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.
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.
El Camino Real