(To be read or distributed at all services on July 16th or July 23, 2006)
I write to you to share my reflections on the recently concluded 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. A brief but similar article will appear in the next issue of the Cross & Crozier, our diocesan newspaper.
Let me first note that your Tennessee Deputation to the convention worked hard and did an excellent job. Then let me turn to the two major issues that confronted the Convention: The election of the next Presiding Bishop and the Response of the Episcopal Church to the Windsor Report.
In the election of the Presiding Bishop, The Right Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop of Nevada led from the beginning of the voting and was elected on the 5th ballot. Her nine-year term of office begins November 1st. While this was a significant event in the recognition of the ministry and leadership of women in the church, it raises significant questions about the acceptance of Bishop Jefferts Schori by the Primates of the Anglican Communion in other parts of the world, two-thirds of whom do not accept the ordination of women. Other serious questions may arise because Bishop Jefferts Schori has authorized the blessing of same-sex unions in Nevada and she voted to confirm the election of the Bishop of New Hampshire, a homosexual man living in a non-celibate relationship with another man.
Bishop Jefferts Schori has promised to be fair in her treatment of all points of view and to provide a place for differing opinions. We should not make premature judgements about what will happen, but should wait and see how her performance affects the program and direction of the National Church. Bishop Jefferts Schori is our Presiding Bishop and we must respect the office even if we do not agree with the performance of the individual who holds that office.
Regarding the response to the Windsor Report, I was among several bishops who signed a statement of disassociation from the actions of the General Convention on this issue. In my opinion, the responses were an attempt to make it look like something was being done without really doing anything. (A copy of the Bishops’ Statement is available from the Diocesan Office.) The 173rd Annual Convention of the Diocese of Tennessee officially adopted the Windsor Report and I have acted in support of the actions of our convention. My aim has been to accept and submit to the requests of the Windsor Report and to do everything possible to keep the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion. The resolutions of the General Convention fall far short of compliance with the Windsor Report by not expressing repentance for the action of the 74th General Convention, by not declaring a moratorium on the blessing of same-sex unions and the election and consecration of bishops living in sexual relationships outside of the traditional marriage of one man and one woman.
Interestingly, a group of liberal bishops also registered a minority report because they thought the Windsor Resolution B033 went too far and was unfair to gay and lesbian persons. The press has reported that at lease one of those bishops said publicly that he would not abide by the resolution.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has written what I believe is a very insightful response to the General Convention’s actions on the Windsor Report. (available at: www.archbishopofcanterbury.org) I encourage you to read this important document. In it, the Archbishop proposes that a covenant agreement between the Provincial Churches of the Anglican Communion is a possible way forward. This would allow the various national churches of the Communion to “sign-on” as “constituent” members of the Communion. Those who do not agree with the covenant could relate to the communion as “associate” members.
The Archbishop wrote, “Those churches that were prepared to take this on as an expression of their responsibility to each other would limit their local freedoms for the sake of a wider witness: some might not be willing to do this. We could arrive at a situation where there were ‘constituent’ Churches in the Anglican Communion and other ‘churches in association’, which were bound by historic and perhaps personal links, fed from many of the same sources but not bound in a single and unrestricted sacramental communion and not sharing the same constitutional structures.”
One of the resolutions of the General Convention (A166) committed the Episcopal Church to the Covenant process requested by the Windsor Report. My prayer is that the Episcopal Church will participate in this process and be able to remain in the Anglican Communion although the poor response of the General Convention seems to indicate that in spite of the rhetoric of convention resolutions, a majority of the Deputies and Bishops are willing to “walk apart.”
All of the questions raised by actions and lack of action by the General Convention will be answered in time, but do not expect immediate responses or solutions. As I have said many times, it took us a long time to get where we are and it is going to take a long time to work out ultimate solutions.
In the meantime, we must not let the problems we face in our National Church divert us from our mission. We are still the Episcopal Church in Middle Tennessee. Again, I am calling for faithfulness and continued commitment to our mission and ministry of bringing the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ to those who do not know him, giving pastoral care to our people, caring for the young and the aged and infirm, teaching the faith and reaching out in love and service to those in need. The resolutions of the General Convention are temporal; the salvation of souls is eternal.
Now is the time of us to stick together to work on our own differences and unite in electing a strong leader, a faithful pastor and a godly priest to be the 11th Bishop of Tennessee. Remember, God is still in charge, Jesus is still Lord and the work of the Holy Spirit is ongoing in our common life. May God strengthen and sustain us in the days ahead.
The Right Reverend Bertram Nelson Herlong, D.D.
Bishop of Tennessee