A Special Message From Bishop Smith
Ash Wednesday 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Primates' meeting in Tanzania is over, but the reaction to the decisions made there has just begun. As is usually the case with church meetings, the results came in the form of a published compromise, written in language which is sometimes contradictory and certainly open to further examination and clarification. I have listed at the bottom of this letter the links to the two important documents produced by this gathering, 1) The Draft Covenant, 2) The Communiqué with its attached "Schedule."
As I stated in my last E-pistle to you, the outcome of this meeting was a mixed blessing. Happily, the fears of many that the Communion would split did not come to pass. Far from being excluded from the meeting, our own Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori participated fully and was even elected to Primates' Standing Committee, the "inner circle" of advisors to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Moreover, some of the very conservative Global South Primates did not boycott the meeting, as they had earlier threatened to do, although some of them did refuse to participate in the joint communion services because of Bishop Jefferts Schori's presence.
The way forward for us, as outlined in the above documents, was also a compromise. The American bishops have been asked to state unequivocally that they will honor the recommendations of the Windsor report, since the assurances of our last General Convention were deemed inadequate by some.
This will mean we would be required to state again, that we as bishops will not give consent to an openly gay or lesbian bishop in the foreseeable future, and that we will continue not to authorize forms for the blessing of same-sex couples. In return, those Primates who have crossed jurisdictional lines to minister to congregations dissenting from the Episcopal Church will desist. Those dioceses who are uncomfortable with our Presiding Bishop may receive alternative pastoral care from a "Primatial Vicar" acting on her behalf. All of this will be monitored by a special Pastoral Committee acting on behalf of the Primates. In the meantime, there is to be a suspension of any legal activity between dioceses and parishes which may want to leave, as well as an attempt to reconcile with any groups which have already left.
There will no doubt be considerable controversy over the next several months about these provisions-the House of Bishops has been given until September of this year to approve them. I suspect the Bishops who have already voted for General Convention resolution B033 (as I did) will find these terms acceptable; a minority will not. Most will follow the lead of our Presiding Bishop in living with them, while we move to further discussions at the Lambeth Conference in 2008.
I know that many who have worked so hard for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church will see this as another step backward. It is, and my heart breaks because of it. However, I believe that we are at a moment in our history when we must remain together, doing our best to place the needs of the other before our own. As I have often said to you before, I am committed to a fully inclusive church, but I am also committed to remaining part of the larger Anglican Communion, even when I find it hard to agree with my brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.
I suspect that you, as clergy and lay leaders, will receive questions on these topics. I would urge you to read the documents and to inform yourselves of the issues.
I close with the some words from our Presiding Bishop from an interview with Episcopal News Service from last night:
ENS: To those observers back in the US-in particular the people in the pews, who may be confused about what is happening in their Church-what is your message to them right now?
JEFFERTS SCHORI: Be of good faith. We're entering Lent and there's probably not a better time for us to receive this communiqué from the Primates' Meeting. It will be hard news for a number of members of this Church; it will be welcome news for other members of this Church. This is a season to remember who is the focus of our faith and it is not we ourselves.
Please continue to pray for our Church, our bishops, and for all our Anglican brothers and sisters.