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COLUMBUS, OH: Stunned Conservatives See Clear Message in New P.B.'s Election

COLUMBUS, OH: Stunned Conservatives See Clear Message in New P.B.'s Election

By Auburn Traycik
VirtueOnline correspondent

If liberals were surprised by Nevada Bishop Katharine Jefforts Schori's election today as the Episcopal Church's new presiding bishop, most conservatives seemed stunned by it, with some viewing it as a virtual double-hit against the church's efforts to demonstrate its sensitivity to the wider Anglican Communion.

Fort Worth Bishop Jack Iker saw the unexpected election both as a continuation of the pro-gay policies of Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold that have caused so much diminishment of the Episcopal Church's relationship with other Anglican provinces, and as the creation of a further complication.

"The fact that [Jefforts Schori's] ordination as a bishop is not recognized or accepted by a large portion of the Communion introduces an additional element of division and impairment," Iker said. "When she becomes the first female primate...of the Communion, it remains to be seen...how she will be regarded by the other 37 primates, the vast majority of whom come from provinces where women cannot be elected as bishops."

"I think this election provides the clarity that had been lacking," and suggests that the still-developing response of the Episcopal Church (TEC) to the Windsor Report will do likewise, said Dallas Bishop James Stanton.

In light of TEC's strained relationship with the Communion, "I would have thought the church would demonstrate more restraint," one conservative journalist said.

"I wonder if the newly confirmed bishops-to-be realize that they will not be recognized in all except two other provinces, if the new presiding bishop - a woman - consecrates them," said a member of the Church of England's General Synod.

The rector of ECUSA's largest congregation, the Rev. David Roseberry of Christ Church, Plano, Texas, expressed "shock" over Jefforts Schori's election. "It is a clear indication of where ECUSA is and where it wants to go," he said. She has a lot of challenges if she wants to lead ECUSA back into a steady relationship with the Anglican Communion, he said. "I don't feel I can prejudge her agenda," but she will face "a very rocky road."

Speaking at a press conference conducted by the American Anglican Council, the Rev. Martyn Minns of Truro Church, Fairfax, Virginia said he was "grateful for the clarity that this vote demonstrates. But I'm sad, because it seems that Bishop Schori is against everything that Windsor is for. She voted for Gene Robinson and supports same-sex blessings. She will bring into sharp relief the difference between being an Episcopalian and being an Anglican. It is not clear how she can do anything other than lead the Episcopal Church in walking apart from the rest of the Communion. She has my prayers."

The message in the choice for presiding bishop is "business as usual," said AAC President, Canon David Anderson. Unless Jefforts Schori changes her position, she seems destined to keep ECUSA on a trajectory that leads out of the Anglican Communion's "orbit."

She is "pro the agenda" of TEC, was a part of the Special Commission that produced an inadequate response to the Windsor Report, and is "clearly committed to a new consensus in the Anglican Communion," he said. She will create difficulty with those Anglican leaders "who have a problem with women bishops and even women priests." She is the "least experienced" of the seven candidates for presiding bishop, has never been a parish rector, and her diocese is one of the smaller ones in TEC. Anderson said he wished Jefforts Schori well and promised prayers for her, but saw "a turmoil-filled time ahead of us in the...Communion."

Asked what role AAC would play now, Anderson said the AAC would continue to have three areas of ongoing ministry: to those who remain in TEC for the time being, to those Episcopal congregations leaving, and seeking other episcopal oversight, and to those who have already left TEC. Meanwhile, he predicted that one or more groups of Anglican primates would begin consulting on the totality of the General Convention's response to the wider Communion, including its choice of presiding bishop, in advance of the scheduled Primates' Meeting next February.

Asked what the presiding bishop-elect could do to help ease tensions with conservatives, Anderson said she could help make it easier for clergy to be lawfully transferred to another part of the Communion and permit them continued participation in the Pension Fund, and talk about how congregations could reaffiliate with an overseas province.

In remarks to VOL and/or at the AAC press conference, the Rev. Kendall Harmon, canon theologian of the Diocese of South Carolina, said that if Jefforts Schori backs the Windsor Report, she might thereby bring U.S. bishops in line. "Our concern is about her theology, and not her person" and "I'm willing to give her a chance," he said. But unless the backtracks on it, her past record "makes a strong response to the Windsor Report less likely."

He noted that days before Anglican primates gathered in October 2003 to address the tear in the Communion caused by last General Convention's pro-homosexual decisions, her diocese voted to allow her to approve "celebration" ceremonies for same-sex couples. He said that, among presiding bishop candidates, she is the only one whose diocese has officially approved such ceremonies, and the one most committed to TEC's "new theology."

Her selection will cause a great rift, unless she behaves differently than in the past. What's more, her election presents an additional difficulty for provinces that do not ordain women, is insensitive to those in ECUSA who are opposed, and will drive a further wedge between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, he said.

Aside from the theological issues involved, one reporter asked, what is having a female primate mean to the Anglican Communion?

Harmon said that just three of 38 Anglican provinces have women bishops (Canada, the U.S. and New Zealand, though that province's one female prelate has retired).

"We've thrown women primates into the mix" of provincial leaders, he said. He suspected that the choice of Jefforts Schori will be seen in some foreign provinces as an example of American "arrogance," "unilateralism" and insensitivity toward some ecumenical partners.

Asked who the AAC would have chosen as presiding bishop, Harmon said someone with a demonstrated record of church growth; none of the candidates had such a record, he said. Jefforts Schori is in "a booming state" but her diocese is not growing," he noted.

Though Schori's election was unexpected, Bishop Iker said that: "In one sense, we should not be surprised, at all," for TEC "takes pride in being first with every new innovation: women priests and bishops, the blessing of same-sex unions, the election of the first gay bishop in 2003, and now the selection of the first female primate in 2006. One wonders what might be next."


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