Wednesday, September 19, 2007

House of Bishops meeting set to open

Listening can build relationships, lower anxiety, Presiding Bishop's canon says

By Mary Frances Schjonberg, September 19, 2007
[Episcopal News Service, New Orleans] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has assured Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams that he will be received September 20 and 21 by the House of Bishops "with great respect and hospitality."

The Rev. Dr. Charles Robertson, canon to the Presiding Bishop and Primate, said September 19 that Jefferts Schori had spoken with Williams to discuss meeting arrangements and the bishops' anticipation of their conversations.

Robertson termed "extraordinary" the unanimity with which the House of Bishops voted at its March meeting to invite Williams to meet with them.

"Both he and we recognize the importance of this time, and that it is natural to experience some anxiety" in the current context, Robertson said.

"Our call is to respond to one another, not out of anxiety, but out of an even deeper respect for ourselves and one another, honoring our relationships," he said.

Robertson noted that the Presiding Bishop, in question-and-answer sessions held during her recent travels around the church, has said that "when communion is based on agreement rather than relationship, it is easier for tensions to arise."

Given that potential, Robertson said, "to truly be able to listen to one another is important for finding ways to lower the anxiety."

Jefferts Schori has also reiterated to Williams that the Episcopal Church's Executive Council in June "promised our engagement with the churches of the Anglican Communion and our deep and sincere listening will continue."

Robertson noted that the General Convention both in 1991 and 1994 "encouraged conversation with our sisters and brothers in the Anglican Communion, and our ecumenical partners," and that this desire remains.

In 1991, the General Convention proposed a "Pan-Anglican and Ecumenical Dialogue on Human Sexuality." Resolution B20 said, in part, that the Presiding Bishop's office should "propose to all provinces of the Anglican Communion and all churches with whom we are in ecumenical dialogue that a broad process of consultation be initiated on an official pan-Anglican and ecumenical level as a bold step forward in the consideration of these potentially divisive issues which should not be resolved by the Episcopal Church on its own."

In 1994, Resolution B12 called, in part, for the church to "commit itself to dialogue in faith, with no expectation of uniformity, but every expectation of unity" and "encourage conversation on the issues of human sexuality with both Anglican and ecumenical partners open to such communication at national, diocesan and local levels."

Robertson said that all such listening takes place within a context in which "we also respectfully acknowledge that we have inherited a system of governance that is not necessarily the same as in other parts of the communion."

He added "it is very important to us that we continue to honor not only the concerns of the communion but also our own polity -- our own governance."

Meeting agenda detailed
The House of Bishops unofficially started its regularly scheduled fall meeting with a September 19 dinner, also attended by spouses who are meeting concurrently under the theme "Marching with the Saints."

Williams will meet with the bishops and other invited guests for the entire day on September 20 and for the morning of September 21. They will discuss a variety of subjects, including the recently proposed Anglican covenant and the Primates communiqué. The communiqué made certain requests of the bishops and set a September 30 for their response.

The Joint Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates will attend those conversations, at Jefferts Schori's invitation.

House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, also invited by the Presiding Bishop, will be present as well.

The sessions with Williams are closed to the public, media and other visitors.

The Joint Standing Committee will then meet as a group on September 24 in the same hotel as the House of Bishops. Williams departs New Orleans the afternoon of September 21 to begin an official visit to Armenia, Syria and Lebanon.

Williams will participate in a September 20 evening interfaith gathering at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, which will celebrate the "Resiliency of Spirit in New Orleans," according to a Diocese of Louisiana news release.

Aspects of poverty and hunger relief targeted by the first of eight U.N. Millennium Development Goals will be the focus of the house's September 21 afternoon session as the bishops join a dialogue with medical anthropologist and physician Paul Farmer, founder of Partners in Health medical programs in Haiti and around the world.

A work day for bishops and their spouses is set for September 22. The house's planning committee and local officials are monitoring weather conditions. The work day may have to be re-scheduled depending on the intensity of developing storms.

Many bishops will participate in worship September 23 with Episcopal congregations across Louisiana and Mississippi. The Joint Standing Committee has been invited to witness and take part in re-building initiatives sponsored by the Diocese of Louisiana over the weekend and will likely attend worship in local churches, according to a media advisory from the Anglican Communion News Service.

The bishops will meet in the evening that day to reflect on their weekend experiences with specific attention to the role racism plays in hurricane-recovery efforts. Gus Newport, Eugene "Gus" Newport, a program consultant to the Vanguard Public Foundation and the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation, will lead the session.

The bishops will hold their first business sessions on September 24. That day will end with a Eucharist.

On September 25, a morning business session is planned. Time is also set aside in the afternoon if the morning session needs to be continued. The meeting will close with Jefferts Schori's reflections, followed by a Eucharist in memory of deceased members of the house and then a dinner.

Each day includes time for the bishops to study the Bible and to worship together.

-- The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is national correspondent for the Episcopal News Service.


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