Sunday, 1 February 2004

ECUSA update - Virginia

Many ECUSA dioceses are holding their annual synods (called conventions or councils) at this time of year. This weekend, that included the Diocese of Virginia, the largest diocese.
Here are reports beforehand from the Washington Post Episcopalians to Face Major Issues
and the Richmond Times-Dispatch Meeting of Virginia Episcopalians starts today

Declining revenue and challenges to the authority of Richmond Bishop Peter James Lee will be two of the major issues on the agenda of more than 700 Episcopalians from Virginia as they gather today in Reston to begin their diocese’s annual convention.
The two-day meeting of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia takes place at a time of rising turmoil in the denomination set off by the consecration last summer of its first openly gay bishop, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.
That turmoil is reflected in the convention’s agenda, which includes adoption of a 2004 budget that is reeling from a drop of nearly $900,000 in parish pledges. The delegates will also deal with a resolution asking Lee to allow conservative parishes to have another bishop lead them.

The full text of the bishop’s address to the council yesterday is online. Part of it is reproduced below.

After the convention the Washington Post published this account, Virginia Episcopalians Avert Split Over Gay Bishop

Episcopalians of Virginia voted yesterday to set up a year-long “reconciliation commission” to examine ways of maintaining their unity in the face of deep theological differences over what the church’s stance on homosexuality should be.
The vote, taken on the last day of the diocese’s annual convention, had wide support among the 700 delegates gathered at a Reston hotel — a sign, many said, of the desire not to let their differences lead to an open split.

From the bishop’s pastoral address:

The church’s current debate over sexuality is a controversy we may have no desire to discuss, and we do disagree, but it is a debate that distracts us from the mission that unites us. The reality is that serious Christians in our diocese differ over numerous traditions of Biblical interpretation that underlie our differences.
I appeal to members of this Council to see the unifying power of Christ in the midst of our differences and to take no actions to exacerbate our differences.
I hear the pain and grief expressed by those angered by the election and consecration of Bishop Robinson of New Hampshire and by my role in that. And I hear the pain and disappointment of gay and lesbian members of our diocese who are frustrated at the lack of availability to them of rites of blessing.
Members of a Christian community bear one another’s burdens. Listening to each other and finding those areas of mission where we can unite are important patterns of discipleship.
I appeal also to members of our diocese who are tempted to separate from our body because of their anger at what we have done or disappointment at what we have not done to stay the course and to learn of Christ’s desire for our unity through our engagement with one another.
James I. McCord was a twentieth century Presbyterian leader and scholar who warned his students: “If you must make a choice between heresy and schism, always choose heresy. For as a heretic, you are only guilty of a wrong opinion. As a schismatic, you have torn and divided the body of Christ. Chose heresy every time!” (The Anglican Journal, January 2004, p. 15)
Now, I hope we will avoid both heresy and schism. The best protection against heresy is the breadth of the community of faith, wrestling with the interaction of scripture and tradition with the stresses and questions of contemporary life. Schism diminishes the corrective power of differing opinions.
I am aware that some of our congregations are so unhappy with my decisions at General Convention that they will not welcome my visits to them. I remind you that Christian communities often consist of solidarities not of our choosing. Our faith teaches that people with whom we differ often have important truths to teach us. So I want very much to remain in touch with those who differ with me. I am willing to ask another bishop to come into a parish for pastoral and sacramental ministries, but I believe deeply that God has called us together to ministry in Virginia, and we have gifts to offer each other. We are one body, not a federation of individual, isolated congregations, and I am committed to serving the whole body.
There is One Lord, One faith, One baptism, and we are called perhaps especially at times of difference, to affirm that our unity in Christ transcends our differences. Claim that unity and pray that God will reveal more fully the bonds that bring us together.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 1 February 2004 at 5:05 PM GMT | TrackBack
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