[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops spent much of its five-day meeting at Camp Allen Conference & Retreat Center in Navasota, Texas, focusing on its ongoing theme of ‘Church for the 21st Century and the Gift of Episcope’ and discussing issues related to the upcoming General Convention and same-gender blessings.
During its March 20 business meeting, the House of Bishops adopted a resolution to send greetings to Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams as he prepares to leave his post and return to academia at the end of the year.
“We the bishops of the Episcopal Church send our greetings to the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury as you begin a new season in your ministry,” read the resolution. “We remember with deep appreciation your pastoral visit with us as we met in New Orleans, Louisiana, following the destruction of Hurricane Katrina. At the 2008 Lambeth Conference we were recipients of your personal hospitality, teaching ministry, and leadership. The ‘indaba’ spirit of that gathering continues to influence and shape our common life and ministry. We wish you Godspeed and many blessings in the coming days.”
After serving 10 years as the archbishop of Canterbury, Williams announced March 16, the first day of the House of Bishops meeting, that he would step down at the end of the year to become Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
During a March 20 media briefing, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori said that the Anglican Primates (presiding bishops and archbishops of the Anglican Communion provinces) from each region would nominate one of their number to serve on the Crown Nominations Commission.
The Episcopal Church’s Office of Public Affairs issued daily accounts that provided a brief overview of the discussions and activities of the House of Bishops, noting that the schedule called for “prayer-filled sessions,” with the bishops participating in daily Bible study, reflection and worship.
The meeting was billed as a retreat, and members of the public and the news media were not allowed to observe the sessions. Very few, if any, bishops blogged and tweeted during the sessions. In past meetings, some bishops have raised issues of confidentiality in response to their colleagues tweeting and blogging about their conversations.
There were 134 bishops in attendance.
In a March 20 media briefing, bishops participating in the briefing said the meeting was more relaxed and the atmosphere more gracious than it has been in years.
“Bishops lead such busy lives, we need to come away on a retreat,” said Bishop of Pittsburgh Kenneth Price, secretary of the House of Bishops, during the briefing, adding that the absence of outsiders made for a better atmosphere. He said that he would leave the meeting “blessed and energized.”
During the meeting, a draft social media policy for electronic media at House of Bishops meetings was introduced and presented by Bishop Suffragan Gayle Harris of Massachusetts and Bishop James Waggoner of Spokane. The bishops discussed the draft and provided suggestions, according to a daily account.
“The world is always changing,” said Price, regarding the social media policy during the media briefing. He said the report will be issued shortly.
During one afternoon session, the bishop members of the Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music led a conversation on same-gender blessings. The SCLM on March 8 released excerpts of its report to General Convention, including the text of its proposed rite of blessing same-gender relationships, a theological reflection, and two related legislative resolutions that it will recommend to convention when it meets in Indianapolis July 4-12.
The SCLM’s work comes in response to General Convention’s 2009 mandate (via Resolution C056) that it work with the House of Bishops to collect and develop theological resources and liturgies for blessing same-gender relationships and report to this summer’s 77th meeting of convention.
According to a public affairs office daily account, the bishops continued discussion about the committee’s work and same-gender blessings “in small groups, as a body, and then in indaba settings, an opportunity for each member of the house to speak his or her mind in a smaller, open setting.” Indaba, which means “meaningful conversation,” is a process derived from African traditions that was used by the bishops at the 2008 Lambeth Conference.
The presiding bishop mentioned that the Rt. Rev. Justin Welby, bishop of Durham in the Church of England, attended as an international guest and that when he offered his remarks at the close of the meeting, he said the indaba conversations facilitated generosity and clarity and that he said he would leave the meeting with a “‘deeper understanding of different contexts and realities.”
Other sessions included a discussion on spiritual discipline, led by Diocese of Massachusetts Bishop Thomas Shaw, and a conversation on the General Convention 2009 Resolution B014, which called for the study of reconciliation or dissolution of pastoral relations between conflicted dioceses and their bishops.
Jefferts Schori offered a meditation and reflection on the role of bishops in relation to faith, unity and governance.
The bishops also heard presentations on the Anglican Covenant, a proposed set of principles intended to bind the Anglican Communion in spite of cultural and theological differences; and a revised document for Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO), provisions for dissenting congregations to seek reconciliation with their bishop or to request oversight from another bishop. Typically, DEPO has been used by congregations and bishops who have theological differences.
Jefferts Schori said the Episcopal Church will make a formal statement, one she hopes will express “our desire to stay in communion and covenant relationships,” regarding the covenant at General Convention.
Bishop of Kansas Dean Wolfe, vice president of the House of Bishops, offered his thoughts on the covenant during the briefing, describing it as a “helpful instrument in promoting dialogue and conversations,” and that it has led to some important work.
Regarding the DEPO, Wolfe said, “The work that we did on the revised document had a wide acceptance in the house. I thought there was a wonderful and generous spirit around the document and the gentle editing.”
In other business March 20, the bishops elected Les Callahan, a lay member of the Diocese of Atlanta, as a College for Bishops Board member. Reports were provided on the College for Bishops by Wolfe and Atlanta Bishop Neil Alexander of Atlanta; on Episcopal Schools by Bishop Tom Breidenthal of Southern Ohio, and on ministry to servicepersons and veterans by Bishop Jay Magness of Federal Ministries; on Solitaries by Bishop Russell Jacobus of Fond du Lac; and toward General Convention by Wolfe.