Twenty-nine bishops have endorsed affirming their desire to remain part of the Anglican Communion and Episcopal Church while being faithful to the calls for restraint made by the wider church.
Styled as the "Anaheim Statement," the letter of dissent to the actions of the 76th General Convention pledged the bishops’ fealty to the requests made by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the 2008 Lambeth Conference, the primates' meetings and ACC-14 to observe a moratoria on same-gender blessings, cross-border interventions and the ordination of gay and lesbian people to the episcopate.
In the hours after its release, the statement drew support from 23 diocesan bishops, four suffragan and assistant bishops, and two retired bishops and included bishops who voted on both sides of D025 and C056 -- resolutions that rescinded the ban on two of the three Windsor Report moratoria.
Rising to speak on a point of personal privilege during the House of Bishops afternoon session July 16, the Rt. Rev. Gary W. Lillibridge of West Texas read a statement prepared by an ad hoc committee of concerned bishops.
“At this convention,” Bishop Lillibridge said, the house had “heard repeated calls for honesty and clarity” on The Episcopal Church’s stance on the contested issues surrounding sexual ethics. The attempts to “modify wording which would have been preferable to the minority in the vote were respectfully heard and discussed, but in the end most of these amendments were found unacceptable to the majority in the House.”
Bishops and deputies from what are known collectively as the four continuing dioceses of the Episcopal Church -- individually the dioceses of Fort Worth (Texas), Pittsburgh, Quincy (Illinois) and San Joaquin (California) -- have had a chance to settle into General Convention and focus on the work at hand: committee assignments, legislative sessions, amendments, votes, elections, worship and fellowship. As the close of General Convention nears, attendees who have remained loyal to the Episcopal Church after leaders of their dioceses departed over theological differences shared their experiences and what they hoped to bring back to their dioceses and parishes.
Across the board, each person interviewed reported a warm welcome from bishops, deputies and visitors. Others often have sought out members of these dioceses to talk about the work they are doing and sometimes simply to ask how things are.
"Many deputies have come by our table to extend a personal welcome and express their support," said Deputy Jan Dunlap (San Joaquin). "Identifying my diocese as San Joaquin is usually met with a big smile and 'glad you're here.'"
Compared to past conventions, this one is not only welcoming but also "less contentious," said Stephen Stagnitta, Pittsburgh alternate lay deputy. "The people I run into are happy to see us here. I had the opportunity to work on the Evangelism legislative committee here and was well-received. The reception is like you would have hoped."
The most recent diocese to experience a split was Quincy. For Deputy Tobyn Miracle, General Convention has been a catharsis of sorts. She described the conflict as a heavy weight that is physically and emotionally exhausting.
The bishops of the Episcopal Church agreed Wednesday to a compromise measure that stops short of developing an official rite for same-sex unions, but gives latitude to bishops who wish to go ahead and bless such unions, particularly in states that have legalized such marriages.
Over two days of debate, some bishops said they felt compelled to act because of their pastoral responsibility to gay couples who were increasingly coming forward to ask the church to bless their unions. Many also said they saw it as a simple matter of granting equal rights to gay men and lesbians.
The measure was written to defer to bishops who oppose adopting a liturgy for same-sex blessings and to those who say their constituents are not ready for such a step. But it opens the door to doing so in the future, saying they will “collect and develop theological and liturgical resources” for same-sex blessings, and report to the next convention three years from now, which could then design an official rite.
Even with the nuance, the vote was a momentous step for a church that has been mired in intrafactional warfare over homosexuality for more than a decade. Advocates for gay rights in the church celebrated it as a victory, noting that the vote count was a resounding 104 in favor and 30 opposed, with 2 abstentions.
Strong differences have emerged over how to interpret a resolution of the Episcopal Church General Convention regarding partnered gay people being bishops.
Some activists on both sides of the gay ordination issue consider it a repeal of a 2006 moratorium on the consecration of partnered gay bishops, while key leaders of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh say it merely describes the fact that the Episcopal Church already has openly gay priests and one partnered gay bishop.
The moratorium "is still there. We did not repeal it," said Bishop Robert Johnson, assisting bishop of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which has been rebuilding since October, when the original diocese split after voting to secede from the Episcopal Church.
"I don't see that there would be any threat to the moratorium unless we get presented with another partnered lesbian or gay bishop. That would be the test. But [this resolution] was a clarification, reminding us of where we are in the Episcopal Church. That is the way the bishops saw it," he said.
The General Convention, which governs the 2.1 million-member Episcopal Church, declared Tuesday that gay and lesbian people in lifelong committed relationships "may be called to any ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church." It continued: "... Christians of good conscience disagree about these matters."
The bishops of the Episcopal Church voted at the church’s convention on Monday to open “any ordained ministry” to gay men and lesbians, a move that could effectively undermine a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops that the church passed at its last convention three years ago.
The resolution passed on Monday was written in a way that would allow dioceses to consider gay candidates to the episcopacy, but does not mandate that all dioceses do so.
A similar measure was passed on Sunday by the church’s other legislative body, the House of Deputies, which is made up of laypeople and clergy. On Tuesday, the bishops’ version will probably go back to the House of Deputies for reconsideration.
The resolution, if approved, would probably add to the strife in the Anglican Communion, the world’s third largest family of Christian churches, of which the Episcopal Church is the American branch.
The battle over homosexuality in the Episcopal Church has been watched closely by other mainline Protestant churches that are also divided internally on the issue. Many are looking to the Episcopal Church as a bellwether that could foretell whether their denominations can survive the storm over homosexuality intact.
Conservative provinces in the Anglican Communion, especially some in Africa, have broken off their ties with the Episcopal Church in recent years after the church consecrated Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the communion, who was elected in the diocese of New Hampshire six years ago.
An amended version of Resolution D025, concerning Episcopal elections and the Anglican Communion, is expected to move to the House of Deputies despite a July 11 split committee vote, possibly as early as Monday.
D025 is among more than a dozen B033-related resolutions submitted for consideration during the 76th General Convention July 8-17 in Anaheim. The World Mission Legislative Committee (WMC) received 13 resolutions; a WMC subgroup designed to work on framing a resolution to offer for a convention vote, elected to amend D025 from among the 13 "as a template" from which to address B033, according to the Rev. Ian T. Douglas, a committee member designated to speak with media representatives.
B033, adopted by General Convention 2006, was widely regarded as a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops.
It called on standing committees and bishops with jurisdiction "to exercise restraint by not consenting to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on the communion," which was assumed to pertain mainly to homosexual priests living opening in committed relationships.
B033 resolutions were assigned to the WMC because Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson thought a key question to be considered was "how do your decision in this church affect our sisters and brothers in Christ in the Anglican Communion" which falls under world mission, Douglas said.
Following a public hearing and several late-evening and early-morning sessions, a WMC subgroup offered an amended version July 11 for committee review and approval. After cordial discussion and revision, "perfecting the resolution and passed it handily" the vote split between the two houses -- with deputies voting 24-2 for approval and bishops rejecting it 3-2 -- appeared to come as a surprise.
Dr Rowan Williams flew to America last week ahead of moves by church leaders in the US to introduce rites for same-sex unions and to promote more gay bishops.
Conservatives in the Church of England are threatening to divide worldwide Anglicanism if the liberal Americans force through radical reforms at a crucial meeting in California this week.
Dozens of members of the General Synod have backed a motion that calls on the Church to recognise a breakaway movement in the US opposed to the pro-gay agenda.
The Rt Rev Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham, said that the Church of England was considering recognising the new group, in a move could provoke fury among liberal clergy in this country. Leading clergy met in London last week to launch the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans of UK and Ireland to campaign against active homosexuality in the Church.
The Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester, is among the group's leaders who said that liberal moves have brought "heartache" and "real problems".
An Episcopal Standards Commission has been convened to investigate complaints of misconduct lodged by the clergy of the Diocese of Ballarat against their Bishop, Michael Hough.
On July 2, Michael Shand QC, chancellor of the Dioceses of Ballarat and Melbourne told the Ballarat synod that 13 priests, along with a number of lay leaders and retired clergy had requested an investigation of the bishop by Episcopal Standards Commission.
The rural Australian diocese northwest of Melbourne is one of Australia’s smallest, with 22 congregations and 2,000 active members.
Under Australian canon law details of the complaint are not to be disclosed while the investigation is underway. Last year the parties signed a confidentiality agreement before entering into mediation talks on Dec 2-3 in Melbourne. The talks proved unsuccessful, Mr Shand later told the diocesan council, as did the private ministrations of the Primate of Australia, Archbishop Phillip Aspinall of Brisbane.
However, members of the diocese last year told Religious Intelligence the disputes centred round the bishop’s “prickly” management style and his pastoral skills, and were unrelated to the wider disputes over doctrine and discipline within the Anglican Communion.
The Special Tribunal Canon passed at the 2007 General Synod enumerates crimes for which a bishop may be investigated. Breaches of faith, ritual or ceremony, drunkenness, failure to honour lawful debts, unchastity, violation of the constitution, canons and ordinances of the Anglican Church of Australia and violation of a bishop’s consecrations vows are grounds for review.