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A series of essays toward General Convention 2003 and beyond

A Way Opening: Reflections for the Diocese of Tennessee

A Way Opening: Reflections for the Diocese of Tennessee

By The Reverend Lisa Hunt, Rector
St. Ann's Episcopal Church, Nashville, TN
St. Martin's Day, November 11, 2003

After General Convention a group of clergy from the Diocese of Tennessee, including those serving Christ Church Cathedral, the churches of Saints Ann, David, George, James, Luke, Mark, Paul, Timothy, Holy Trinity, Otey Memorial, Trinity, the Southeastern Tennessee Episcopal Ministry and several non-parochial clergy, met with Bishop Herlong. This group of clergy was not a formal organization; it had no elected leadership or national network. We were simply clergy of the Diocese of Tennessee meeting with our chief priest and pastor to discuss the state of our church and the need for leadership and grace in this turbulent season in our common life. I address you today, not as an officer or a spokesperson for an organization with an agenda. Rather, my comments are my own, with the input from some of my colleagues. My hope is that today in this formal setting, we may begin the work of reconciliation within our Diocese, having voiced our concerns.

The Diocese of Tennessee is faced with an opportunity, another word for crisis, in the aftermath of our General Convention and the ordination of The Right Reverend Gene Robinson. We have the opportunity to witness to the radical love of God by maintaining our oneness in the face of deep divisions, trusting that with time, healing and reconciliation will come through our efforts and through grace. On the other hand, we also have the opportunity to live out the ethics of the culture around us by demonizing and dehumanizing one another, playing power politics, and seeking to win through financial means what we fail to achieve through prayer and persuasion.

We may covenant with one another today to work toward a common life together. However, I believe that we can only move forward by recognizing our mutual need for repentance and amendment of life. Events and actions have occurred which must be acknowledged, in order for us truly to move into the future in concert with one another.

  1. We are the Episcopal Church. We are accountable to each other through our constitution, canons, and common prayer life. Decisions reached at the General Convention followed the order and discipline of our Church. We are not Congregationalists; every communicant of a local congregation does not get to vote on decisions of ordination or the stewardship of financial resources. These ministries are delegated within our polity to duly elected persons of all orders of ministry. Bishops are bound by canons; priests are accountable to ordinaries; dioceses are accountable to this province of the Anglican Communion. If congregations or clergy choose to abandon the Episcopal Church, they are no longer part of the Diocese of Tennessee, nor are they the responsibility of our bishop. They will have chosen to leave the Church.

  2. To me threatening to withhold money from the diocese or the national church reflects unbiblical values; such actions are grounded in a faulty theology of stewardship and are a symptom of powerlessness and marginality, not strength. How can Scripture justify such behavior? While I can certainly empathize with feelings of being on the outside and being ignored, since my opinions have often been in the minority over the past decade, I cannot endorse policies or canonical changes that would allow us to seek to gain sway over one another through the power of the purse. The proposed policy of the Bishop & Council and the subsequent plan to author canonical changes to permit designated giving, deny our responsibility to one another, even when we disagree vehemently. Over the course of 16 years in the Diocese of Tennessee, I have never known our parishes to use extortion as a tool to win hearts and minds; we must not allow such behavior now. We have all contributed to the mission of the Episcopal Church through our financial gifts to the Diocese of Tennessee and I expect us all to continue to do so.

  3. The mission of our diocese calls us to "restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." I think that our bishop, as our leader, must be at the forefront of embodying this ministry. I commend Bishop Herlong for extending his pastoral sensitivity to those who have theological disagreements with the elevation of a gay man as bishop. I understand he has sought to serve these Episcopalians by signing statements, for example the Truro statement and the objection to Gene Robinson's consecration; by participating in a prayer vigil which sought to object to Bishop Robinson's ordination; by attending the American Anglican Council meeting as a participant, not as an observer; and by using our diocesan newspaper, The Cross and Crozier, to cover the Dallas meeting. I trust that in his wisdom he will now begin to minister also to the needs of those who supported the decision taken at the General Convention. As the symbolic incarnation of the Church's unity, I expect that he will ensure that all groups of the baptized will be served. I trust that The Cross and Crozier will commence an editorial balance, presenting attitudes and events of the whole church. I expect that commissions and committees will be chosen based on the gifts of persons, not on theological litmus tests. I pray that at our next diocesan convention he will model listening to all God's people in a spirit of reconciliation, leading us to do likewise. I hope that he will continue to call his clergy to be one, refusing to meet with separate groups of us, but will hold us accountable to each other as he has today.

  4. The media have portrayed the conflict within our diocese as deep and broad. We, together, have not acted sufficiently to calm the waters and to reduce the anxiety within our congregations. Clergy and lay leadership have used inflammatory language in the various media to heighten division, rather than to build community. Our diocesan office has failed to communicate a message of hope and reconciliation. I invite us all to speak words that build up and do not destroy.

  5. I am aware of legal measures that are being taken throughout the Episcopal Church to lay the foundation of "realignment." My understanding of stewardship holds us accountable for keeping in trust the assets of the Diocese of Tennessee for future generations of Episcopalians.

  6. The Lambeth Conference in 1998 called on the whole church to study the issues surrounding homosexuality. This diocese has yet to begin that process. I, and my parish, would welcome the opportunity to engage in this ministry and to move forward.

In order for us to thrive as a diocese, we must not view one another as enemies. We will be electing a new bishop in two years and we must be able to reach a 2/3 majority to elect our next spiritual leader. I commit to investing the time required to weave the relational fabric of our diocese so that true reconciliation and unity may be created. This process will not be accomplished by edict, canonical changes, or lawsuits. Reconciliation may only be borne of forgiveness, love, and repentance. I commit to working out our salvation together in fear and trembling.

You are welcome to submit your essays for consideration for this series. Send them to Identify yourself by name, snail address, parish, and other connections to the Episcopal Church. Please encourage others to do the same.


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