Anglican Communion, but we are realistic that for some the division will just be too great to remain. The sooner we acknowledge that, the sooner we can recognize our deep need for the redemptive work of Christ, and own our call as the church to do the work of reconciliation. It is a very big mission field out there.

+Mary Gray-Reeves
El Camino Real

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Charlotte
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Charlotte

Bishop Perham is particularly illuminating on “the status in England of clergy ordained abroad by a woman bishop.” It seems any such clergy cannot be licensed to serve in the Church of England unless they are re-ordained!

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

Michael Perham’s talk reads like a piece of traditional Anglican bishopspeak – mild, inoffensive, wet, hand-wringing: “I feel your pain but couldn’t possibly stir up any trouble in order to alleviate it.” I suppose one should be grateful that it is not the hate-speech that some church leaders come out with, but still, is it intellectually or ethically good enough nowadays to say “I agree that our current position is untenable, yet I will do nothing to change it so that it actually becomes tenable?” We understand from this that the Bishop of Gloucester went so far as to exert… Read more »

Charlotte
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Charlotte

A second comment, if you will forgive, on what was to me the most interesting part of Bishop Perham’s address. He says: “the Episcopal Church is so thoroughly Anglican that to describe it as something less than Anglican seems to be sheer foolishness and immensely hurtful.” (There’s more there worth reading.) Yes, he’s right: it has been “immensely hurtful.” I don’t think for a moment, however, that “sheer foolishness” was to blame. Slanders and outright lies regarding TEC have been circulated by evangelicals for years in the Church of England. There were “economies of the truth” (as they say) that… Read more »

David da Silva Cornell
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David da Silva Cornell

How appalling that +Michael Perham would take it upon himself to ask +Mary Gray-Reeves not to attend the Bruce/Glasspool consecration — and how much more appalling, and deeply disappointing, if, as Bishop Michael states is the case, Bishop Mary complied.

Does Bishop Mary (Gray-Reeves) simply not appreciate the irony that her very own consecration is not recognized in the very corners of the Communion that cry out over now-Bishop Mary (Glasspool)??? That as a heterosexual she may be less “tainted” in their eyes than +Glasspool, but she is not even a bishop in many/most of those same eyes?

Old Father William
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Old Father William

It is interesting to note that observers to our General Conventions from the C of E (including bishops) have remarked on how “thoroughly Anglican” TEC is.

Chris Smith
Guest
Chris Smith

Yes, I believe the hierarchies of the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches are too full of themselves with power and the unwillingness to grow and change their thinking on a number of issues, including women’s ordination to the priesthood and episcopate and homosexuality. Although it appears that the Bishop of Gloucester is trying to understand more fully these two issues, I am afraid he is just not showing the courage and backbone that is needed to bring movement to this important discussion. We can all be pleased that he is taking the first of many baby steps to open… Read more »

RevL Roberts
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RevL Roberts

He seems to have no awareness that the indispensable doctrines (as he seems to see it), exist in a cultural context of meaning(s) and language. Does he not understand that the question for most parishoners /citizens in England say, is What on earth does it all mean ? What difference does it / can it make to my life, to society and to the pursuit of meaning and living a good (enough) life ? The Ascension is so vital that I searched in vain in the Hollywell and Ysceifiog areas last Wednesday for a service the following day (also anniversary… Read more »

RevL Roberts
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RevL Roberts

I find Michael Perham’s words vacuous and pathetic. I’ve listened to spineless nonesense like this for decades. If he has nothing better to say and DO — better to shut up.

As for interfering in the attendance at the Glasspool ordination — who does he think he is ?

Come back John Yates ! Has Perham even read the Yates report ? We shoul have moved on by now.

Malcolm+
Guest

Fr. Mark said: Michael Perham’s talk reads like a piece of traditional Anglican bishopspeak – mild, inoffensive, wet, hand-wringing: “I feel your pain but couldn’t possibly stir up any trouble in order to alleviate it.” In fairness, there is a difference, I think, between “I feel your pain but couldn’t possibly stir up any trouble in order to alleviate it” on the one hand and “For the sake of unity, I intend to move in concert with the rest of my province while wishing we could move faster.” Seems to me that the bishop’s comments are more the latter. In… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
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Father Ron Smith

“Although I believe that my Church should be prepared to solemnize marriages between two men or two women (since they are legal here), I have stated that I do not intend to do so until I am authorized to do so by the Church. I know that many of my colleagues intend to choose otherwise when the prospect presents itself.” – Malcolm+ on Monday – Malcolm+ is right when he declares his need to comply with the rules within his own Church community (C.of E.). However, Malcolm is being honest about his dis-ease with the C.of E’s current officially observed… Read more »

JCF
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JCF

“For you cannot, in a worldwide Communion, move at the speed of the fastest.”

Justice-loving people (among them, many Christians—among them, the FIRST Christians!) have EVER had this preached AT them.

The alternative, is to move “at the speed of” NEVER.

The great folksinger Malvina Reynolds was thinking of someone like +Gloucester when she wrote:

“‘It’s not nice’ to block the doorway.
‘It’s not nice’ to go to jail.
Well, we’ve tried all the nice ways,
But the nice ways always fail!

‘It’s not nice’
‘It’s not nice’:
You’ve told us once,
You’ve told us twice.
But if that’s freedom’s price
I don’t mind!”

TBTG for TEC’s newest bishop, +Mary Glasspool!

Jonathan+
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Jonathan+

Oh dear – another tortured hand wringing liberal without the courage of his convictions. No institution will move at the speed of the fastest, but without the fastest forging ahead there is no incentive or encouragement for the rest to move at all. So +Michael effectively wants gay people to remain dispendable until the slowest decide that such a situation is no reflection of the Gospel even if others (himself included) have already come to such a realisation. It is never the wrong time to the right thing, and it can never be the right time to do the wrong… Read more »

Chris Smith
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Chris Smith

Michael Perham, like many other bishops in the Anglican, Roman and Orthodox Communions, thinks of himself as almost “imperial” because of his position of rank in the Church. Many bishops are this way. Hell, in Roman Catholic diocese the big complaint from lay people is that they think their own bishops live like “kings or princes” and this does not reflect the shepherd model of a bishop that Christ would desire. It’s a huge problem for many bishops once they put on that cope and jeweled mitre. The mitre becomes a sort of “crown” to many of them. Are they… Read more »

Canon Andrew Godsall
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Canon Andrew Godsall

Whilst we might have wished +Michael to go further, I think we need to recognise that the publication of this statement, just prior to the English House of Bishops meeting, is a clear signal from a Diocesan that there are significant differences of opinion within our own house about this matter. And so publication is a brave move and one that we need to say thank you for.

Rev L Roberts
Guest
Rev L Roberts

I can see no difference, and nor do I see ‘fairness’ to lgbt people. ‘In fairness, there is a difference, I think, between “I feel your pain but couldn’t possibly stir up any trouble in order to alleviate it” on the one hand and “For the sake of unity, I intend to move in concert with the rest of my province while wishing we could move faster” — ‘unity’ with whom ? ‘Unity’ means what ? With whom should you / we be in solidarity ? What might Jesus (so ignored by The Church) have done ? ‘I do not… Read more »

Rev L Roberts
Guest
Rev L Roberts

Sometimes I think the time has come to abolish bishops as we have them at present. I’m sure some other kind of over-sight could be set-up – possibly one that actually works on the ground.

Jeremy
Guest
Jeremy

“However the Anglican Communion has not resolved to give that freedom to the Episcopal Church.”

Er, no.

For over 200 years, the Episcopal Church has exercised its freedom to ordain bishops. That freedom is neither the Anglican Communion’s to give, nor the Anglican Communion’s to take away.

The Bishop’s patronizing attitude is breathtaking. As is his ignorance of history.

evensongjunkie (formerly cbfh)
Guest
evensongjunkie (formerly cbfh)

I too would like to observe my grand-mother’s (and mother’s) inclination to say “thank you” to Bishop Perham, but my deepest friend’s (who has been with his partner for close to thirty years) exhortation would be “no guts, no glory”.

How unfortunate it may appear, this is how change comes at the higher echelons of organizations.

Ren Aguila
Guest
Ren Aguila

The answer, Rev. Roberts, has already been suggested:

http://gensyn.blogspot.com/2009/07/early-morning-radio-and-how-many.html

Just go back to the model of the early Church.

Counterlight
Guest
Counterlight

“Behold, NOW is the accepted time.”

Cynthia Gilliatt
Guest
Cynthia Gilliatt

” No institution will move at the speed of the fastest, but without the fastest forging ahead there is no incentive or encouragement for the rest to move at all.”

Precisely.

If we in the states had followed the good bishop’s lead in the 1950s there would have been no Brown v. Board and we would likely all still have separate schools and drinking fountains, among other things far more sinful.

Rev L Roberts
Guest
Rev L Roberts

No I do not need to thank him, nor do I see it as appropriate. But then I’m gay and been waiting for nigh on 60 years.

And what is said in England is not unrelated to breath-taking cruelty and injustice in Malawi.

Britain must take its share of responsibility and the the Church of England.

So, not thanks, but get up off your complacent seat, and DO something for justice and do it NOW.

Susannah Clark
Guest
Susannah Clark

“For you cannot, in a worldwide Communion, move at the speed of the fastest.” But you can have the grace to understand that different societies and different provinces may move at different speeds. It is the desire to insist and dominate church life in distant provinces, instead of putting the emphasis on our own ministry and service where we are, that in my view risks more. If this was slavery at stake: would we say “Let’s take our time and let others catch up or block our action on the subject”? When it comes to issues of justice, delay and… Read more »

Mike
Guest
Mike

Moderation and restraint are marvelous qualities when practiced by thoughtful and compassionate parties in a contentious situation. In the present circumstances, they more frequently resemble the appeasement of tyrants. This has only delayed the inevitable confrontation while giving aid and comfort to those who demand uncompromising obedience to a flawed hermaneutic.

Perry Butler
Guest
Perry Butler

Surely the most important thing about Bishop Perham’s address is that he made it. Coming after the Bishop of Liverpool, it is now clear that some bishops are prepared to voice their anxieties about the status quo re gay and women’s ordination issues and so make more public the real divisions within the House of Bishops. We have had a number of new bishops lately and more to come..Ely, Rochester, Southwark. Durham, Bradford ..with Salisbury and Lincoln soon and within a year or two Winchester, Newcastle, Chichester, Bath and Wells and no doubt others…As we have seen in the political… Read more »

Fr Mark
Guest
Fr Mark

Perry Butler: “it is now clear that some bishops are prepared to voice their anxieties about the status quo re gay and women’s ordination issues”

Yes, this true, and represents an advance, certainly. But should it always be the case that there has to be a generation’s time-lag before bishops can dare to state the blindingly obvious? No-one’s ethical argument is compelling if its basis is merely the confluence of gerontocracy and expediency, surely?

Perry Butler
Guest
Perry Butler

Sadly it isn’t “blindingly obvious” Fr Mark. I recognise the hurt delay can cause but in a situation where these things are contested, polarisation occurs and deepset polarisation usually creates an impasse and so ultimately slows things down. Given what seemed to me a disorientating shift to the right in the Church of England from the 1980’s, I’m relieved things have moved as far as they have. After all few really expected the ordination of women to go through in 1993. In fact the lack of a Plan B by the House of Bishops was the reason for the Act… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest
Father Ron Smith

My prayer on this Feast of Pentecost is that the will of God in Christ Jesus be done in our Church – in our time, and by us – not waiting for some future generation to put an end to manifest injustice. Come, Holy Spirit, re-kindle within us the FIRE of your LOVE; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, so that we may become your instruments of joyous freedom for all we who are imprisoned by others’ view of our gender or sexual differences – so that we may learn to respect, love, and rejoice in one… Read more »

Zoe Brain
Guest

I do not know +Gloucester. But I do remember my schoolmaster, Michael Perham. “Spineless” is possibly the least appropriate word in the English Language to describe him. His personal sympathies are strongly with the more Liberal side of the Church. As one of the Lords Spiritual, he must carefully attempt to keep the strong, and strengthening, reactionary forces mainly in Africa within the Church, trusting that they will be eventually pursuaded by Christian Charity to reform. I’m not sure this is possible. I’m glad I’m not in his position. “Blessed are the Peacemakers”, but in the meantime, they get reviled… Read more »