Bishop of El Camino Real
The Bishop's Friday Letter . . .
March 12, 1999
I am back from the annual winter meeting of the House of Bishops, this time held in a different venue: Camp Allen in the Diocese of Texas near Houston; a better venue than Kanuga and wonderfully hosted by Bishop Payne who is regarded first among us in his unflinching commitment to mission in the Church. I went to Houston late because of the Memorial Service in Spokane for Bishop Terry.
Jeff Terry's Memorial Service in his jam-packed cathedral was sad beyond words. Eight years a bishop, Jeff never, really, got to be bishop. After six years waiting he finally got his transplanted heart and never recovered. Bishop Browning presided, along with Jeff's two living predecessors, and comforted, by his massive pastoral presence, the Diocese and the eight of us bishops, all of us consecrated by Ed. Poor Spokane: an ocean of grief, tabled dreams, anger and regret to overcome; a major piece of work ahead before welcoming a new bishop. At the end, I could hardly wait to get to Houston. In Paul's words, I longed for the company of the bishops in Houston.
Much of Houston was reporting on things going on in the Church. Lots of good things in motion for five years bearing fruit. The Church Press will bring news of all of that to you; I will use this space (as I always try to do) to speak of tone and subtext from my point of view, the sort of stuff that isn't "news" and which is, again, my take on things.
The mood in Houston was light, if rather subdued, and friendly. The House seems younger; two, now, of the bishops were fieldwork students of mine. Our Presiding Bishop favors conversation over confrontation, though his style with the House is to lecture, thoughtfully didactic.
The Conference reflected the growing mood in the Church to avoid confrontational posture, especially legislative posture. I was a little shocked to hear even some of our women call for less General Convention legislation - even less General Conventions. The "legislative hot-button" is, of course, homosexuality but twenty years ago it was the ordination of women. I wondered if these women actually believe that, if in 1976 the Church had eschewed legislation, as now suggested, there would be any women in the House of Bishops today.
Justice is justice, be it women's place or the place of homosexual persons in the large room God has called Anglicans to uphold. I fear the House isn't clear enough about our call to the active life in Christ.
God does not intend us as a monastic community; we host monastic communities and the Church of leaven, salt and seed. The awful things going on in our prisons, the Matthew Shepherds and Billy Jack Gaithers who are being murdered, the curse of the nations growing support of organized gambling, the pitiful plight of farm workers. These things can't take second place to lying fallow. We have to tend to our spiritual needs while fighting the good fight; we are a public church by way of our establishment beginnings, a church with a mission responsibility to the whole society, growing tired each day doing good and influencing the nation for better in sermons, disputations, good works and otherwise speaking out.
I also wondered if anyone remembered that every bit of who and what the ecclesia is today is consequence of entering - danger notwithstanding - the legislative arena of the Holy Spirit (the great councils, abolition of slavery, ordination of women, etc. - even the Canon of the Holy Bible as we have it). I, too, feel the danger, but my prayer is that I and our deputies (I was astonished at how many of the bishops referred to deputies to General Convention as "delegates") won't enter too quickly the very apparent longing to lie fallow, hoping things will come around to wisdom and right consensus. As I read the bible, justice is propelled by the jarring rush-in-events of the Holy Spirit within the body politic of the People of God. The widow in her injustice knocks urgently upon the door and the Spirit will not quit until she has her just due! onfrontation, no, but courage in daring speech is called for in our corporate conversation and debate.
One final observation: I heard so many references to the bishops being the leadership of the Church. True, but only one half of this Church's leadership, and again and again the Presiding ishop was referred to as "our Primate", a decidedly hierarchical term for the only bishop in the Church (excepting suffragans) without jurisdiction. In thirty years I don't remember a time in this Church more tending toward hierarchy. It does not bode well, I think, to forget that the General Convention is the single magisterium in our most democratic polity. Probably the General Convention should meet more - not less - in this moment in the Church's on-going life of mutual ministry and leadership among the four orders, for the sake of her mission.
There was - praise God - lots of talk at Camp Allen about the mission of the Church, perhaps not just because we were in Claude Payne's diocese. As an historian, viewing the church from the Acts to the present, my deep conviction is that only through focus on mission can the Church's problems be contextualized and moved beyond. As always, I entered the Houston meeting mindful of you whom I am privileged to represent and serve.
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