COLUMBUS, OH: The gospel of Liberality
By Hans Zeiger
VOL Special Correspondent
COLUMBUS, OH (6/13/06)-Thousands of clergy and laymen of the Episcopal Church have gathered for the 75th General Convention to debate the future of their denomination.
The opening press briefing at the 2006 General Convention of the Episcopal Church featured a lineup of left-leaning clergy and lay leaders who gave but a few specifics on what is likely to be a contentious nine days.
Canon Robert Williams, director of communications for the Episcopal Church, began the briefing with a quote from Dean Alan Jones of San Francisco's Grace Cathedral: "If you're a conservative, good. You're welcome here. Please remember the liberality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you're a liberal, good. Please remember the conservancy of the Church of Jesus Christ."
In the Episcopal Church, however, liberality has been the general trend for several decades, and the consequences have come to bear on the 75th General Convention.
The headline on the official church publication Episcopal Life reads, "Two issues will dominate convention."
First, the church must decide its response to the 2004 Windsor report, which calls on the Episcopal Church to repent of its actions in favor of homosexuality three years ago. The 74th General Convention in 2003 affirmed the election of the homosexual Right Rev. V. Gene Robinson as bishop of New Hampshire and recognized the blessing of same-sex marriages in Canada. The Episcopal Church must determine in the next week and a half whether it will uphold its commitment to homosexuals or renew its fellowship with the international Anglican communion.
Rev. Tobias Haller, rector of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx and a member of the House of Deputies Committee on Consecration of Bishops, told Virtue Online after the briefing that he sees no grounds for reversing the ordination of Bishop Robinson. "I don't think at this point any have been brought up that would be persuasive." Simply because other provinces of the international Anglican Communion do not approve of an Episcopal Church decision does not compel the church to make a reversal, he said.
Second, the church will elect a new presiding bishop for the next nine years, to replace Bishop Frank Griswold.
Asked at the press briefing whether the Anglican rift will be consequential in the presiding bishop election, Bishop Gordon Scruton of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, who sits on the Constitution Committee, replied, "I certainly think it will be an important part of the issue ... There hasn't been lots of politicking about this at all."
Bishop Sergio Carranza of the diocese of Los Angeles who sits on the Prayer Book and Liturgy Committee, added, "We will place ourselves in the hands of the Holy Spirit and certainly that [issue] will be in the back of our minds."
Among the candidates for presiding bishop is one woman, the Right Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada. According to Canon Williams, "The role of women in the Episcopate is affirmed by provinces other than the Episcopal Church." Noting that the suffragan bishop of New York, the Right Rev. Catharine Roskam, is well-received within her diocese, Rev. Haller stated, "I think there would be a sense of welcome rather than a friction."
In addition to electing a new presiding bishop, the Convention will choose whether to confirm the election of four bishops, including Bishop-elect Mark Andrus of the diocese of California. Virtue Online first reported that Andrus had a confidentiality agreement when he was a curate in Pennsylvania, which Rev. Haller says "may be an issue" for the Committee on Consecration of Bishops.
Haller says also that the Committee on the Consecration of Bishops will be asking bishops-elect "how [the division in the international Anglican Communion] will affect them ... because they're the ones who as bishops will be facing the issue."
Not only does the Episcopal Church face alienation from its global fellowship, it must address a rapid decline of church attendance as well.
Canon Williams explained to the press briefing that the theme of the General Convention is "Come and Grow." A recent Gallup survey shows that Episcopalians are the least likely Christians in the United States to attend church on a weekly basis. The Standing Commission on Domestic Mission and Evangelism cites an "alarming decline in attendance," particularly over the past few years. Furthermore, the church has had difficulty attracting young people.
Delegates to the 75th Episcopal General Convention will be discussing the church's "20/20" strategy for doubling church attendance by 2020.
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