Letter from the General Convention 2006: Sunday June 18, 2006
IIt has been an eventful twenty four hours. Last evening there was a gathering to honour the ministry of the retiring Presiding Bishop, Frank Griswold. It was a moving, humorous and respectful tribute employing video, music and drama to celebrate a remarkable ministry. Presentation was made of a book of reflections on reconciliation, ‘I Have Called You Friends’, published by the Cowley Press, and the evening was strong evidence of the spiritual heart of this Convention. One bishop afterwards said they failed to see how anyone present could not have been touched by the grace of God’s presence.
The ending of one ministry led today to the start of a new one. The election this afternoon of the Bishop of Nevada, Katharine Jefferts Schori, as the 26th Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church electrified the General Convention, dramatically moving the Windsor Report from top of the agenda. The news was greeted with unrestrained delight by the majority of the thousands waiting for the result who were also clearly aware that this is a momentous decision with wide reaching consequences. The Episcopal Church has become for some the scapegoat of the Communion and the election of the first woman primate will undoubtedly be seen by them as hastening the division that has been darkly predicted at the edges of this Convention. (Conspiracy theorists suggest bishops of the Anglican Communion Network actually voted for her to precipitate the break). Whatever happens next this election will undoubtedly change something of the chemistry of the Episcopal Church, many believe for the better.
There is no substitute for actually being here, and it is a pity there are so few of us here from the Church of England to experience the vitality of this remarkable church. Not everyone sees it. The Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, has commented on the resolution passed by the House of Bishops that opposes ‘any state or federal constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex civil marriage or civil unions’, seeing this as evidence of a different religion at work. Following on from the Bishop of Durham’s intervention earlier in the week many people have questioned the prelates’ purpose, and how the Church of England would react to such direct intrusion from bishops from the Episcopal Church. The Bishop of Rochester preached at a eucharist on Friday organised by the AAC, ACN and Forward in Faith, at which we understand there were about eighty people present (Anglican Mainstream has the figure at 200).
Columbus is an unlikely setting for a gathering which is receiving so much attention from around the world, but what is happening here in these days is important, and in the right sense of the word, momentous. The overriding impression is of a church that is healthy, passionate and God centred. The commitment to Anglicanism is heartfelt, and it is worth repeating that the sense of Anglican identity is undoubtedly stronger here than in some other churches of the Communion. With so much focus on the pressures facing the Communion it is not surprising that there is so much introspection, but as the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion, Kenneth Kearon, today reminded the House of Deputies, the danger of spending too much time close to the problem is that we can lose sight of the big picture. Perhaps we all need to take a step back and celebrate the richness of the tapestry of God of which we are but a part.