Two Reflections by our Bishop
General Convention, 2009
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The 76th meeting of the General Convention has come to a close. As you know, this is my first trip to General Convention as your bishop, which I count a great privilege.
I cannot overstate the high level of care exercised within the House of Bishops at this convention: the deep listening, the self-offering, the respect, the affection, and the bond. Bishops came together from the different theological and cultural perspectives which are characteristic of our tradition, seeking to discern God’s will.
The General Convention experience is more than legislation. It’s a family reunion – gathering with long time friends. It’s enjoying time with the deputies, volunteers, and ECW representatives of one’s own diocese, and hearing one another’s stories. It’s celebrating rich and creative worship with thousands of Episcopalians. It’s strolling through the Exhibit Hall and seeing the variety of expressions of our tradition. It’s enduring the daily grind of long hours and hard work.
Having said that, significant legislation was passed at this convention, including:
Of course, the legislation most reported in the media concerns the two resolutions regarding human sexuality. Unfortunately, the headlines misrepresented what actually happened. It is my understanding – an understanding shared by our Presiding Bishop and most bishops – that the convention did nothing which goes beyond what is currently provided in our Constitution and Canons. We did not lift the moratoria adopted at the previous convention. We did not authorize the blessing of same-sex unions. The convention did craft resolutions which describe where we are. I will write more specifically about this in another article.
In the meantime, I return from this meeting of the 76th General Convention as hopeful as ever, and as grateful as ever to serve God in and through this beautiful tradition – especially in Northwest Texas – in the Name of the Holy Trinity, one God, in Whom we live and move and have our being.
With affection and gratitude,
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One week before my consecration to the episcopate I was invited to the March meeting of the House of Bishops at Kanuga in North Carolina. At this meeting we were privileged to hear from arguably the most important Old Testament scholar of our time – Walter Brueggemann. Brueggemann possesses perhaps the most prophetic voice on the American religious scene of the past two decades; always preaching truth to power; always challenging "the empire." He has a commanding voice and an equally commanding presence – imagine George C. Scott in the pulpit.
This current day prophet lead us through two Old Testament stories to demonstrate (surprisingly, considering the speaker) that there is a time in life for the prophet, and there is a time for the scribe. And he suggested that for the Episcopal Church it was time for the scribe. In other words, it is time to do theological work, rather than prophetic work; time, as he said, "to quit being prophetic at each other." He even went so far as to suggest that it was "time to turn the volume down." This "pedal to the metal" prophet – who, incidentally, does believe in full inclusion – suggested that it was time to "ease off the gas."
Even before the meeting at Kanuga, a number of bishops told of their experience at Lambeth, and how they learned at an even deeper level the importance and value of the Anglican Communion. Relationships between bishops from all over the globe were strengthened at Lambeth, and sentiment was growing that caution should be exercised at the meeting of General Convention in Anaheim.
So, given the Lambeth experience and Brueggemann’s remarks, I came away from Kanuga expecting that this General Convention would exercise restraint in crafting resolutions regarding human sexuality.
And despite what the headlines say, I believe we did exercise restraint. A careful reading of the two resolutions shows that nothing was passed that was not in place already. As our Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies write together: "Nothing in the Resolution goes beyond what has already been provided under the Constitution and Canons for many years." Nothing repeals the moratoria of the previous General Convention.
For the record, I voted for one resolution and against the other. It was my preference (and my vote) to discharge both, as I was concerned that these resolutions would cause confusion – which they have. Undoubtedly, dioceses will interpret these resolutions differently. Admittedly, the resolutions appear to take steps. Having said that, I am confident of the intent of the House of Bishops to craft compassionate resolutions which serve to describe our current reality.
These are challenging times for the Episcopal Church. As one resolution acknowledges, we "are not of one mind, and Christians of good conscience disagree about some of these matters." I believe, along with Walter Brueggemann, that it is time for the scribe. I am hopeful that these resolutions provide space for such theological work. And, I remain proud to be part of a tradition which engages the difficult ethical challenges of our day with compassion and transparency.
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Last Updated: July 28, 2009