Does it really matter WHO is the Presiding Bishop of The ECUSA from June 2006?
By Peter Toon
The name of the new Presiding Bishop [PB] of the Episcopal Church is now known. The Right Reverend Katherine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada, will effectively become the Captain of a ship whose voyage is planned and whose course is plotted. In reality, all that this female Captain will be able to do in the next nine years is to make minor deviations here and there on this voyage and keep the crew of women and men motivated and happy. Since the PB is neither a patriarch nor a dictator, but one who implements the policies of the General Convention and the Executive Councils she cannot decide what voyage is undertaken and when. Yet she may decide in some degree which ports are visited and what kind of relation is established with the people at them.
To change the metaphor and to look back thirty or forty years, we need to bear in mind that the trajectory of the Episcopal Church was established by the General Convention in the 1970s, and it was profoundly shaped by the revolutionary social and cultural changes brought into American life at the end of the 1960s. That trajectory has been consistently confirmed and strengthened, tuned and fine tuned since then, as innovation upon innovation in worship, doctrine, morality and polity have been introduced into the Episcopal Church. In real and practical terms, this 75th Convention of 2006 has acted like its predecessors since 1970, and has effectively and publicly made a renewed commitment to the trajectory.
Thus to expect the new PB to make any substantial change to the post 1960s new Episcopal Religion [NER] is to expect the impossible; it is to live in a world of make-belief. However, this does not mean that she cannot and will not have a major role as the human face of this NER, with the possibility of making it appear attractive at home and abroad.
Where the new PB will certainly have a major role outside the USA will be to explain and interpret the decisions of the General Convention concerning the requests made of it by The Windsor Report ( and through that Report, from the whole Anglican Communion) to the representatives of the Anglican Communion. And this vocation will still exist even if the Communion decides that the Episcopal Church of the USA must walk apart from the other provinces, because of its inadequate regret and repentance over the consecration of Gene Robinson in 2004. The fact that she is a woman and that she supported the consecration of Gene Robinson will mean that she will have a very difficult, perhaps impossible ask, in some parts of the Communion, where women priests are rare and where a woman as presiding bishop is virtually an impossibility!
Here, again, it is important to understand that this explaining and interpreting by the PB to the overseas Primates and synods are just this. She cannot negotiate any substantial new agreements nor can she sign any major new covenants. Her hands are tied by the knot of the General Convention, which is regarded by Episcopalians as the final authority in terms of church worship, doctrine, and policies. The task of the PB is to implement its decisions and to explain its mind.
The PB may, and will have, her own opinions about church policies and procedures, and these she may express as and where she will; but, at the same time,she must also make clear where they differ from the expressed mind of the General Convention. In fact,she is the public mouthpiece and personal representative of the Convention in the period when it is not in session. And since it only meets every three years, this is a substantial period of time to hold the fort. Happily there is the Executive Council to help her with any problems and difficulties.
Thus it is that, in terms of the basic content of the NER, the PB cannot make any changes, but she can make that content (whether he likes it or not) seem attractive by her own winsome charm and communication skills.
We may recall that Presiding Bishop Griswold has been a charming spokes-person for, and advocate of, the NER and that he did not hesitate to go all the way with this NER in being the chief consecrator of Gene Robinson in 2004.
We may conclude by remarking that from the standpoint of the historic, biblically-based Anglican Way, the PB of the NER has an extremely difficult task – perhaps even more difficult than that of the PB during the Civil War, and certainly much more difficult than that of the retiring PB. She represents and speaks for a denomination which is at best unpopular with, and, at worst, unwanted by many of its Anglican partners. The Episcopal Church has never been in this situation before in the Anglican world.
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