From The Providence Journal (RI):
01:00 AM EDT on Saturday, June 21, 2008
By Richard C. Dujardin
Journal Religion Writer
Episcopal Bishop Geralyn Wolf will be flying to England next week to prepare for the worldwide meeting of Anglican bishops known as the Lambeth Conference.
PROVIDENCE — With much of the Anglican world still in turmoil over the Episcopal Church’s decision in 2003 allowing an openly gay priest to be ordained as bishop, Rhode Island’s Bishop Geralyn Wolf flies to England next week to prepare for a once-every-decade meeting of Anglican bishops that may well determine whether the 78-million-member Anglican Communion holds together.
The Lambeth Conference, set for July 16 to Aug. 3, looms large because Anglicans don’t have the kind of central administrative structure found in the Roman Catholic Church. So much of the communion’s unity depends on the willingness of the nearly 800 bishops from 38 provinces to work cooperatively and to learn from one another.
Bishop Wolf was at her first Lambeth Conference in 1998 when bishops from the U.S. and Europe, accustomed for so long to being in the driver’s seat, were jolted out of their complacency when bishops of Asia and Africa pushed through a resolution meant to put the brakes on efforts by some in the West to make the church more accommodating to people practicing alternative lifestyles. The approved resolution declared that homosexual behavior was prohibited by the Bible and incompatible with Christian teaching.
The focus of the conservatives’ criticism was the blessing of same-sex relationships and the ordaining of priests who were openly gay. Little did those in the room realize that just five years later the debate would intensify when the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire became the first diocese in the world to elect as its bishop an openly gay priest with a same-sex lover, and the Episcopal Church’s General Convention opened the door even more by providing V. Gene Robinson with its needed endorsement.
In the firestorm of controversy that would erupt, some of those conservative bishops declared that unless U.S. Episcopal Church leaders agreed never again to ordain a gay bishop they would no longer regard the U.S. Church to be part of the Anglican communion.
Hoping to avoid a major split in the church, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams named a special commission to work out a way the communion’s members could continue to live and work together. The resulting Windsor Report laid out a potential compromise, calling for a world-wide moratorium on the ordaining of any new gay bishops, and at the same time, calling on some of the more conservative bishops, particularly from Africa, to stop the practice of going into other bishops’ dioceses without permission to minister to parishes that didn’t like their local bishops. It also called on those involved in Robinson’s consecration to apologize.
But when the proposed compromise was presented to deputies at the U.S. Episcopal Church General Convention two years ago, the deputies balked. The most the deputies would agree to do, after pleas from the new and outgoing presiding bishops, was approve a resolution asking that dioceses exercise more “restraint.”
Bishop Wolf, who favors the Windsor approach, said she didn’t think it was a good enough response. What happens at next month’s meeting, she says, is anyone’s guess.
She says she is disappointed that Archbishop Williams has restructured the Lambeth meeting — set to take place on the campus of the University of Kent in Canterbury — so that there won’t be any legislative votes. And conversations about sexuality and about a covenant that would allow various parts of the Anglican Communion to continue to relate to one another have been scheduled for the tail end of the 2 1/2-week meeting.
“Of course, that’s what Anglicans do,” she commented the other day. “We always seem to leave the hot red buttons to the end of our conversations. I sort of wish we’d bring it up front or at least to the middle, but we haven’t done that.”
In an attempt to try to lower the rhetoric, Archbishop Williams has left a few names off the list of invitees, notably Bishop Robinson (who plans to go anyway to speak to the media) and three or four conservative bishops who had been visiting other dioceses without local permission. Also, the bishops of Uganda and Rwanda disclosed that they will boycott the sessions to protest what they see as the Anglican Church’s liberal “drift.”
Here in Rhode Island, Bishop Wolf notes that she has long maintained a policy of not allowing the blessing of any same-sex relationships to take place on any Episcopal Church property. She also supports continuing the moratorium on ordaining any new homosexual bishops, arguing that the measures are important to the unity of the Anglican Communion.
Frankly, she says, she doesn’t know what will emerge from next month’s meeting. She says she is very keen on holding the Anglican Communion together.
She said she suspects that, even though no votes are to be officially taken, some sort of decision will come “through the back door.”
And she is looking forward most especially to meeting with bishops of other countries and forming friendships with them, observing how 10 years ago her conversations with bishops from Pakistan and Rwanda helped her see the world through a new lens. This time she is planning to meet with one of the bishops of the Sudan.
“Here in this country we talk a lot about sexuality and church buildings, while people there are trying to dodge bullets and find food and survive. I hope that at Lambeth those from the developing nations will come to better appreciate some of the cultural challenges that we are going through in the West. I realize that’s difficult. When you are trying to survive, it is difficult to look at the Western world and have much sympathy.”
Still, does she think that the Anglican Communion will make it through?
“Well, you know, I have seen people on the verge of death come back to life. I think we are on the verge of dying to the present form. Therefore, I think it could be we are on the road to resurrection. Could be. We will know better after Lambeth.
“We as a church right now are on the cross. It would be easy for us to get off the cross and break off the suffering. However, sometimes staying on the cross leads us to a risen life that we would not have reached” otherwise.