GC2012: The Episcopal Church Rebels
By Michael Heidt in Indianapolis
July 8, 2012
The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katherine Jefferts Schori, preached to a standing-room only congregation of over 2000 people at this year's General Convention. Taking her theme from the prophet Ezekiel, "I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me... impudent and stubborn," the Presiding Bishop identified some of the rebels. "Some of them," said Jefferts Schori, "is us."
Conservative Anglicans around the world and in North America find themselves in paradoxical agreement with the Episcopal Church's (TEC) lead bishop. Since the ordination of women in the 1970s and more recently, the ordination of openly gay men and women, the Episcopal Church has been accused by traditionalists of going against the consensus of the Anglican Communion.
Episcopal Church rebellion looks set to continue, with resolutions for "open table" (giving Holy Communion to all people regardless of baptism), same-sex marriage liturgies and the inclusion of transgendered persons in ministry, being considered by the Houses of Bishops and Deputies.
However, it seems unlikely that the Presiding Bishop, who is known for her progressive stance on sexuality and doctrinal issues, was targeting the liberal trajectory of her own church.
Nine bishops have been censured at the Convention for rebellious disloyalty in an open letter written by two Episcopal Church leaders, Wallis Ohl, Bishop of Fort Worth, and John Buchanan, Bishop of Quincy. All nine are accused of serious offences under church canon law and could face disciplinary action. Six of the nine have protested their innocence in an open letter to the Presiding Bishop.
Less dramatic strains of in-house rebellion have been rumbling through the committees and halls of the Convention. Financial concerns were fraught in the lead up to the Convention, with one member of TEC's Executive Council, Katie Sherrod, describing the atmosphere of preparing a Budget as "toxic."
Bonnie Anderson, outgoing President of the Episcopal Church's House of Deputies, spoke to this theme in her introductory address to the Convention, painting a grim picture of division and budgetary decline.
"Let's be honest," stated Anderson, "We in the Episcopal Church have been forced to get on the road toward the Promised Land. Some of us are happy about that, because being the institutional church of power and privilege, which we used to be, seemed a lot like being slaves in Egypt. Others of us were doing just fine in Egypt, and we'd be happier going back there. We're wandering in a wilderness of declining membership and budget reductions and we're pretty sure that we're going to die out here."
C001, which is one of several resolutions before the Convention on the structural reform of the church, captures the dissatisfaction of many of its members. The resolution blasts the top-heavy governing structures of the church, stating:
"The administrative and governance structures of The Episcopal Church have grown over the years so that they now comprise approximately 47% of the churchwide budget and sometimes hinder rather than further this Church's engagement in mission and allow it to more fully live into its identity as the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society in a world that has changed dramatically over the years but that also presents extraordinary missional opportunity."
Also, in what some see as a move against centralized power and authority in the under 700,000 worshipers-per-Sunday denomination, the House of Deputies voted to sell the Episcopal Church's center on New York's 2nd Avenue.
How the Episcopal Church will deal with its own rebels, episcopal, financial and structural, is yet to be decided. Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, at the close of her sermon, urged the members of her church to, "Boldly go where Jesus has gone before," and to take things into their own hands. "God has a better world in mind," she told the congregation, "You (must) make it happen."
The success of this call to action might well depend on whether Episcopalians take Jefferts Schori's advice to follow her understanding of Christ to heart.
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