Letter from the General Convention 2006: Saturday June 17, 2006
The atmosphere of the Convention may be cruelly deceptive; we could be completely wrong. But the quality of discussion and debate here, the powerful recognition of the Episcopal Church as part of the Anglican Communion, the acknowledgement of mutual and shared responsibilities, makes us cautiously optimistic that by the time the delegates and bishops disperse next Wednesday, the future for Anglicanism will be a great deal brighter than it was last week.
Not, however, that it’s by any means plain sailing. The complexity of the legislative process has to be experienced to be believed. We attended the House of Bishops discussion on some of the resolutions related to the Windsor report. The most frequent comment from the Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold, was “where are we?” At a number of points nobody knew.
From discussions today it seems that the remaining resolutions relating to the Windsor Report will make their way to the floor on Monday. Whilst there is noticeable respect for the importance of the issues facing the Communion, there is also some disquiet that so much time has been taken by this one issue to the detriment of other and more important gospel issues.
High spots – the Integrity Eucharist in Trinity Episcopal Church. Preacher – the Rt Revd Gene Robinson. The church was completely packed – we’ve never seen so many rainbow stoles. The gist of his sermon was perhaps most clearly expressed in these sentences: “The hard part is following Jesus’ own command to LOVE our enemies. Not to like them, not to be paralyzed by their opposition, not to give in to their outrageous demands, but to love them nevertheless. To treat them with infinite respect, listen to what drives them, try our best to understand the fear that causes them to reject us, to believe them when they say they only want the best for us. That’s hard work, and we can’t do it without God’s own spirit blowing through us like wind, breaking down OUR walls, causing our assumptions to “come loose,” and reminding us that they too are children of God, for whom Christ died and through whom they will be saved”.
full text of sermon
Another high spot – the Convention Eucharist this morning. The inspired choice of preacher was Dr Jenny Te Paa, a member of the church of Aotorea/New Zealand who served on the Windsor Commission. Speaking with power and authority, she expressed the dismay of the Maori elders of her community that there is the faintest chance that the Anglican Communion may no longer be one. She emphasised the cost and the potential pain of reconciliation, quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And she called for an end to the sins of hypocrisy and fear, expressed through the evils of racism, sexism, imperialism and homophobia. But she also spoke of the experience of colonialism for indigenous peoples, clearly referring to the Global South. Sustained applause followed her sermon. Tom Wright’s letter earlier this week was thrown into stark contrast by the depth and respect with which she spoke to the Episcopal Church.
The Archbishop of York is here for the whole Convention. One of the resolutions currently under discussion opens the possibility of representatives from other parts of the Anglican Communion on Episcopal Church bodies, in order that there may be greater understanding of the polity of this province. Speaking in the debate, Dr Sentamu said that he was grateful for the hospitality extended by the Episcopal Church to its guests, and that his participation in the process meant that he would be leaving with a much greater understanding of this church. He also said that one of the problems at the moment is that much of the activity of the Global South is based on hearsay: “If you assume, you make an ass of you and me”.
And finally, Kenneth Kearon, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, gave an interview to the Episcopal News Service. “I commend the Episcopal Church for the way it has taken seriously the requests of the Windsor Report, and you see this seriousness in the way that business is being conducted on this particular issue at Convention.”
So where does all this leave the discussion? There is clearly a small minority for whom only full repentance and reversal of Gene Robinson’s ordination to the episcopate would be sufficient. One Bishop said to us that he thought it inevitable that some people would leave. But the dire predictions of fundamental splits seem unlikely to be realised, at least from the point of view of the Episcopal Church. The question is whether the rest of the Communion, especially the “Global South” will be able to respond to the decisions of this convention in the spirit of love and reconciliation with which they are offered.