Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Letters from the bishops of Virginia

Our three bishops have each written a letter discussing General Convention, and this just came across in my email. I am reprinting each. Sorry for the length but each is worth reading...
July 22, 2009

A Letter from Bishop Lee Dear Friends,

The most lasting impact of the 76th General Convention is likely to be an increase of initiative and energy in local congregations and dioceses. The sharp budget cuts in the three-year budget of the
 General Church will have a painful impact on some faithful staff members, but will shift the focus for mission to the local church, rather than the local church waiting for initiatives from the General Church.
The emphasis on local ministry is a proper expression of the principle of subsidiarity, whereby mission should occur at the level closest to the people who are called to engage in that mission.

Local mission is also enhanced by resolutions which the secular press has incorrectly interpreted as necessarily damaging our worldwide relationship and as following the agenda of a gay and lesbian lobby. Instead, what the Convention did is to reaffirm that the ordination process is under the control of local bishops and dioceses, while stressing that access to that process is open to all baptized persons.
The Convention also invited local churches and dioceses (as well as churches elsewhere in the Communion) to collect liturgical and theological resources regarding same-gender blessings. Recognizing the unique pastoral needs of those dioceses in jurisdictions where same-gender marriage or civil partnerships are
 legal, the Convention affirmed that a generous pastoral response is needed.

The emphasis on the local did not deter the Convention from adopting both a denominational health plan for the whole Church and a mandatory lay employee pension plan, both of which, in the long run, will strengthen the local church.

Faithfully yours,
The Rt. Rev. Peter James Lee

A Letter from Bishop Johnston
Dear Diocesan Family,
With the conclusion of General Convention, the beginning of my time as your diocesan bishop fast approaches. Having just returned to the Diocese from the Convention, I want to express to you my thoughts on the two resolutions from the Convention which are garnering the most attention in the media. The first speaks to the current state of our Church's relationship to the Anglican Communion (D025) and the second addresses same-gender unions (C056 substitute).

Resolution D025 strongly affirms not only the Episcopal Church's commitment to its relationship with the Anglican Communion but also our Church's appreciation and support of the roles that gay and lesbian people have in the ministry of our Church-including all levels of ordination. This resolution passed with a 2-1 majority. I voted against it. As I said during the floor debate, I absolutely agree with every word of the resolution itself. Even so, I was convinced that the actual effect of D025 across the Anglican world would be to weaken the bonds of our worldwide Church and, more importantly, to compromise our international mission and ministry in the very places that need us so very badly--and we so need them. The problem for me with D025 was how it would be seen in its implications rather than being understood for what it actually says. Such is the nature of legislative reality, and this is the very reason why I do not believe the legislative process is the best process to address these issues. Still, I have great
 hopes that the Communion will recognize the resolution as it stands--a statement of where we really are as a Church at this time, all the while hoping to build upon and strengthen our ties with the larger Communion.

Resolution C056 calls for gathering theological and liturgical resources with respect to offering the Church's blessing for same-gender unions, which will be brought to the next General Convention in 2012 for study and consideration. The fact is that several states have legalized gay and lesbian unions, and others will likely follow suit. This resolution responds to that reality. It also allows bishops the exercise of personal discretion in providing for a "generous pastoral response" for gay and lesbian persons in the Church. I voted in favor of this resolution because I am convinced that it is both realistic and right. Monogamous same-gender unions are now a reality, and we should provide for the Church's response, with blessing or without. The resolution allows for either. Bishops must also have the ability to respond to what is actually true in all the various locales and contexts in which this Church ministers. It is important to remember, however, that no official rites of blessing that wholly sanction same-
gender unions have been approved for the Church. In fact, it would take years to develop such rites.

It is not so much the actual content of these two resolutions that may be problematic. The potential for difficulty follows from interpretation of the resolutions. The plain reality is that very little is actually changed by either one of the resolutions in themselves. Both statements address what is already true in the life and witness of the Episcopal Church. The Convention is overwhelmingly of the mind that the Episcopal Church will be the stronger for the realistic and clear perspective of these resolutions.

Just how that will be so is now put to each diocese. Together, you and I will explore what these resolutions mean more precisely for the Diocese of Virginia. I look forward to the way ahead, and I welcome your input. Most importantly, I treasure your company in the worship of our Lord Jesus Christ. I remain,

Faithfully yours,

The Rt. Rev. Shannon S. Johnston
Bishop Coadjutor
A Letter from Bishop Jones
Dear Friends,

It might appear that the Episcopal Church has radically changed course with various interpretations of General Convention actions. I do not think so.From my perspective, the Episcopal Church has remained on the same course it has followed for at least 40 years - one that has "stretched every nerve" as we have sought to live into the Baptismal Covenant.

What has not changed is a significant commitment to making the Church a safe place for all people all of the time. A major shift in our disciplinary canons (Title IV) was adopted by a voice vote in the House of Bishops with little or no debate. This new canon significantly raises the bar of conduct expected of clergy.

What has not changed is a genuine desire to live into the meaning of our baptism. Throughout my ministry in the Episcopal Church, I have seen the Church push the edges at Convention regarding who is to be included. The General Convention of 1970 opened reception of Holy Communion to all baptized persons. In 1973, a significant change in the marriage canon made possible, with the bishop's permission, the remarriage of divorced persons. In 1976, we approved the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopate and then in 1979, we adopted a new Book of Common Prayer with the Baptismal Covenant. Through all this time, we have addressed issues of racism and encouraged racism training. And from the 1970s until the present day, we have been hearing the call of our own members who are gay and lesbian to recognize committed relationships and to fully include them in the life of the Church.

What has not changed is a passion for mission. In fact, our world view has significantly expanded over these 40 years. Our eyes have been opened to human need at home and abroad and our congregations have responded in significant ways. Convention approved a strategic plan for Latino/Hispanic ministry that focuses on opportunities for mission in changing neighborhoods with declining populations. The Millennium Development Goals were emphasized as goals for mission. And the presence of primates from around the Communion reminded us of our worldwide connections. The mission of Christ was at the heart of Convention.

Another aspect of Convention that was central to who we are as a Church was the gracious and generous concern I witnessed during a conversation with fellow bishops to discuss C056, which initially called for the development of liturgies for the blessing of same gender unions to be included in the Book of Occasional Services. The House of Bishops postponed consideration of that resolution to allow for a period of voluntary conversation, in which I participated. Twenty-seven bishops, including myself, gathered using the Indaba process of discussion and sharing learned at Lambeth. Together, we drafted a substitute resolution that could enjoy broad acceptance. I participated in the writing group. The substitute did not call for rites to be presented for approval or for use. It did request the collection and development of liturgical resources.

In the House of Bishops discussion on the substitute, we recognized constitutional problems with approval of liturgical rites of blessing. The rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer have the force of the Constitution of the Episcopal Church and they clearly say that marriage is intended for a man and a woman. We did not reject B033 (2006 Convention) which called for restraint in the confirmation as bishops of individuals whose manner of life would be problematic to the wider Church.

In light of all this, have we changed or are we trying to be faithful to a changing landscape in a rapidly changing world? Having fully participated in this process, I sense that we are striving to be faithful.


The Rt. Rev. David C. Jones
Bishop Suffragan


Anonymous said...

It seems as though this statement from Bp. Johnston expresses quite a bit caution, process, and deliberation before embarking upon the practice of same sex blessings than he intimated to you at General Convention. It sounds prudent, but perhaps he was caught up in the fever of the moment there in Anaheim.

The Rev. James Richardson said...

Bishop Johnston is definitely process oriented, and I don't think that inconsistent with what he said to me at General Convention. This will take deliberation and work by all of us.

Janice Dean said...

These three letters, to me, seem to reach out to those in the church who are *already* included. This bothers me. Christ didn't go straight to powerful men like the Pharisees offering them healing and comfort; rather, he went to the poor, the widowed, the orphaned, the marginalized, and the powerless. Are the bishops of our church 'striving to be faithful,' or are they just trying to save the institution as they know it? I am not sure of the answer, but I would be lying if I said these three letters made me happy or proud to be a member of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia.