Monday, 18 October 2004

ECUSA reaction

The Presiding Bishop of the American Episcopal Church, Frank Griswold has issued some preliminary reflections on the Windsor Report. He begins:

I write to you from London where I am attending a meeting of the Primates’ Standing Committee. I have had a matter of hours to review the Report of the Lambeth Commission on Communion, thus I will now offer only some preliminary observations. It will take considerable time to reflect upon the Report, which consists of some 100 pages.

Read the rest of his comments in full by clicking the following link

Over the next months it will be discussed in a number of venues, including the Executive Council meeting in November and the Winter Meeting of the House of Bishops in January. After an opportunity for further study and reflection, I will have more to say about the Commission’s work.

The members of the Commission, chaired by Archbishop Robin Eames, clearly have worked with care and great diligence, and the fact that they have unanimously put forward the Report, which individually may give them pause, is no small accomplishment.

The Commission was obliged to consider a number of sometimes conflicting concerns, and therefore in these next days the Report will doubtless be read from many points of view and given any number of interpretations. It is extremely important that it be read carefully as a whole and viewed in its entirety rather than being read selectively to buttress any particular perspectives.

As Anglicans we interpret and live the gospel in multiple contexts, and the circumstances of our lives can lead us to widely divergent understandings and points of view. My first reading shows the Report as having in mind the containment of differences in the service of reconciliation. However, unless we go beyond containment and move to some deeper place of acknowledging and making room for the differences that will doubtless continue to be present in our Communion, we will do disservice to our mission. A life of communion is not for the benefit of the church but for the sake of the world. All of us, regardless of our several points of view, must accept the invitation to consider more deeply what it means to live a life of communion, grounded in the knowledge that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself.”

Given the emphasis of the Report on difficulties presented by our differing understandings of homosexuality, as Presiding Bishop I am obliged to affirm the presence and positive contribution of gay and lesbian persons to every aspect of the life of our church and in all orders of ministry. Other Provinces are also blessed by the lives and ministry of homosexual persons. I regret that there are places within our Communion where it is unsafe for them to speak out of the truth of who they are.

The Report will be received and interpreted within the Provinces of the Communion in different ways, depending on our understanding of the nature and appropriate expression of sexuality. It is important to note here that in the Episcopal Church we are seeking to live the gospel in a society where homosexuality is openly discussed and increasingly acknowledged in all areas of our public life.

For at least the last 30 years our church has been listening to the experience and reflecting upon the witness of homosexual persons in our congregations. There are those among us who perceive the fruit of the Spirit deeply present in the lives of gay and lesbian Christians, both within the church and in their relationships. However, other equally faithful persons among us regard same gender relationships as contrary to scripture. Consequently, we continue to struggle with questions regarding sexuality.

Here I note the Report recommends that practical ways be found for the listening process commended by the Lambeth Conference in 1998 to be taken forward with a view to greater understanding about homosexuality and same gender relationships. It also requests the Episcopal Church to contribute to the ongoing discussion. I welcome this invitation and know that we stand ready to make a contribution to the continuing conversation and discernment of the place and ministry of homosexual persons in the life of the church.

The Report calls our Communion to reconciliation, which does not mean the reduction of differences to a single point of view. In fact, it is my experience that the fundamental reality of the Episcopal Church is the diverse center, in which a common commitment to Jesus Christ and a sense of mission in his name to a broken and hurting world override varying opinions on any number of issues, including homosexuality. The diverse center is characterized by a spirit of mutual respect and affection rather than hostility and suspicion. I would therefore hope that some of the ways in which we have learned to recognize Christ in one another, in spite of strongly held divergent opinions, can be of use in other parts of our Communion.

As Presiding Bishop I know I speak for members of our church in saying how highly we value our Communion and the bonds of affection we share. Therefore, we regret how difficult and painful actions of our church have been in many provinces of our Communion, and the negative repercussions that have been felt by brother and sister Anglicans.

In a “Word to the Church” following the meeting of our House of Bishops in September we wrote as follows. “We believe our relationships with others make real and apparent God’s reconciling love for all of creation. Our mutual responsibility, interdependence and communion are gifts from God. Therefore, we deeply value and are much enriched by our membership in the Anglican Communion. We also value Anglican comprehensiveness and its capacity to make room for difference.”

One section of the Report recommends the development of a covenant to be entered into by the provinces of the Communion. This notion will need to be studied with particular care. As we and other provinces explore the idea of a covenant we must do so knowing that over the centuries Anglican comprehensiveness has given us the ability to include those who wish to see boundaries clearly and closely drawn and those who value boundaries that are broad and permeable. Throughout our history we have managed to live with the tension between a need for clear boundaries and for room in order that the Spirit might express itself in fresh ways in a variety of contexts.

The Report makes demands on all of us, regardless of where we may stand, and is grounded in a theology of reconciliation and an understanding of communion as the gift of the triune God. It is therefore an invitation for all of us to take seriously the place in which we presently find ourselves but to do so with a view to a future yet to be revealed.

Here I am put in mind of the words of Archbishop Eames in the Foreword to the Report. “This Report is not a judgment. It is part of a process. It is part of a pilgrimage towards healing and reconciliation.” It is my earnest prayer that we will undertake this pilgrimage in a spirit of generosity and patient faithfulness, not primarily for the sake of our church and the Anglican Communion but for the sake of the world our Lord came among us to save.

The Most Rev. Frank T. Griswold
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church, USA

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Comments

Griswold sounds shell-shocked -- as well he might. My initial reaction to the Windsor Report is that it is a massive defeat for the liberals in ECUSA -- and for Griswold personally, though the Report is too gentlemanly to name names. There will surely be demands for his resignation.

Posted by: Andrew Conway on Monday, 18 October 2004 at 3:17pm BST

Open note to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold,

Thank you, Reverend Sir, for your Spirit-led initial comments on the Windsor Report. From even before the 2003 ECUSA General Convention, to this day, you have shown a prayerfulness and commitment to the greater commission of being Good News to the world, and a patience and love for all people on all sides which I could wish for myself.

I thank God for your ministry among us, and your leadership before us. The blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be upon you, and all of us, liberal, conservative and in-between, this day and always.

Faithfully, (The Reverend) Lois Keen
St. Stephen's, Ridgefield, Connecticut

Posted by: Lois Keen on Monday, 18 October 2004 at 4:00pm BST

Mr. Conway, I am not sure what you saw in the PB's response that I missed, but I don't see how you can see thie Winsor Report as a defeat for Griswold in any way.

The admonishment for those who have crossed episcopal boundaries, and the lack of any provision for alternate provinces seems to hurt the asperations of the AAC/NACDP and Global South Primates. They can't be happy that their extra-diocesan activities will not be considered a legitimate response to ECUSAs actions.

Posted by: Andrew Grimmke on Monday, 18 October 2004 at 4:04pm BST

But it stores up problems for the future by seeming to give additional authority to the Lambeth Conference (while cheekily stating at the same time that Bishops involved in the consecration of Gene Robinson should voluntarily not turn up to it!) where an inbuilt conservative majority can give liberal parts of the communion a heavy belting with the crozier when required.

I'm not sure that I want to give such a deeply homophobic collective any more authority than it already has.

Because this isn't as bad as many liberals feared, doesn't mean that it's not bad.

Posted by: Gerry Lynch on Monday, 18 October 2004 at 4:28pm BST

Well, I said it was only my 'initial' reaction. But having read the report more thoroughly, I am still of the same opinion. There will doubtless be some people who will be disappointed that Griswold has not been sentenced to burn at the stake; and this may skew the media reaction (I can see the headline now: 'Evangelicals slam 'toothless' report'), but as the implications of the report sink in I think it will become clear that the conservatives have got everything they wanted, at least in the short term.

The report censures ECUSA for acting unilaterally; it seeks to isolate ECUSA from the rest of the Communion; and it proposes a draft Covenant designed to stop ECUSA from taking unilateral action again. The rest is just a sweetener to help ECUSA swallow the bitter pill.

Moving beyond the question of whether the report is a 'defeat' for one party or another, I think it has interesting implications for the whole Anglican structure of authority. It seems to be centralising authority in the hands of the Archbishop of Canterbury, by making him solely responsible for policing and enforcing the Covenant. In one sense, this gives the ABC powers beyond Laud's wildest dreams, by enabling him to intervene vigorously in the affairs of other provinces. In another sense it simply postpones the day of reckoning, as it is quite certain that the ABC will not exercise his powers in the way the conservatives would like him to.

Posted by: Andrew Conway on Monday, 18 October 2004 at 5:00pm BST

I was deeply impressed by Frank Griswold's comments. He sounds prayerful, thoughtful and pastoral. He has understood what it might be like to be a gay person waiting to hear if you are welcome inside or are banished outside.

Posted by: Stephen Hough on Monday, 18 October 2004 at 8:21pm BST

No gay person should be "waiting" to hear if they are welcome inside or banished outside. This issue is not about gays in the church, but about gays serving in leadership roles. Gays are welcomed and encouraged in the pews just as I and all sinners are. One day we WILL know which side we should have been on in the issue and I beleive in my heart that scripture will preval.

Posted by: Larry Snair on Saturday, 4 December 2004 at 11:06pm GMT