The level of denial of reality about the state of pecusa in this article is breathtaking. Message to PB - you are crystal clear about the current pecusa identity and the new province is the result of your clarity. pecusa has ceased to be a church and it is moving further and further away from any sense of Christian faith or practice. This is all crystal clear and any further clarity is not only not necessary, it is damaging to whatever genuine Christianity there is left in pecusa. ed.
By Solange De Santis, January 12, 2009
[Episcopal News Service] The year 2008, it seemed, was crammed more-than-usually with momentous events for the Episcopal Church and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.
Internationally, Anglican bishops gathered for the decennial Lambeth Conference and the church continued to work for the United Nation's Millennium Development Goals for social progress. Domestically, some members left the church due to theological differences and the church confronted its past with an apology for involvement in slavery.
As the year drew to a close, Jefferts Schori's thoughts turned toward the Middle East, where Israeli and Palestinian forces were battling in Gaza -- a place she had visited the previous spring. (Recent statement on Gaza available here).
"I saw the Diocese of Jerusalem doing remarkable, phenomenal work with Jews, Muslims and Christians in their schools and in their medical facilities. I saw faithful Christian communities subject to shrinkage as people decided they can no longer live under those conditions. I saw an enormously compact population in Gaza crammed into a tiny plot of land trying to survive -- a million and a-half people in Gaza, fewer then 3000 Christians," Jefferts Schori recalled as she sat down with Episcopal News Service for a yearend interview. (The interview may be viewed in the multimedia section of Episcopal Life Online here).
As the fighting continued, she was in touch with Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem Suheil Dawani, who said that the Gaza hospital the diocese runs, the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, is "overstressed" and receiving patients from other hospitals, taken in by U.N. relief agencies. An Israeli security blockade has slowed the movement of goods into Gaza. "They have not had adequate supplies for months. They are trying to figure out how to care for people with almost no supplies," Jefferts Schori said.
Episcopalians, she said, "can pray for your brothers and sisters of all faiths in the Middle East." She also urged church members to "advocate as forcefully as they can" with legislators and the outgoing Bush and incoming Obama administrations "to get people back at the negotiating table." Donations for the diocese can be made through Episcopal Relief and Development or directly through the Episcopal Church, she said.
The people of Gaza are "hungry to live together in peace, searching for justice, trying to have some semblance of a normal life," she said.
Last July, the Lambeth Conference brought most of the world's Anglican bishops together in Canterbury, England, although some conservative prelates boycotted the meeting over such issues as more-liberal attitudes toward homosexuality.
Six months later, Jefferts Schori said what continued to resonate with her was "the ability to learn about contexts in other parts of the [Anglican] Communion … what the challenges are in other dioceses, what the opportunities are … what the needs and hungers of the local population are. In most parts of the Anglican Communion, those needs and hungers are far more basic than in much of the Episcopal Church -- adequate food to eat, education for children, any semblance of health care, a peaceful society … Those are things we tend to take for granted in the United States part of this church," she said.
In a world of electronic communications, the "face to face" aspect of Lambeth was invaluable. "Incarnate communication is what we are about … when we gather for worship, we become the body of Christ drawn together in a particular place," and from there "we are sent out into the world to do the work of the Gospel," she said.
A major part of that work is the Episcopal Church's support for the U.N.'s eight Millennium Development Goals for world progress in such areas as education, poverty relief and health care.
Jefferts Schori said she's seen positive developments in the past year. "Every diocese I visit knows something about the MDGs; that wasn't true five years ago. Increased numbers of congregations and dioceses are building relationships with developing parts of the world. They are learning what it is like to live on less then one dollar or two dollars a day," she said.
Congregations are also discovering ways "to become less flagrant consumers of energy and unnecessary products" since environmental issues "connect to all of the other issues of poverty." When climates get hotter, it is harder to grow crops, water distribution patterns change, women and children have to walk farther for clean water, she said. "Touch one part of the ecological system and you touch all parts."
The year 2008 marked the 200th anniversary of the passage of legislation in Great Britain that outlawed the transatlantic slave trade. The Episcopal Church's General Convention in 2006 said the church should make a public apology for its involvement in slavery in America.
"Episcopalians are becoming more aware of their own church's history in terms of the slave trade and profiting from slavery. The work is not finished, but it is well-begun. It will be generations before the impact of slavery is constructively resolved," said Jefferts Schori, who publicly delivered the apology at a historically black church in Philadelphia.
In November, Jefferts Schori visited the most-populous diocese in the church -- and it is located outside the United States. Haiti, she said in the interview, consists of 100,000-150,000 members, 37 clergy and 254 schools that serve 80,000 children. (Image gallery available here) "The impact of the work of the diocese reaches far and wide across that nation … The diocese started the first and only symphonic orchestra out of the music school at the cathedral. They are clearly a major force for social and humanitarian good in that nation. The gospel is there to stay," she said.
Last fall, the dimensions of a historic economic crisis became apparent as unemployment rose and stock-market investments declined. "We're not seeing a major impact yet at the church-wide level. I know that many parish clergy are exceedingly nervous about their annual fund drives. At the same time, history tells us that churches are usually the last to suffer in terms of bad economic times … People's generosity continues and particularly in their faith communities. Serving the needs of those with even less continues or grows in bad economic times … We are hopeful," she said.
Recent statistics have shown that Episcopal Church membership -- along with that of some other mainline denominations -- is declining. What plans are there to address this trend? "There are many plans to address that trend. Among the new staff at church center [in New York] are ones dedicated to church planting work, one dedicated to work in evangelism, one for work with small congregations. We're going to bring aboard another person who will help to teach the rest of us and challenge the rest of us to think about emergent church models -- how the church can as a whole be more effective in presenting the gospel in language and images and idioms that can be more readily understood by new generations," she said.
In the past one and a-half years, members of four dioceses have voted to leave the church over theological differences and loyalists in the dioceses are reorganizing. The presenting issue was the election of a gay bishop, New Hampshire's Gene Robinson, and more-liberal attitudes toward gay church members. Why has this issue caused the deepest split? "I'm not sure [this issue] has caused the deepest split. Certainly Episcopalians and other members of mainline denominations have left their churches in the past -- when [racial] integration began in the churches, when women began to be ordained. Change is difficult for all of us. Even talking about issues of human sexuality has been a challenge in this church," she said.
"Fifty years ago, we didn't talk about such things in public. We've come a long way, to have largely productive conversations about what it means to be a faithful Christian, however one's orientation might be. I often say the church's job is to help people live holy lives ... the challenges there are different opinions about what it means to live a holy life as a gay or lesbian Christian ... I think we do begin to live out the Gospel in a more creative way," she said.
Is there hope for reconciliation with disaffected Episcopalians or former Episcopalians? "When we're clearer about our identity, there is abundant room for reconciliation. The challenging part of the environment is that some have said they can no longer be Episcopalians because the Episcopal Church believes 'X.' The Episcopal Church has always had a wide range of belief. The challenge comes when some find that range too wide for their own comfort. There have always been times in the church when some have decided to follow their spiritual journey in another faith community. We are embracing, we are a wide tent. If you are reasonably comfortable with that diversity, you are more then welcome," she commented.
Some of the dissidents have said they intend to stay in church buildings and retain church property. The Episcopal Church contends that individuals may leave, but property remains in trust for the whole church and has gone to court in several jurisdictions to support this view. "Officers of the church -- including bishops and lay leaders -- have a moral responsibility and fiduciary responsibility to see that gifts given to this church are used for the purposes for which they were given. [For instance], we do not have the right to tell congregations that they can go off and become Presbyterians and take the legacy of the church with them. We certainly welcome Presbyterians and congregations have Episcopalians and Presbyterians worshiping together in the same place, but they are clear about that," she said.
She also addressed the feeling among some church members that seeking redress in the courts goes against the Gospel. "The challenge is that some believe they have the right to take away from the church that which was given to the church. A gift is given theologically as well as legally with no strings attached. It is a gift. When one attempts to take that gift back … it is not the privilege of leaders to release it for the purposes for which it wasn't given," she said.
Conservative church leaders, dissatisfied with what they see as a liberal direction in the church, announced recently that they had formed a new Anglican province in North America based on theological rather then geographic lines. "I hope they will be more comfortable and pursue their understanding of the Gospel in an environ they find more conducive to that. I think it is unlikely that a new province is going to be received in the same geographic territory as the Anglican Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church. I think it is going to be a long time before there is a great deal of clarity about that," she commented.
Jefferts Schori will travel to Alexandria, Egypt in early February for a meeting of the primates, or national bishops, of the Anglican Communion. What might she tell them about the attempt to form a new North American province? "If it happens here, it will happen in England, Nigeria, Argentina, Mexico. It's not helpful or constructive or theologically understandable for a body that says it is in communion that 'We're going to be here in the midst of you but not be in communion with you.' It's something that doesn't make sense," she said.
Another important event in 2009 will be the meeting May 1-12 in Jamaica of the Anglican Consultative Council, the communion's chief decision-making body. "I don't think there will be time for the ACC to consider [the proposed new province]. It will require a much lengthier process before the ACC can consider the recognition of a new province," said Jefferts Schori.
She noted that the proposed Anglican covenant -- a statement of a shared set of beliefs -- is now in its third draft and pointed out that some Anglican provinces are resisting the idea that the covenant spells out what sort of penalties there might be for churches that are found to contravene it. "If a covenant is devised that talks about our shared beliefs, shared heritage, I think there is going to be less objection than if it talks of enforcement and membership. That's what is driving the resistance."
In a jam-packed year, the Episcopal Church's triennial governing meeting -- General Convention -- is scheduled to take place in July, in Anaheim, California. A major issue, said Jefferts Schori, will be "how we can be members of one body and value gifts of different members without insisting they be identical -- diversity in community. Anglicans have been pretty good at that; at other times not so good. Our challenge will be to recover and remember -- literally to re-member -- the God-given value in diversity in which we were created."
The 2006 convention passed a resolution called B033, which called upon the church to use restraint when electing and consecrating bishops "whose lifestyle poses a challenge to the wider church." It was seen as an uneasy conservative-liberal compromise and there have been calls for its repeal or modification in 2009. "I've said I don't think it's helpful to revisit B033. It is far more helpful for us to say something significant about where we are in 2009. Conventions have passed resolutions in the past and they have rarely been revisited. New resolutions have been passed that state where the church is at that point," said Jefferts Schori.
This interview may be viewed in the multimedia section of Episcopal Life Online here.
-- Solange De Santis is editor, Episcopal Life Media.