Brothers and sisters in Christ, the 76th Convention of the Episcopal Church is drawing to a close. It has been a benchmark in our common life, the beginning of an exciting new stage in our mission. So many things were accomplished.
Among the most important were: The adoption of the Charter for Lifelong Christian Formation. This charter gives structure and encouragement for our efforts in the Frensdorff School. It marks the Christian life as one of ongoing learning and commits the church to being a learning community.
We endorsed parish partnerships with local schools. Nevada’s developing partnership with Communities in Schools puts us on this track already. It is not acceptable that only 44% of our Nevada children graduate from high school. We can do better.
Several bold steps were taken to strengthen evangelism. The most important for Nevada is a process for training and licensing lay evangelists. I hope every Nevada congregation will have a licensed lay evangelist soon and that they will form a dynamic network for sharing the gospel of Jesus with our neighbors.
We formed a Provincial Partnership with the Church in Brazil, set up a plan for shared mission projects with Anglican churches in the Americas, and strengthened the program of companion diocese relationships. Nevada presently does not have such a relationship but we are negotiating a partnership with the Diocese of Santiago in the Philippines. This is a more important way of being a Communion than formal mechanisms and institutional structures that do not have the human ties of diocese to diocese and parish to parish bonds.
We provided pensions for lay employees, reduced our health insurance costs, reformed the disciplinary process, and passed a budget against all odds.
We had some opportunities to depart from the traditional faith of the church. There were resolutions deleting the word “virgin” from descriptions of Mary in our prayers and authorizing alternative forms of the Baptismal Covenant. We did not do these things. The bishops and deputies were emphatically orthodox.
But none of this, or the many other important and constructive things we did at Convention, will capture the headlines. The journalists are exclusively interested in our actions dealing with the inclusion of partnered gay and lesbian couples in the life of the Church. We passed two such resolutions. I voted for both of them. Some of you may think we went too far. Others may think we did not go far enough. That is perfectly ok. As Episcopalians, we are free to hold different beliefs about issues of doctrine. I am not trying to convince you that we were right. But I do want you to know and to understand what we did and what we did not do.
Some people want to interpret the resolutions one way; some, another. There is some ambiguity that is open to interpretation. We are after all Anglicans and that’s how Anglicans talk. But there are reasonable limits on fair interpretation. I want to tell you how I see these resolutions. You may want them to be a great step forward. I do not want you to be disappointed if they do not live up to raised expectations. You may think they are the worst thing we’ve done ever. I do not want you to be more distressed than necessary. These are definitely resolutions intended to affirm and include gay and lesbian persons, but I do not believe they are as great a change as they appear in the newspapers, let alone the blogs. So let me tell you about these two resolutions.
The resolution pertaining to ordination begins with an extensive statement of our commitment to the Anglican Communion. That takes up at least half the resolution. It then says two more things: First, it acknowledges that God has in the past called partnered gay and lesbian persons into all of the orders of ministry, and that they have served us faithfully. Second, it acknowledges that God may call such persons in the future and we do our discernment of calls in accordance with the canons of our church.
How does this change things? With regard to the ministries of laity, priests, and deacons, not at all. The possible change would be about bishops. But just how much of a change is there for potential bishops? Less than the newspapers suggest. In 2006, the General Convention asked those involved in calling bishops to use “restraint” in consecrating bishops whose “manner of life” might be contrary to the values of other parts of the Anglican Communion. I am paraphrasing. “Manner of life” was understood to mean partnered gay bishops. The consecration of such persons was not banned. The 2006 Resolution was a call for restraint as part of the discernment.
Resolutions to repeal that restraint policy were considered and rejected before ever reaching the floor of Convention. The new resolution does not explicitly repeal the call for restraint. It merely says that we do our discernment process in accordance with our own canons, as we have always done. Gay and lesbian people were not excluded from the discernment process, even for the episcopacy, even after 2006. Some journalists have portrayed the situation as if gay and lesbian persons were excluded from the discernment process before and now the gates have been thrown open. For better or worse, the shift in this resolution is not so dramatic.
The second resolution on same sex relationships also says two things: The first part is purely pastoral. Every resolution of the Episcopal Church mentioning homosexual persons since the early 1980’s has called upon the clergy to offer them pastoral care. The duty to afford pastoral care to gay and lesbian persons has been affirmed by the Lambeth Conference, the Windsor Report, and the Primates of the 39 Anglican Provinces. Every one of our clergy has taken vows to extend such care to “all” our people. So the principle is well established.
This Resolution notes that there has been a recent wave of law making and law changing concerning these relationships –some laws allowing gay marriage, some laws allowing civil unions, and other laws banning such unions. This new legal situation presents new pastoral challenges to which we must respond. The resolution says bishops “may” – not “must” but “may” – offer a “pastorally generous response.” What that means depends on the situation, the context, and the judgment of the bishop. The New York Times says it means blessing civil unions. But I never heard any bishop, liberal or conservative, define it that way. It could mean a special ritual or a prayer or a phone call. It’s up to the bishop. Pastoral generosity is not defined.
The second part of the resolution deals with developing theological and liturgical resources for same sex unions. There was no decision to authorize gay marriage or bless same sex unions. We worked with the language of the Resolution the best we could to make it clear that there is not a decision on that hard question. This Resolution requests the Liturgy and Music Commission to compile and develop theological and liturgical resources so that if and when we consider that issue in the future, we will have some examples to look at.
In 2006, we passed a resolution calling for restraint in “authorizing the blessing of same sex unions” until there has been time for an international conversation on the issue. We have exercised restraint for three years and will continue to exercise restraint while that conversation continues. That does not mean no one anywhere will ever bless a same sex union. The Primates have recognized some leeway for conscience in these matters. Well before General Convention, I assured our clergy that no one in Nevada would be disciplined for following their conscience on this question. That is still the case. The new resolution calls for pastoral generosity on the part of bishops. I hope I was already pastorally generous to all of our people and will try to always be so.
I hope and pray that we will respect each other’s feelings and values in these matters. We are called to love one another, not to agree with one another. In the Diocese of Nevada, we are exceptional at knowing where we stand and letting our neighbor do likewise. But not everyone is so mature. There may well be dissension in other dioceses and internationally. While this Convention was by a county mile the most harmonious Episcopal gathering in recent memory, we usually have some post-Convention uproar. So I ask you to hold the entire Anglican Communion in prayer as we come to terms with the aftermath of General Convention. Please pray also for one another and for the success of our new mission and ministry ventures for the sake of the gospel of Jesus here in Nevada.
May God bless you richly and keep you in holy peace.
Tenth Bishop of Nevada
This 15th Day of July, 2009