Bishop Ohl's Reflections on General Convention, 2006
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As we departed Lubbock for Columbus, Ohio some three weeks ago, I was concerned about our Church and our diocese and how we all would be able to live together. The cries of doom and gloom have been echoing around us for several months, some individuals, I fear, desiring the collapse of the Episcopal Church. As we arrived in Columbus and visited with Deputies and Bishops, the excitement I had known at previous pre-convention gatherings was strangely muted. We all seemed to be cautious and careful about the future of our beloved Church. Wandering through the Exhibit Hall did spark some of the old excitement, but only some.

Convention at its least contentious time is an intense legislative process of 9 or 10 days, filled with committee meetings, parliamentary wrangling, long days, and even longer evenings. There are social gatherings at breakfast, at lunch time and in the evenings for almost any group one might want to associate with, hearings on upcoming resolutions, presentations by official and unofficial groups, and a plethora of opportunities to meet new friends and greet old companions. Each morning Holy Communion is celebrated for all, with small group Bible study as a part of the sermon time. In addition, in both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops there is ample opportunity for corporate and private prayer. Intentionally, Convention is an opportunity to seek the face of Christ and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes we succeed and sometimes we fail, but that is what we humans do.

News reporting at this Convention centered around two events and lost much of the significant work that was done in a number of other areas. The election of the new Presiding Bishop had been touted as a water-shed moment, regardless of whom the House of Bishops selected. In fact it was water-shed in some ways that no one could have predicted even three weeks ago. Of the seven candidates on the slate, I did not expect Bishop Jefferts Schori to be a contender. I had predicted that Bishop Alexander of Atlanta and Bishop Parsley of Alabama would be the top two vote attracters. Once again I find that my predicting abilities were faulty. (I have never claimed the spiritual gift of prophesy as future telling.) Bishop Katharine led from the first ballot and succeeded in attaining a majority on the fifth ballot.

Some of you will remember Bishop Jefferts Schori from our diocesan convention in October 2005 when she preached and addressed us on the need for and the development of ministering communities. Her sermon and address are on our website nwt.org.

I have known and worked with Bishop Jefferts Schori for several years, as we are both part of a group of bishops focusing on ministry in small communities called the Tiny Bishops. I find her to be a woman of faith who holds her convictions deeply but does not run rough shod over others’ convictions. She is one who draws people together to work toward consensus. I pray that you will put aside judging her for a time. Remember that on occasion, those elevated to a higher calling grow in their vocation. I need only cite St. Thomas a Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, or his contemporary counterpart Archbishop Rowan Williams, to name but two.

The other, and I believe more pressing issue, which we had to face was the response of The Episcopal Church to the Windsor Report (called the WR.) The WR is a 65 page document called for by Archbishop Williams and crafted by bishops, clergy and laity from around the Anglican Communion.

Among the most immediate issues were calls for a statement of regret for our actions in 2003 in approving and consecrating Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop of New Hampshire. We were also challenged to put into effect a moratorium on consecrating as bishop any partnered gay priest and a moratorium on approving blessing of homosexual unions.

For the past year a Special Commission composed of bishops, clergy and laity from our Church worked to compose resolutions for General Convention responding to the WR. As soon as we received copies of these resolutions, we all knew that they would need some refining through the legislative process. My prayer was they would not be so watered down as to be meaningless. Eleven resolutions came forward and with some minor changes ten were accepted. In those ten we apologized for not consulting with our brothers and sisters around the Communion, expressed our deep desire to remain part of the Anglican Communion, expressed a desire to be a part of the developing Communion covenant process, and concurred with Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight as a way forward for some congregations within their dioceses, as well as approving the MDG’s (Millennium Development Goals.)

Although we did not deal with a resolution on a moratorium on blessing gay unions, we did not advance any resolution calling for the Episcopal Church to prepare such rites for official use. I am disappointed that we did not make a positive statement, but I am pleased that we did not try to push public same-sex blessings rites forward.

 

 

 

The last and most contentious resolution, dealing with an effective moratorium on consecrating as bishop anyone in a partnered relationship was dealt a difficult blow in the House of Deputies. On Tuesday night, the next to the last day of Convention, I felt as if we all had been assaulted. It was a very bleak evening, as Sheila and our granddaughter Taylor will testify. I spent most of the night in prayer for this beloved Church of ours. As Fr Jim Liggett said in his sermon this past Sunday, the Church (ours and the historic Church) has been in storms before and we have been fearful, worrying that Jesus is asleep in the stern of the boat. But He always surprises us with his presence.

On Wednesday morning, Presiding Bishop Griswold called both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops together in a Special Joint Session to receive a new resolution as a response to WR’s request. Entitled B033, this resolution says, "Resolved: The House of Deputies concurring, that the 75th General Convention receive and embrace the Windsor Report’s invitation to engage in a process of healing and reconciliation; and be it further Resolved that this Convention therefore call upon Standing Committees and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.

There was heated discussion and an attempt to amend this resolution in the House of Bishops, but the amendment was withdrawn. The resolution passed the bishops by what appeared to be a substantial majority. It was sent to the House of Deputies who also debated the issue and ultimately passed it in a vote by orders with 75% prevailing. For many of us it is not as strong as it might be since the word moratorium is not used. However, the words "exercise restraint by not consenting to…" mean in fact a moratorium.

The deputation of Northwest Texas was unanimous in their voting on the WR resolutions that passed. We all want The Episcopal Church and Northwest Texas to be a part of the Anglican Communion. There will always be nay-sayers who will descry anything we do or say. It is our bounden duty to continue forward, proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ Jesus in word and deed.

Following lunch each day the House of Bishops entered into executive session in order to have private discussions as needed. On Wednesday, following the approval of B033, a number of bishops from the more conservative side and a group of the more liberal bishops spoke about disassociating from the actions we had taken in the morning, albeit for different reasons. My relief at our passing B033 was tempered by what I sensed to be a "me first" attitude of both ends of the spectrum. I was deeply disappointed but not surprised.

Just this week, Archbishop Williams has issued a statement about the Anglican Communion and the development of a covenant. He expresses the understanding that this is not a "quick fix" to our current controversy but a lengthy process of development. Some critics are quick to jump to the conclusion that The Episcopal Church is being "kicked out" of the Anglican Communion or "reduced" in status to that of observer. This is simply not what the Archbishop of Canterbury is saying. Yesterday, Presiding Bishop Griswold said in an interview on NPR, "I am greatly encouraged by the Archbishop of Canterbury’s timely call to the provinces of the Anglican Communion to join together in exploring our Anglican identity….The conclusion of this long-term process is now unknown. Therefore it is misleading that some, in responding to the Archbishop’s lengthy theological reflection, have focused their attention on speculations about a yet-to-be determined outcome."

I left General Convention, exhausted, but again hopeful for the Church. We have expressed a desire to remain within the Anglican Communion and to work together to rebuild trust. Although some are again speaking of leaving The Episcopal Church, I pray that we will be able to work together for reconciliation. Our General Convention dealt with helping to reduce and remove extreme poverty through the Millennium Development Goals, about which you will hear more as we lead up to our diocesan convention. We also amended our Canons (laws) to specify more clearly the path to ordination to deacon, priest and bishop and the duties and responsibilities of each of these orders. We chose to refer for further work our disciplinary canons, possibly removing or restricting laity from accountability under our canons. None of this was note worthy enough to make the news, but it was work done for you by our deputies and bishops.

Fortunately I accepted an invitation to attend the 134th Niobrara Convocation in the Diocese of South Dakota, the annual gathering of Dakota and Lakota people (commonly called the Sioux.) The time with our brothers and sisters, some of whom are among the poorest of the poor in our country, was refreshing and healing. With Bishop Creighton Robertson, I participated in Confirmations and Holy Eucharist. We were fed sumptuously in body and spirit. The generosity of the Indian people is always humbling for me. I took your greetings and your love as we prayed, sang hymns in Lakota, ate too much, and rejoiced in the joy of people delighted just to be with one another.

I am pleased now to be back in Northwest Texas. We have work to do as members of the Body of Christ. I have been saying for almost nine years that almost 65% of the people who live within our diocese are not regular members of any congregation. As Jesus says "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; pray therefore the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into the harvest." (Matthew 9 37-38) And that is you and me brothers and sisters. We have work to do right here in the Diocese of Northwest Texas in The Episcopal Church in every one of our congregations, missions and parishes. May we work together to bring Good News to this broken and hurting world.

In Christ,

Wallis Ohl

June 29, 2006

 

For the responses of a few other bishops, click here.


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Last Updated: July 19, 2006